As soon as the decision was made and everything agreed between the two clubs, it became difficult to enjoy the rest of my holiday. Every single thought I had was on this job.
And, at that time, this job was a big task. For a lot of different reasons.
The day after we got home, I came down to the northeast. The players weren’t around – they were still on holiday – and there weren’t that many people at the training ground, but I spent most of the next month here.
The club was going through a huge transition. Not just on the playing side, but also with staff and the ownership. So it was important I was here to try and build relationships with the people I was going to be working with. And to get a real feel for the club.
Until you’re right in it, I don’t think you fully appreciate the size of it. Or how passionate the people around it are – what Sunderland means to them, and how much they deserve success.
“There have been times where we’ve had a couple of bumps. That’s when you feel it – a sense of oh, here we go again”
During those first few weeks, I remember phoning round all the players. I wanted to introduce myself and get a feel for where they were at. They were probably thinking: “Who’s this daft Scotsman calling in the middle of my holiday?”
I knew that some of them weren’t coming back. But I was keen to learn as much as I could about what I was going to be dealing with from the first day of pre-season.
There’s a balance to that, though. I did a lot of homework on the players – watched a lot of footage – but I purposely didn’t seek opinions of them from anybody. I didn’t want to be prejudiced against them in any way before I’d had a chance to work with them.
It was a bit of a gamble, but I wanted to see how the group was. To see how they trained, how they conducted themselves and how they interacted with me. I wanted to judge them with my own eyes.
I’m glad I did that, because I found a large number of them maybe very different to what some people’s opinions would have been. I think the players appreciated it too, because they felt they were being judged solely on what they were doing on a daily basis for me and my staff. It felt fresh.