Premier League: Sunderland's Dick Advocaat weeps tears of joy

By Phil McNultyChief football writer
Dick Advocaat
Sunderland are unbeaten in their last five matches

Dick Advocaat - the veteran hard man of management known as "The Little General" - was reduced to tears as Sunderland sealed survival in the Premier League.

The 67-year-old Dutchman was pushed over the edge of emotion by the sight of his long-time assistant Bert van Lingen in a similarly reduced state after the Black Cats secured the point they needed to stay up with a goalless draw at Arsenal.

Advocaat had nine games to save Sunderland from relegation when he replaced Gus Poyet after the Uruguayan was sacked by owner Ellis Short following the 4-0 home defeat at Aston Villa on 14 March.

The fact Advocaat achieved safety with a fixture to spare is another achievement on the CV of one of the game's most widely travelled and experienced managers - and gives Sunderland the chance to rebuild after their latest great escape.

The Advocaat effect

The sight of Advocaat tearfully falling into the arms of his old friend and colleague Van Lingen in front of thousands of joyous Sunderland fans at Emirates Stadium showed how much keeping up Sunderland meant to him - and how much it has taken out of him.

Advocaat looked drained and delighted in equal measure in his post-match briefing, admitting it was the first time football had ever moved him to public tears.

Managing Sunderland has always had the capacity to reduce grown men to tears but it was a still a surprise to see a battle-hardened character renowned for occasionally employing the iron fist in an iron glove in such a condition.

He was hailed in a slightly X-rated song by Sunderland's supporters after the final whistle and he deserves huge credit for the manner in which he turned around a club and a team that looked locked on course for the Championship when he arrived on Wearside.

Sunderland fans
Sunderland fans have been through the emotional mill this season

Poyet left a Sunderland side devoid of spirit, easily beaten and prone to the sort of spectacular collapse that proved the final straw against Villa.

Advocaat's appointment was a gamble on the part of owner Short and the manager himself. He had no Premier League experience, although he had worked in the Scottish Premier League with Rangers between 1998 and 2002.

He opened with defeat at West Ham United but followed that up with the perfect tonic for any Sunderland manager - victory against Newcastle United in the Wear-Tyne derby.

How vital does that win look now with Sunderland safe and Newcastle fighting it out with Hull City to avoid relegation on the season's final day?

There have been bumps in the road, such as the 4-1 home defeat by Crystal Palace, but otherwise Advocaat has concentrated on injecting steel where there was previously a soft centre.

Crucial wins at home to Southampton and away at Everton demonstrated that Advocaat's ability to organise, a tactical acumen accumulated over a long career, and a belief in players who had lost their way was giving Sunderland a chance.

Even Jermain Defoe, a striker who has forged a reputation as an expert penalty box predator, showed his willingness to be flexible under Advocaat, operating on the right at Everton then switching to the left at Arsenal.

Emotional Advocaat proud of team

It was all hands to the pump and Advocaat was tapping into previously unseen reserves of resilience and determination.

Sunderland rode their luck at Everton and again against at Arsenal on Wednesday but it was fortune earned and the sight of Uruguayan defender Sebastian Coates, a misfit at Liverpool, hurling himself in the way of shots at Emirates Stadium alongside veteran John O'Shea was a sign of the spirit and camaraderie fostered by Advocaat.

Three clean sheets signposted Sunderland towards safety as they became difficult to beat again and Advocaat said: "It was the way they worked, organised, and the tactics. I kept saying we would stay up if you believe in the players and the qualities you have. I said to the players they were not at a club like Sunderland because they were nice guys - I told them they were here because they were good players."

And, for a few weeks at least, Sunderland's players proved their manager right.

What now for the Black Cats?

A celebration on the long journey back to the north-east perhaps - but once the euphoria dies down, owner Short will reflect that it cannot always be like this, struggling then appointing a new manager to save Sunderland from relegation.

In an echo of Advocaat's arrival, Short sacked Martin O'Neill in late March 2013 when they were only one point off the relegation places and appointed Paolo Di Canio with just seven games left.

The explosive Italian offered the short-term gain of survival but was sacked when his time at Sunderland descended into complete chaos by September.

Gus Poyet arrived and even he needed the so-called miracle survival last season when a draw at Manchester City and wins at Chelsea and Manchester United kept them up.

So the first item on Short's agenda will be a resolution on the future of Advocaat - who said he will make a decision on whether he wants to stay at The Stadium Of Light next week.

Ellis Short
Sunderland owner Ellis Short is waiting to find out if Advocaat wants to stay or go

If he leaves it will be the end of his career. If he stays it will be his final job in football. Advocaat's poker face gave nothing away at Arsenal but the sight of Short beaming and waving in his manager's direction from high in the directors' box after the final whistle suggested he would happily keep him.

At 67, would Advocaat want the sort of long-term contract Short might feel he needs to offer to build towards something other than a desperate scrap for survival every May?

Sam Allardyce has been mentioned as a potential target as he looks certain to leave West Ham United after their final game at Newcastle United on Sunday. But would he be regarded as after the Lord Mayor's Show following Advocaat's success?

This is why getting a decision from Advocaat has to be Short's top priority. He will not want to suffer the sort of agonies both he and Sunderland fans have endured for another season.

Arsenal frustration

Arsenal could have a celebration of their own, of sorts, as this draw put them three points ahead of Manchester United with only one game left and a goal difference of seven more than Louis van Gaal's side.

This means third place and an escape from the Champions League qualifiers is effectively assured - but there were worrying signs for Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger with the FA Cup final against Aston Villa looming at Wembley on 30 May.

For all Arsenal's pretty possession patterns, and yes there were moments when Sunderland carried some luck, this was their third consecutive blank scoresheet at home.

Wenger frustrated by lack of goals

Wenger suggested this struggle to score was having an impact on their "spontaneous attitude" in their finishing. Code for: "We currently can't hit a barn door at five paces."

Throw in that Wenger said they looked jaded and lacked sharpness in their movement and it was easy to see why he expressed some concern before that Wembley date.

Arsenal have been outstanding since the turn of the year but Wenger will want to banish the lingering fear that they have peaked this season.

Third place in the Premier League and an FA Cup win will keep the wolf from the door. Third place but no trophies would make it hard for Wenger to paint a picture of progress.

Advocaat in numbers

1 - Sunderland were a point above safety when Advocaat took charge and are guaranteed to finish at least one point above safety on Sunday.

3 - He won three of his eight games - the Black Cats had won four games all season when he took over on 17 March.

4 - He has had four stints on the coaching staff of the Netherlands national team.

5 - Sunderland are now unbeaten in five games, winning two and drawing three; they last went five without a defeat in May 2014, a spell of form which also saw them avoid relegation.

8 - In eight games in charge, Advocaat has guided Sunderland to 12 points.

Dick Advocaat
Dick Advocaat guided Zenit St Petersburg to the Uefa Cup trophy in Manchester in 2008

9 - Sunderland have now drawn nine matches 0-0 this season; no side has ever recorded more in a Premier League campaign.

14 - Advocaat is the 14th man to take charge at Sunderland since Arsene Wenger became Arsenal manager in 1996.

20 - Sunderland is the 20th - and final he says - job Advocaat has taken as a manager or assistant since his first, as number two to the Dutch national team in 1984.

38 - Steve Bruce was the last Sunderland manager to complete a full season of 38 Premier League games (2010-11).

100 - No manager has been in charge for more than 100 games since Mick McCarthy left in March 2006.

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