Ex-Sunderland boss Lee Johnson breaks silence after Stadium of Light sacking
Lee Johnson has bid an emotional and passionate farewell to Sunderland, saying that he believes the club's January business have added the 'final pieces of the puzzle' to go and win promotion from League One.
Johnson has also thanked Sunderland' s supporters, saying the experience 'exceeded his every expectation', hailing their loyalty in continuing to deliver staggeringly huge attendances through the club's fourth campaign in the third tier.
The former head coach also launched a passionate defence of his record at the club, pointing to his role in recruiting 'top quality' youth talent and improving the pathway to the first team from the club's academy.
He said he had left the club 'on the right path' and that this gave him 'incredible satisfaction' as he weighs up his next steps in the game.
Johnson won 41 of his 75 games in charge across all competitions, but was dismissed on Sunday night in the aftermath of the 6-0 defeat to Bolton Wanderers.
Sporting Director Kristjaan Speakman told the SAFC Unfiltered podcast on Thursday that the scale of that defeat had added to concerns over 'underlying inconsistencies' in performances and results.
He also suggested that there had been extensive talks behind the scenes over concerns surrounding the implementation of the club's preferred playing philosophy on the pitch.
Johnson ended his statement, released through the League Manager's Association, by saying that 'nothing would me happier than seeing the club rise to the top'.
LEE JOHNSON’S STATEMENT IN FULL
"Firstly, I would like to thank Kyril Louis-Dreyfus, Kristjaan Speakman and the Board of Directors for allowing me the opportunity to be Head Coach at this great Club.
"To all the staff, whether that be my coaching team, players, the office staff, academy, training ground and stadium operations, your efforts have been nothing short of extraordinary. You are the heartbeat of the club and you should all be very proud. There are some amazing people within Sunderland AFC and some of you will be friends for life. Whether it be Karen Casey going above and beyond the call of duty, Joyce Rome’s fierce and unwavering support, or those who participated in our staff 6-a-side games on Fridays, there are far too many heroes at that football club to name you all.
"Upon arrival, my remit was changing the playing philosophy at the club, reducing the average age of the first team squad, and all the while competing for and gaining promotion. I leave the Football Club knowing we were on the right path, which gives me incredible satisfaction. I tried to lead the team with honesty and integrity from the moment I stepped through the door. I am extremely proud of the hard work put in by a talented set of players and staff. Working together tirelessly on the training ground with such quality has been an honour.
"Collectively we have achieved a lot in a short space of time, often in difficult circumstances. In the calendar year of 2021, we achieved the highest points per game average in the entire EFL, won the Papa John’s Trophy at Wembley, were amongst the highest goal scoring teams in the EFL, and took the Club to a Quarter Final of the Carabao Cup. During which I hope the Sunderland fans have found that love of a matchday once more, reconnecting with their Football Club with a collective pride of the hard work being done to play a brand of football to entertain as well as succeed.
"I have spent many hours helping Stuart Harvey and Kristjaan Speakman in recruiting top quality, often youth international talent and I am grateful to my football friends and contacts in football for their counsel and aiding us in recruiting those players at extraordinary value. We have also protected the pathway for young players from the Academy of Light. Making sure opportunities were there for the best home-grown players to get the minutes they need to develop within the First Team. That unique connection to the community, of one of their own representing them, is so important at Sunderland. Dan Neil is now an example for others to follow and his recent England call up is a credit to all.
"A special mention goes out to the Sunderland fans. Arriving in a pandemic with empty stadiums was strange to begin with but I am so glad we got to experience the passion that you guys bring to the Stadium of Light on match days. The attendances at this level are something you would not get at many clubs in the entire world. The experience has exceeded my every expectation, and I have felt a real connection with every Mackem I’ve met. It is a shame I couldn’t see the potential promotion through for you all, which was something I wanted to deliver for those that deserve it most. I was confident the work we did in January added the final pieces of the puzzle we needed to get there. I believe that this squad is ready now and I for one will be happy to watch them take you there.
"Finally, I would like to thank my immediate family, my wife Nicola and my daughter Izzy, who sacrificed so much to allow me to pursue my dream of managing this iconic football club.
"I have absolutely loved my time in the North East and am very grateful for the experience of managing Sunderland AFC. Nothing would make me happier than to see the club rise back to the top."