A QUEUE of decorated Dutch internationals couldn’t contain their gushing praise for Dick Advocaat after the ex-Holland manager’s appointment was announced yesterday morning.
Former Sunderland midfielder Bolo Zenden had “no doubt” that Advocaat would keep the Black Cats in the Premier League.
Ex-Chelsea keeper Ed De Goey described the manager, known as the ‘Little General’, as a “great coach”.
And former Rangers defender Arthur Numan said Sunderland’s players would immediately sit up and take notice of Advocaat’s training methods.
It’s no surprise that Advocaat has so many allies, given the success he has enjoyed winning league championships in Holland, Scotland and Russia, plus taking the Dutch to the semi-finals of Euro 2004.
This is a guy with a CV packing some serious punch.
Trying to instil confidence into players who produced such a shambles against Aston Villa and have netted just once in the last six games, are challenges that he will be licking his lips over.
But the one missing element for the 67-year-old has been a stint in the Premier League.
He has been desperate to do so before he hangs up his tracksuit and clipboard, yet is this really the time and place to be making a debut in the English game, albeit it comes with a brief, black and white remit?
However many Premier League games Advocaat has watched from his sofa, he cannot be up to speed with the personnel in Sunderland’s squad or why the Black Cats find themselves in such a precarious position.
That takes time and the majority of his opening day in the job yesterday will have been spent doing his homework and having the fine details filled in during a series of afternoon meetings.
It’s where Paul Bracewell will be invaluable in assisting him, with the ex-Sunderland midfielder taking a hiatus from his role in the development of the Under-18s and Under-21s, to work alongside Advocaat for these final nine games.
Bracewell is well thought of among Sunderland’s hierarchy after returning to the club to take up a coaching position a couple of years back and he will be a key ingredient in whether Advocaat fulfils his objective.
There are no grey areas over this short-term contract.
Either Advocaat keeps Sunderland in the Premier League, earns himself a well-deserved hefty bonus and is lauded as a hero, or he takes the club down and is regarded in the same mould of ex-Fulham boss Felix Magath – another who arrived on these shores with a lofty reputation from the Continent.
We won’t have to wait long to see whether Advocaat is the right man for the job. Certainly, he was the one Lee Congerton immediately went for, on the recommendation of his ex-Hamburg colleague Frank Arnesen.
But it makes sense for Sunderland to make a quick, short-term appointment, rather than plunging into a long commitment for a new head coach that they didn’t really want.
It was always on the agenda that Gus Poyet was going to part company with the club in the summer and there will far more attractive names available then than with two months of the season to go.
As reported yesterday, Real Madrid assistant manager Paul Clement is a leading contender, but won’t leave the Bernabeu until the summer.
Likewise, Sam Allardyce – another thought to be in the frame – will depart West Ham when his contract expires at Upton Park.
Sunderland needed someone to tide them over until that stage, when the situation could be reassessed.
From that point, Advocaat is ideal. Out of work and happy to take on a short-term role, particularly if his wife wants him back home after a couple of months (a claim made by one Dutch journalist to the BBC yesterday).
But this is a test of Congerton’s judgement.
So far, the sporting director has operated in the background during his year at the Stadium of Light, while Poyet – appointed by Congerton’s predecessor Roberto De Fanti – has faced the music for Sunderland’s problems this season.
But in the director of football-head coach system that Ellis Short clearly wants to persevere with, Congerton has a huge influence in the running of the club.
Short is desperate for a period of stability (aren’t we all!) and Congerton is charged with finding calmer waters after the friction of his relationship with Poyet.
It will be many months or maybe years before Sunderland can enjoy such tranquillity – even longer if the club are relegated in May.
But regardless of whether it’s Clement, Allardyce or A.N. Other who is handed the long-term brief, the immediate priority is to remain in the Premier League.
If Advocaat can arrest the steep decline from the final two months of Poyet’s reign and garner sufficient points, then Congerton has played a blinder.