Last night I received a phone call from the SAFC club secretary who invited me down to interview, the complete unknown but new Sunderland manager Andy Bell. Already I can tell he’s going to be different. His desk is pretty sparse except for a phone, keyboard, Big Sams printer and an iPod on pause. I got up to have a sneaky look at what the new managers taste in music was, but was interrupted as the door opened and in walked the new Sunderland manager, unusual as he wasn’t clad in the clubs training gear I thought to myself. Instead he is stood in boots, jeans and a Guns’n’Roses t-shirt Andy Bell is not your typical English manager….
Q: So Andy, can you tell me about how after the resignation of David Moyes and despite other names being odds on to take the hot seat you became the clubs new manager?
“Well after Moyes left and no disrespect to him but christ almighty did he suck the life out of this club. As a fan it became a chore to watch and this may get me in hot water with Martin[Bain] but the mans a numpty, for not pulling the trigger last season when we were still in the premier league. I mean I know this is a bit rose-tinted but this is a big club, we have the facilities to be up at the top of the English game. The Academy must be one of the best in the country, the stadium is a fabulous place when it’s rocking. That game against Everton in 2016 when big Sam kept us up, it just makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. I want the place rocking again like that. The last time that happened that I can remember was under Reedy, we had a great togetherness then and played some good football.
When we were linked and allowed to speak with McInnes I was happy as a fan, as I hoped we could get the stability we needed. But when he turned us down I feel it was good because this club is one that needs a manager who WANTS to be here. Not one who thinks he’s doing us a favour. Same with Grayson we spoke to him too but it just wasn’t meant to be, its just a shame he resigned from Preston I hope he gets back into management soon.
I’m just immensely grateful the club has given me this opportunity to manage my local club and I hope to do it proud. I’ve always been more into the coaching side of things over playing, and completed some of my badges a few years ago. I managed to speak to Martin[Bain] in a pub in Newcastle and put across how I feel about this club and the direction it should take. I offered to even work for free for a year, I love the club that much but apparently that isn’t allowed. So to the fans, don’t worry if I make a cock-up of it as it wont cost much to give me the sack but I hope that doesn’t happen!”
Q: How has the start of your reign as manager been?
“A bit of a whirlwind to be honest, its been only a few days since meeting Martin that I got offered the interview where I met Martin and Ellis before I got the call offering me the job. I may be the cheap option which might be what swayed Ellis to offer it to me, but I still plan to earn every penny the club gives me. I’ve met some of the backroom staff yesterday who all gave me the opinions on the squad and to be honest I let them get on with it providing mainly a fan input, not sure some were too happy with what I’ve pointed out.
Think my problem is I’m a massive fan of the club so can totally see the views of the fans and will be looking to take those on board as we move forward with the club. I meet the players in a few weeks when they return for pre-season training which should be interesting as I’m actually younger than a few of them!
At the moment I’ve been mainly going over player reports for everyone at the club from first team to U18’s. I want to show that if you’re good enough you will play. I’ve also had a few phone calls from other managers offering support and good luck, I was even a bit awestruck when Reidy rang me offering me support and giving advice for how hard a job its going to be. That was a bit odd, hell he’s the best SAFC manager in my lifetime. I’m pretty honoured, I’ve also got to head down to London for the LMA meeting but I’m hoping to have more of an idea on what staff I’ll be able to have at the club by then. Like I say it’s a bit of a whirlwind at the moment with plenty of work still to do”
Q: How about staff will there be any changes?
“Plenty, also I’ll be honest Bracewell has left the club. I felt I wanted to bring in someone new as assistant. I’ve got a few ideas for who that will be but until I speak to them I wont be revealing it. As for the rest of the staff I have a bit of a surprise up my sleeve, as I’ve about a 15/20 man shortlist of staff I would like to bring to the club. However we do still have financial constraints so a lot will obviously depend on that. I also want some staff to compliment my ideas but tell me when I’m wrong, there’s no point in having yes men at the club. I haven’t decided if I’ll ask Bain if I can get some new Youth coaches as id like them to play a similar style to the first team to ease the transition through there is still a lot to talk about going forward.
For me though the major thing we need is a complete overhaul of the scouting department. For too long we seem to have bought rejects from mainly Everton and Manchester United, now no disrespect to those clubs but we shouldn’t be a path for rejects. I want hungry players who want to be here so we need an improved scouting network to go out and find them. There are more Jamie Vardy’s in non league, it’s about unearthing them and we’ll be expecting the scouts to work night and day to find them so that’s why I want a new scouting team.”
Q: What about the transfer front as a fan do you already have idea of what you want from the squad and who you want to sell and who to bring in?
“Yea I’d like to think of who will play a part this coming season regarding the first team. It was clear to see for all who weren’t not trying for the cause last season and every player who pulls on the red n white shirt whilst I’m manager. It’s not just expected they give it all, its demanded every player who crosses the white line will give 110% and I cant stress that enough. If I feel they aren’t, they will be dropped until they can prove to me they are. The squad will have a high work rate and determination, so if a few people leave then so be it. There may be departures the fans aren’t happy about, but in the grand scheme of things I think it will be worth it.
As for the other side of the coin, we’ll be looking to improve with players that fit a specific set of criteria and I will speak to the scouting team regarding that, so that the right type of player joins the club. I’d also like to move the club away from the journeyman type player that has joined the club in the past. We can do better than that. I’m willing to allow youngsters to see us as a stepping stone for a few years, as if they get a move to a big club it means they are doing well for us, but every player will have a price which might not go down well for the fans but the long-term aim is to be able to develop this club into something special.”
Q: Can you give us any insight in to what you plan to do tactically with the squad the club currently has?
“I’m not going to go into specifics but growing up in the late 80’s early 90’s there is a type and style of football I love to see teams playing and despite what Poyet says this may include the return of a flat 442. Football has moved away from 442 so that may not be the system we go for. I also like to see marauding wing backs and have been impressed last year with Conte’s 3 at the back wing back system so it might be something else I look into.
There’s a lot tactically we can do but as the legendary manager Clough says “Players lose you games, not tactics. There’s so much crap talked about tactics by people who barely know how to win at dominoes” and as I’ve mentioned before, a lot of it is down to getting the players to buy into what I want to do and into this club. We want to line up with 11 players who want to win the match as the fans in the crowd do. Every single game is about getting those three points so in answer to your question, some days you might see us line up 442 others we’ll line up 532 I will tinker to find something that fits to begin with after that its all down to what works why change a winning team?”
Q: What about aims for the season?
“Well after the shambles of last year, so far with the work still to do I know the bookies are tipping us more likely to be relegated again rather than be involved in a promotion push. There are a lot of solid teams in the championship. I won’t say good as if they were good last year they would be in the premier league this year. First of all we need to add some stability to the club planning to do that by having a solid recruitment drive with buys or loans in the right places rather than the scatter gun approach. I want the staff in place to help us achieve our goals too so that is priority one while we wait on the players returning to pre-season training.
As for performances wise the aim is to get the team playing something resembling decent football. I want to move away from the defensive style we used last season under Moyes with the overall aim to get us playing nice attacking football similar to the turn of the millennium. If me and the fans can see the players are playing for the shirt it will be a good start as that in my eyes has been long overdue. as for the league the first step is mid-table or play-offs I don’t see us as a side capable of coming first or second this year if we make the play-offs ill consider it a good season and hopefully be allowed back next year for another go.”
Q: Final question Andy do you have a message for the fans?
“To an extent this club is on its knees, confidence is at its lowest ebb some fans think we could even be relegated to League one. I’m here to restore confidence in the squad first, get them believing in themselves again there are some solid players at this club. Granted there are some deadwood here and they will be moved on, the ultimate message I give to the fans is that I want to bring the good times back. It may be a cliché but its true I want fans to enjoy going to the match and it not to ruin their weekend and to do this from this site of the club is to start by getting the players to play for the shirt and the team rather than themselves.
As I stood up to leave after the interview I turned to Andy I had forgotten one thing needed for the headline of this piece:
“If you can sum up your plan in a few words what would it be?”
“Consectatio Excellentiae” Andy replied instantly.
looking confused I responded “What does that mean?”
Andy with a smile on his face: “It’s the clubs motto, it means In ‘Pursuit of excellence’…..”