Ask most Mackems and they’ll tell you it’s been a long time since the sun shone on the Stadium of Light as the Wearside club seeks to appoint the next Sunderland manager.
While the freefall from Premier League down two divisions has stopped, Black Cats fans and chiefs alike expect the club to be challenging for automatic promotion.
Despite getting the club’s backing, former St Mirren boss Ross lost out in last season’s third tier play-offs.
He leaves Sunderland with them sixth in League One after losing at promoted Lincoln City.
That damaging defeat came away to a side who have lost their own highly regarded coaching team in recent weeks.
The brief for the next Sunderland manager is obvious. Promotion to the Championship at all costs.
Serious candidates probably need to have done that elsewhere. Ross won over 50 per cent of his matches in charge of the Black Cats.
That puts him statistically well above predecessors Chris Coleman, Simon Grayson, David Moyes, Sam Allardyce, Dick Advocaat and a host of others from back when they were a Premier League side.
In fact, no permanent manager of the Mackems in modern times boasts a better record. Ross
can feel hard done by, then, but ultimately confidence in his ability to achieve promotion wavered at board level.
As we often say in these articles, this particular club is not an easy job. Who are the Black Cats likely to be looking at then? These are OpenOdds’ next Sunderland manager picks!
On the same day that Ross left the Stadium of Light, Barnsley parted company with their own head coach Daniel Stendel.
The German took the Tykes back into the Championship, so that’s a box ticked in respect to this role.
Indeed, Stendel could make a swift return to management on Wearside. Barnsley sell their best players and brightest prospects, so is it any wonder they struggle when coming up?
This Yorkshire club have yo-yoed in between the second and third tiers in recent years for this very reason.
Rather than trying to resist interest from other teams in their players, they simply take the money and reinvest.
It puts whoever is the coach on a hiding nothing. That is no longer Stendel’s problem, so think what he could do if backed by the resources at Sunderland?
He operated under the constraints outlined above at Oakwell, yet still beat the Black Cats to automatic promotion last season. Stendel is thus an obvious candidate for next Sunderland manager.
Wycombe Wanderers boss Gareth Ainsworth has the Chairboys flying in League One and bigger clubs are starting to covet him.
He’s been in the role a long time. Only Morecambe manager Jim Bentley has stayed in the same job longer than Ainsworth.
After more than seven years with Wycombe, who play attacking football, is the time right for a move?
On the race of it, why would Ainsworth leave Wanderers? They are above Sunderland in the League One table and he’s established there.
— The Chronicle (@ChronicleSAFC) October 8, 2019
How much further Ainsworth can take Wycombe remains to be seen. He got them promoted from League Two, but this is another level.
The Black Cats could find themselves battling with Championship clubs like Barnsley and Reading. These teams aren’t bigger in fanbase than Sunderland, but are higher up the football pyramid.
It’s not an entirely risk-free appointment if they go for and get Ainsworth. He’s built Wanderers up over a long period.
The next Sunderland manager won’t be given anything like seven years. Promotion is an immediate target and yet Ainsworth heads the betting on succeeding Ross.
Former Bradford City boss Phil Parkinson got Colchester United and Bolton Wanderers both promoted from the third tier. If he were to become the next Sunderland manager, it would be rags to riches.
Parkinson had very little to work with at Bolton. The club’s mounting debts almost saw them follow fellow Greater Manchester club Bury out of business earlier this year.
After going through that stressful situation, the everyday pressures of winning football matches ought to be a picnic for Parkinson. He is clearly very effective at this level.
As with Stendel above, Sunderland are sure to be attracted to a boss who has proven he can get a team out of the division.
It is hard to see their next appointment being a gamble on someone talented but untried in League One like Ross.
During his time with Bradford, Parkinson also enjoyed a run to the League Cup final and that was while the Bantams were a fourth tier club. His CV is eye-catching in elation to this role.
Did you know Mick Harford is a Mackem? He briefly played for his hometown team in 1993, but is best known for taking up various backroom and coaching roles with Luton Town.
They include when stepping in as caretaker and guiding the Hatters to automatic promotion – again at Sunderland’s expense – last season. That followed Nathan Jones leaving Kenilworth Road for Stoke City.
Taking all the sentiment out of him being a local lad, he was good enough to get Luton up, so why not do the same for the Black Cats? It all depends on whether Harford wants to leave Bedfordshire and go back home.
It’s been a long time since Sunderland supporters feel “one of their own” has been at the helm. With Harford, the link is obvious and at 60 this opportunity may not come around again.
You can see why he is prominent in the next Sunderland manager betting, while someone like Ainsworth makes less sense. There’s one Stadium of Light cult hero we’ve just got to mention last though…
Super Kev is beloved by Black Cats fans. His prolific spell on Wearside is the stuff they can only dream of now. Kevin Phillips would pretty much be a universally popular appointment.
The question is this: is he ready to strike out on his own in management? Phillips has been on the backroom staff at Leicester City, Derby County and Stoke, yet is synonymous with Sunderland.
Of course, any dream return to the Stadium of Light puts his iconic status at risk. There is a balance the board will be trying to strike here as well to consider.
The hierarchy knows they want to appease fans after years of failure, but the best way to do that is to bring in a boss who will guarantee promotion. For all his standing on Wearside, Phillips is a managerial rookie.
It would be a gamble. Goodwill alone can’t make Super Kev the next Sunderland manager, and history shows he won’t be in the job for long if he can’t deliver what is expected.
Even neutrals probably want to see this happen and maybe even succeed, though. Phillips has already received a ton of support in the betting.