SUNDERLAND have begun the search for Tony Mowbray’s successor as head coach, with their early focus being trained on candidates based overseas.

Reims boss Will Still has emerged as an early contender to take over at the Stadium of Light, with Sunderland owner Kyril Louis-Dreyfus an admirer of the 31-year-old, who has led his current employers to fifth in the Ligue 1 table.

Mowbray and his assistant, Mark Venus, were dismissed late on Monday evening, despite Sunderland sitting ninth in the Championship table, just three points off the play-off places.

The former Middlesbrough, Blackburn and Celtic boss led the Black Cats into the play-offs last season, but his relationship with Louis-Dreyfus and sporting director Kristjaan Speakman became strained as tensions over recruitment became apparent towards the end of last term, with the issues continuing into the current campaign.

First-team coach Mike Dodds has assumed caretaker control and will oversee training this week as part of a coaching team that will also feature ex-Sunderland striker Michael Proctor. Dodds is expected to be in charge for Saturday’s home game against West Brom, and could remain in the dugout for Tuesday’s home meeting with Leeds United with the Black Cats hierarchy not in a position to make an immediate appointment.

In his statement which accompanied the announcement of Mowbray’s departure, Louis-Dreyfus spoke of a “relentless demand for a high-performance culture to be implemented throughout the club” and his aim for the development of a “strong playing identity”.

Those ambitions will be at the core of the search for a new head coach, with Louis-Dreyfus and Speakman expected to initially focus on the European market as they attempt to recruit Mowbray’s successor.


This spring, a series of stories emerged suggesting Sunderland’s recruitment team were lining up a potential move for Italian coach Francesco Farioli, and while the 34-year-old has subsequently been installed as the head coach of Ligue 1 club Nice, where he has led his side to second place in the French top-flight behind only Paris St Germain, the interest nevertheless provides a guide to the type of person the Black Cats are likely to pursue in the wake of Mowbray’s dismissal.

Young, ambitious and regarded as an innovative training-ground thinker, Farioli is among a group of highly-rated overseas coaches that Sunderland are understood to have been monitoring for the last eight months or so.

Farioli’s assistant, 43-year-old Julien Sable, has been touted as a possible candidate, along with former Australian international Kevin Muscat, who is currently in charge of Japanese side Yokohama Marinos and who has recently been linked with vacancies at Rangers and Millwall.

Still is also a leading contender, having begun his managerial career with Belgian side Lierse in 2017 when he was aged just 24. Born in Belgium to English parents, Still also had a spell at Beerschot before moving to France to take over at Reims. 

In terms of domestic candidates, the bookmakers have installed current Plymouth boss Steven Schumacher as their early favourite, narrowly ahead of Paul Heckingbottom, who was sacked from Sheffield United yesterday, and John Eustace, who was moved aside after impressing at Birmingham City earlier this season in order to accommodate the appointment of Wayne Rooney at St Andrew’s.

More experienced bosses, Neil Warnock and Mick McCarthy, are understood to be interested in the role, but are not expected to be considered by the Sunderland hierarchy.

“This was a difficult decision to make,” said Speakman, when announcing Mowbray’s exit. “But we remain loyal to our ambition and our strategy, and felt that now was the right moment to take this step.

“We are now focused on identifying the right candidate, and we will continue to support our coaching team and players throughout the interim period.”