Forget Poyet - Sunderland have two options: Pulis or McClaren

Gus Poyet is the runaway favourite to land the vacant Sunderland job, but there's a saying about frying pans and fires that seems all too pertinent. 

Granted, the fact that Poyet boasts a Third Division title while Di Canio had only won the Fourth represents progress of sorts. But this is another controversial manager, another big personality and another candidate with precisely zero hours of solo Premier League managerial experience. Granted, he has coached at this level, but given the state that Sunderland are in, surely they would be better served by a more battle hardened leader.

To my mind, it should be a toss up between Steve McClaren and Tony Pulis.

Sunderland are deep in the brown stuff, they’ve wasted a summer, they’ve wasted another small fortune and they’ve wasted five Premier League games, four of which were tantalisingly winnable. 

The club is losing millions of pounds every year, they need to cut costs and the dressing room is hopelessly fractured. If owner Ellis Short wants to lure in a first class manager, he’d be best served by leading with some pictures of the region’s lovely beaches. 

No-one can doubt Short’s commitment to the cause. He’s pumped the coffers full of his own money, he’s taken a hands-on role, he even turned up to a meeting with an FTM (f**k the Mags) pin badge on his lapel. But he really did make a mess of the last managerial appointment. The reasons for Paolo di Canio’s dismissal have been widely discussed by almost every sentient lifeform in the system over the past 36 hours, so lets just say that Sunderland will not survive another mistake like that.

The early frontrunner, Roberto di Matteo, is thought to be understandably ambiguous about life at the Stadium of Light. Still on Chelsea’s payroll until the end of the season, the cash tap will be turned off the instant he takes a new job. He could hardly be blamed for holding out for something safer. Gianfranco Zola, tipped by some as a contender, would be better off staying at Watford where the Pozzo family’s strength offers security and potential.

There are two paths open to Short - the path of safety and the path of growth. The path of Pulis and the path of McClaren. Hiring the former Stoke boss would be the closest thing to a guarantee of survival that Short could hope for. Pulis would take the shattered remains of Di Canio’s revolution and swiftly forge something stubborn, solid and utterly unflushable. McClaren’s methods might take longer to have an effect, but there’s a chance of, for want of a better word, a more holistic approach to the job. 

Stoke stagnated in Pulis’ final season, but he was also damned by raised expectations. Even with the backing of the Coates family, taking Stoke from the second fight to Premier League consolidation, the FA Cup Final and the Europa League is an extraordinary achievement. He can build a defence, he can maximise set-pieces and he might even be able to unlock the potential in Connor Wickham. He is the low risk, no fun option. 

For those who like danger, and a completed pass tally that reaches three figures, McClaren is the obvious option. For all of his very public failures, he has enough on his CV to suggest that he could lift Sunderland away from the Sarlaac pit of relegation and establish them in the more salubrious climes of the Premier League. After five years with Middlesborough, he’d won a League Cup, reached a UEFA Cup Final and, most importantly, had created a conduit between the youth team and the first team. Owner Steve Gibson was so satisfied with his work that he took the risk of appointing defender Gareth Southgate as McClaren’s replacement in an effort to preserve the management structure and style. After falling short with England, McClaren rehabilitated himself in the Netherlands winning the league with FC Twente. You don’t do that unless you’ve got something.

Back in coaching rehab after failures at Wolfsburg, Nottingham Forest and a second stint at Twente, he’s been impressing at Queens Park Rangers, assisting Harry Redknapp after his knee operation. His chumminess with footballers has been mocked in the past, but given the state of the Sunderland dressing room, that might now prove his most potent weapon. 

Forget Poyet for now, Sunderland. This should be a choice between pass, move and hope it doesn’t end up like Nottingham Forest. Or kick, rush and sleep easy in the knowledge that rock trolls always make the percentages pay.

Who would want to be in Short’s shoes now? The only certainty here is that he cannot afford another mistake. This manager has to work out.

Next Sunderland manager - the latest odds

Gus Poyet - 1.50

Tony Pulis - 9.00

Steve McClaren - 9.00

Roberto di Matteo - 12.00

Gianfranco Zola - 12.00

Alex McLeish - 12.00

Read more from Iain Macintosh.