Former Arsenal midfielder and Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson believes Sunderland manager Dick Advocaat’s main priority next season is to keep his side in the English Premier League.
The Dutch boss U-turned from turning down a three-year contract with the Black Cats to signing a one-year deal at the Stadium Of Light, after steering them to safety from the drop zone last season.
The club are set to support Advocaat by investing in the squad this summer, but Merson believes they currently need to focus on securing their top-flight status rather than looking beyond the top ten.
If I’m being honest, I think Sunderland will be happy just to stay up next year,” the former England international told Sky Sports.
“Anyone who’s going to be in that bottom half of the table next season will be happy just to stay up, and that’s where I think they’ll be again.
“It’s so important to stay up next year, with the TV money that’s going to be coming in. The bottom 10 teams – and I put West Ham in that bracket too – just need to survive.
“Sunderland can’t get carried away, being over ambitious, because that’s when you get sucked in – they just need to stay up.”
However, Merson sees no reason why Advocaat shouldn’t have a go for a cup run, and said: “They can have a go in the cups – Villa showed that you battle against relegation, survive and still give your fans a big day out at Wembley.
“So maybe they should have a go in the Capital One Cup and the FA Cup and see where it takes them, but league position has to be the priority, particularly with that TV money coming in the following season.”
Merson believes Advocaat already has the blessing of the current Sunderland squad, which should stand him in good stead for next season.
He added: It’s very good news for Sunderland – it seems as though the players really responded to him and really like him, so it’s a good move all around.
“It’s the Premier League – he’ll earn serious money – but he put a lot into the job last season and it seems as though he’s got unfinished business, so maybe that’s what made him change his mind.
“But, as I said, he’s got the players on his side already and that’s a massive starting point for next season.”