Patrick Swayze and pints of milk: why I don't want Alex Neil back at Sunderland

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The Scot has been linked with a shock return to Wearside.

My girlfriend once told me that she will always remember exactly where she was when she found out, less than a week after her tenth birthday, that Steve 'The Crocodile Hunter' Irwin had died. I have a similar thing with Alex Neil and his Sunderland departure.

You see, I don't think I'll ever forget that Friday - the missed press conference, the initial breezy disbelief, the dawning sense of an uncomfortable reality creeping in, the glum numbness of the settling dust. On August 26th 2022, the stern-faced Scot took the decision to walk away from the club that he had just guided to a long-awaited promotion so that he could assume responsibilities at Stoke City, vanishing into the ether and making a right mess during an ill-advised pottery-adjacent dalliance, like Patrick Swayze in Ghost. In doing so, he also took a big ol' roundhouse kick to my brittle sense of trust, like Patrick Swayze in Road House.

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Of course, Sunderland would move on pretty swiftly, and under Neil's successor Tony Mowbray, last season became more enjoyable and buoyantly optimistic than many Mackems could ever have realistically hoped. Indeed, for a long while, Alex Neil was a name barely spoken on Wearside. But now, he is back. Or at least, he would quite like to be, if reports are to be believed.

According to Alan Nixon, the 42-year-old - currently unemployed after his Stoke gamble went awry - would be 'open' to the prospect of returning to the Stadium of Light, with Sunderland still on the hunt for their next permanent managerial appointment following Michael Beale's recent departure. Beyond that wild assertion, the details remain a touch hazy, but for Neil to be tossed so nonchalantly and unexpectedly into the mix at all has caused quite the stir in the North East.

Here he comes, waltzing back into frame like a previously-written-off soap opera villain, ripping the scabs from emotional wounds just as many in red and white had finally forgotten he existed. Alex Neil is the reason I have trust issues, and now I'm being told that I might have to find a way of putting all of that to one side so that I can get behind him once more? It's a lot to take in.

And if I'm being perfectly honest, I don't want him back at Sunderland. The reasons for this are two-fold, mainly. Firstly, I would be lying if I said that there wasn't an element of pride involved. Neil abandoned us at a time when things were universally quite pleasant, discarding a team and a fanbase who had his full backing in favour of an offer that he felt better suited his individual ambitions at that stage in his career. That was, of course, his prerogative - he was under contract, not chained to a radiator in The Montgomery Suite. But don't come crying back to us when you've dropped the vase and smashed it into a thousand irredeemable pieces.

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More pertinent still, however, is the manner in which things broke down between Neil and the Sunderland board during his first stint on Wearside. Upon his departure, there were widespread suggestions that the club's transfer policy had played a significant part in his exit. And when I say 'widespread', I mean 'he basically confirmed as much himself'.

But allow me to let you in on a little secret, Alexander; things have not changed one iota. Kristjaan Speakman still parades around the Stadium of Light in a golden paper crown with 'Transfer King' daubed across it in Sharpie, we are still very much a buy-to-sell kinda operation, and somehow, improbably, we have even fewer functioning strikers than we did when you nipped out for a pint of milk 18 months ago and never came back.

All of the frustrations that supposedly led to Neil's first departure will linger indefinitely on Wearside, and as such, it is difficult to imagine how he could earnestly return to his old job and expect the eventual outcome to be anything other than yet more acrimony. Whatever you as a reader or a fan may think of Sunderland's current approach to business, the simple fact of the matter is that Neil has made it achingly clear he does not believe it is workable or sustainable. He voted with his feet, and now we're meant to just accept him pawing at the back door, asking to be let in like a house cat in a snowstorm? It all rings a little insincere.

And to that end, it is worth reiterating that there may be no truth whatsoever to Nixon's report on Neil's apparent interest in a Sunderland reunion. Perhaps it is just idle speculation, or unfortunately relayed misinformation. Then again, perhaps it is the genuine article, so to speak - 100%, bona fide, weapons grade veracity. Either way, just for the avoidance of any doubt, let me make one thing perfectly clear: I'm not interested.

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