Mick McCarthy has been out of club management for over six years.

But the former Republic of Ireland manager has decided to take over as boss of Sunderland, who are languishing at the bottom of the English Premiership.

On accepting the post McCarthy said: “Some may ask why I’ve come here but its’ a football club, a proper football club. It has a great set of supporters and everyone connected with it has a passion to see it do well.”

Turn the clock back five months. Howard Wilkinson, who had been out of club management for over six years, had been appointed to save Sunderland from relegation.

“It is clear to me that this is a club with a proud tradition, huge and faithful support and in the Stadium of Light and academy, facilities that will be second to none,” Wilknson said. Sound familiar?

The question that must be asked of the Sunderland board was why didn’t they appoint McCarthy six months ago?

Apparently, Black Cats chairman Bob Murray rang Howard Wilkinson last October for his opinion about McCarthy succeeding Peter Reid when the FA’s then technical director offered his own services. But 20 games and only two wins later the folly of that decision was evident when Wilkinson and his assitant Steve Cotterill were sacked.

McCarthy has been talking up his team’s chances, as every manager who inherits an impossible situation, must do.

“I’m absolutely determined to do it. It’ll be a wonderful and remarkable achievement, ” he said.

“It’s a battle that I’m looking forward to.Mathematically it’s still possible. I think it’s still doable and so long as it is we’ve still got to believe.”

“Can we keep them up? I don’t know? Is it possible? Everybody thinks it’s impossible. Nobody believes we can do it, so let’s prove them wrong.”

But the reality of the situation is that he has nine games to overhaul a deficit of seven points to ensure Premiership survival for the Black Cats.

He has inherited a squad of players whose morale must be at an all-time low and there is no money in the bank. Sunderland are reportedly œ20million in debt and must find another œ2 million to pay off Wilkinson and his assistant Steve Cotterill. Peter Reid’s sacking six months ago cost them another œ1 million. And they still owe Rangers œ3 million for Tore Andre Flo – the Glasgow club having refused an offer of players, in favour of the cash.

McCarthy believes the fans support can help their team.

“Of course passion helps,” he said.

“It’ll be here in the crowd on Saturday and it has been in the area for over a 100 years. They are passionate fans.”

This may well be true but will they be passionate enough to watch all 90 minutes of Saturday’s game? On many occasions this season, the match has been completed in near silence as the majority of supporters have left the ground before the game has finished. In fact, when Sunderland trailed 0-3 to Charlton recently, many did not even wait until the half-time interval before heading foor the exits.

However optimistic the new manager may appear, the reality is that Sunderland must prepare for the inevitable and look to McCarthy to rebuild the team from the first division. To that end, the club’s board of directors are busy drawing up contingency plans.

Vice-chairman John Fickling said: “I think we have to look at reducing our cost base. We are not beingdefeatist, but equally we wouldn’t be doing our job if we weren’t looking at all the options and that has, and is, being done.”

The in-joke in the North-East at the moment is: “We’ve got three gates – Woodgate (Newcastle0, Southgate (Middlesbrough) and relegate (Sunderland).”
By Phil Clisby