Alex Neil’s departure to Stoke City has left Sunderland without a manager only a few months after the club celebrated promotion to the Championship. Admittedly, Neil’s sudden decision to leave the Stadium of Light seems to be, on the surface at least, a curious one with both Sunderland and Stoke currently level pegging in terms of a potential promotion to the Premier League.
Indeed, the English Championship betting odds price the two clubs at longish odds of 9/1 to go up at the end of the 2022/2023 season. With that said, the Championship season is still in its infancy and Neil has proved that he can jet in mid-way through a campaign and achieve promotion as he did when he arrived at Sunderland in February 2022.
The latest Championship outright tips do, however, heavily favour Watford, Norwich, and Sheffield United to fight for the title and subsequently occupy the promotion spots throughout the season. The long and short of it is that Neil will have to hit the ground running as the new Stoke boss if he is going to be successful in earning the Potters promotion back to the Premier League.
On the other side of the equation, Sunderland fans now find themselves in a familiar yet underwhelming limbo after being left high and dry by Neil, but the question still needs to be asked, how have they ended up in this position? It’s becoming increasingly evident that Neil’s decision to make for Staffordshire did take the club by surprise but similarly, the Sunderland hierarchy didn’t try to move heaven and earth in order to retain the Scot’s services. Rather, it feels as if the club have quickly come to terms with Neil’s decision.
Kristjaan Speakman provides an update ahead of this afternoon’s fixture at the Stadium of Light.
— Sunderland AFC (@SunderlandAFC) August 27, 2022
The 41-year-old was, after all, on a rolling contract at the Stadium of Light which is a setup that often indicates that both parties are happy to keep their options open whilst still being committed to a successful working relationship. In Neil’s case, deciding to go to Stoke, which does feel more like a sideways move instead of a personal promotion, was easily justified owing to the club’s decision to offer him a three-year deal. When weighed up against his rolling contract with Sunderland, it makes complete sense as far as job security goes.
As far as Sunderland are concerned, you get the sense that the club may have been less sold on Neil’s ability to earn promotion out of the Championship which, admittedly, is odd given that the Scot was able to lead Norwich City out of the second tier on two occasions during his time at Carrow Road. At least, this is the conclusion you come to when trying to work out why the Black Cats didn’t reward their manager who had just won promotion from League One, with a long contract that he obviously desired.
🤦♂️ “Sunderland are looking for nirvana.”
😳 “They’re trying to buy young players, sell some & progress. That’s very hard.”
✅ “Stoke will support him in the transfer market & not ask him to develop players.”
— talkSPORT (@talkSPORT) August 29, 2022
With that said, decisions have been made based for various reasons and the successful collaboration between Neil and Sunderland has been brought to what feels like a premature end. Time will tell whether this was the right decision as both parties set their eyes on the Premier League.