Advocaat's exit leaves Sunderland dealing with uncertainty yet again
Few people could quarrel with Dick Advocaat's his decision to turn down the chance to remain in charge of Sunderland, having rescued the club from a ruinous descent into the Championship.
Last week's tears, after watching his players hold off Arsenal in a 0-0 draw at the Emirates to claim the point needed for Premier League survival, were real enough.
Advocaat was genuinely touched by the affection he had won at the Stadium of Light and proud of having kept his record, arguably against the odds, of never presiding over a relegation.
But his wife's feelings, that it was time to enjoy retirement after a long, successful and financially rewarding career, were well-documented. There was talk of Advocaat disagreeing with Sunderland management over the degree of control he might expect on transfer dealings; in the end, I suspect, it was Mrs. Advocaat's preferences that influenced his choice, not club owner Ellis Short's conditions.
"At certain moments in your life you have to make a decision and I am almost 68 years old now," said Advocaat. "A number of clubs contacted me but the decision was always Sunderland or nobody."
The Sunderland faithful will love the last few words. Their club got under Advocaat's skin, just as it had with the club's ex-chairman Niall Quinn. And he had repaid their support by emulating the feats of Paolo di Canio, Guy Poyet and, for that matter, Martin O'Neill, in keeping their team up.
Consider those other names. Di Canio and Poyet did the hard bit, grabbing the unexpected wins when all seemed lost as seasons drew towards a menacing climax. O'Neill had done it as early as the end of 2011 and beginning of 2012 when replacing Steve Bruce with the team already seeming on course for relegation. Each of the three pulled off his version of Advocaat's great escape in a different way; all proved equally incapable of building on their explosive, short-term achievements.
Perhaps Advocaat feared he, too, would be unable to reproduce the effect he had in nine matches this season in the 38 Premier games starting in August. Successive Sunderland managers throughout the Premier's existence could tell him how tough it is to attract top players or, if another former manager Roy Keane's complaints were justified during his reign, their wives and girlfriends to the windy, unfashionable North East.
It is perhaps asking too much of the average wife to appreciate that even in a season low on achievement and even lower on entertainment, Sunderland drew attendances bigger than those of champions Chelsea. She might, in any case, point out that Chelsea's lower crowds tend not to witness the woeful collapses that cause paying customers to walk out en masse long before the final whistle.
Part of the benefit of Advocaat's legacy is that Short and his sporting director, Lee Congerton, can hardly be deaf to his parting criticism of the club's transfer policy in recent years. In the Dutchman's own words, the way money had been spent is a source of "surprise."
The local newspaper, the Sunderland Echo, was hardly guilty of sensationalism with its interpretation, that Advocaat was "shocked by some of the money that has been squandered."
Now Short has, yet again, to decide on a new manager even if the eventual recruit has to settle for being called head coach. There are men in football who will accept that, and those who will not. Yet Sunderland need that special kind of man whose reputation or respect in the game can triumph over the reluctance of high-quality players to settle on Wearside.
Sam Allardyce is available. He is a former Sunderland player with some affinity for the club and he undoubtedly commands respect. His style of play may not always appeal to supporters, as he discovered at West Ham, but it is unlikely that a Sunderland under Allardyce would enter the last nine games of next season in dire danger of going down. Against that, Big Sam is no admirer of the sort of sporting director/coach arrangement he would almost certainly have to accept.
But Sunderland fans who cry out for a really big, ambitious appointment are probably deluding themselves. The best they may be able to hope is that the new man is as calm, effective and, yes, realistic as Advocaat -- but also young enough to see the job as a project for three years or more.
Colin is ESPN FC's Sunderland blogger. Follow him on Twitter at @salutsunderland