NIALL Quinn is ready to delegate responsibility for Sunderland’s crucial run of festive fixtures to caretaker coach Ricky Sbragia as he continues to make methodical progress in the search for Roy Keane’s successor.
As Sunderland’s board continue the process of whittling down around 30 credible candidates who have expressed an interest in the role, their expensively assembled team embark upon a sequence of games that has the potential to shape their campaign.
While an appointment is expected before the New Year, Quinn clearly has confidence in the highly-rated and popular coach Sbragia – and has few concerns about keeping him in charge until the right man for the manager’s job can be identified.
Sbragia – who has told the player’s not to call him “gaffer” – has lifted the fear of failure that was apparently crippling Sunderland’s players in the ill-fated final weeks of Keane’s reign and sought to bring the squad “closer together” as they face the crucial Christmas period.
While the first team coach does not want to be considered for the role on a permanent basis, he was told by Sunderland’s
chief executive last week that he should plan to be in charge for the visit to Hull next week.
“I’m in charge today and that’s all I know for definite at the moment but Niall spoke to me for about an hour on Thursday and told me to plan for the rest of the week after the West Brom game,” he said.
“Niall just said to me to carry on and keep doing what I’m doing. He seemed quite pleased with the way things are going and said ‘Carry on and I’ll let you know’ basically. There’s no timeline at the moment as far as I’m aware.”
With making the correct decision valued over making a swift one, Quinn has set no deadline for an appointment to be made.
It is unlikely, however, that Sunderland will enter the New Year still under Sbragia’s charge and The Journal understands that contact has been made with potential candidates through third parties.
Bookies’ favourite Sam Allardyce and Alan Curbishley would be available to begin work immediately, but the board will also consider the claims of foreign candidates and that may lengthen the process.
Gerard Houllier publicly ruled himself out of the running on French TV this week, while Avram Grant – who is believed to be interested in the position – says that no-one from Sunderland has made contact with him yet.
Whoever ends up getting the job, Sbragia believes they will be inheriting a team and a club that has been much improved by the influence of the former boss.
“I think Roy’s left behind a great legacy and that’s been indicated by the people who’ve applied for the job,” he said.
“There’s 30 people – although it might be 40 or 50 – who’ve applied. It’s a big club but we maybe have to start changing things around, moving them around and making it into a big club. It’s no use saying it’s a great club, we have to do it on the field now.
“We’ve done fantastic getting into the Premier League but there’s a procedure you need to go through to establish yourselves. Hull have done well but that might change next year. Sunderland is definitely still an ambitious club.”
In the shorter term, Sbragia has Dean Whitehead available for this afternoon’s clash with relegation-haunted West Brom although Craig Gordon and George McCartney miss out again.
“They are big misses for us, but I thought Márton (Fülöp) did ever so well last week,” he said.
“George is a big miss because he gives us a balance on that side. Phil Bardsley took his place for a little while, but he has to come inside because he’s right-footed. We hope they’ll be fit, but when they’ll be fit I’m not so sure.”