All eyes are now firmly fixed on Sunderland's head coach appointment. Who will be in the dugout for pre-season and the 2024/25 Championship campaign?

We Are Sunderland understands talks with prospective head coaches are progressing well but an appointment was not imminent as of Friday, May 10.

Danny Rohl, Will Still, Paul Heckingbottom and Rene Maric are among the candidates linked with the vacant managerial hotseat, while former Mainz boss Bo Svensson has emerged as the latest name in the mix.

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A quick glance at social media would suggest Rohl and Still would be frontrunners for the job in the eyes of supporters, but given the reported compensation fee to take the German away from Hillsborough this summer, a move for the Sheffield Wednesday boss is unlikely.

Compensation was a factor that stopped Sunderland in luring Still away from French club Stade de Reims in December, but after leaving the Ligue 1 outfit earlier this month, he remains one to watch.

Perhaps the most obscure name on Sunderland's shortlist, is that of Rene Maric. The Austrian head coach, like Rohl, has a glowing CV having coached at some of Germany's biggest clubs.

The 31-year-old is viewed as one of the upcoming brightest brains in European football, having coached at RB Salzburg, Borussia Monchengladbach, Borussia Dortmund and most recently Bayern Munich, it's clear to see why.

Maric is no stranger to the English game having had a tenure at Leeds United under their former boss Jesse Marsch, a short lived spell as an assistant manager.

“I am really pleased to see René pick us over several other options he had to choose from across Europe," Leeds' director of football, Victor Orta said at the time of his arrival in Yorkshire. “We interviewed numerous candidates over the summer but as soon as we knew René was available and interested, we set our sights on bringing him in to support Jesse. He’s a top quality coach and I believe he can create successful partnerships alongside the exciting staff.”

A glowing appraisal, but what do we know of the young coach?

Maric began his coaching career from an early age, coaching his local side TSU Handenberg at just 17-years-old. At university he studied psychology before writing for website Spielverlagerung - a cult tactics blog which opened the door for coaching roles.

"I was an amateur youth coach, taking the Under-11s, and after school I was in the Austrian Army for a few months," Maric tells the Training Ground Guru in a brilliant podcast that gives you an insight into the mind of the young coach. "Spielverlagerung started out as a way of writing things down to be able to feedback to ourselves and others. I was doing things on the pitch and also things in a more theoretical academic way and trying to make that difference smaller and smaller through more understanding.

"If you cannot explain it simple enough, then you maybe don't understand it fully. Spielverlagerung - it just means switch of play or also changing the game in some way - we thought back then that people would not really be interested.

"We wrote theory articles, match analysis, team analysis, just whatever we thought was interesting for readers, just to delve more into the game and to get feedback and meet people. Some of the guys who wrote for it were readers.

"When we saw that people were interested, we went into more detail and more discussions. From that, I think it developed and was having a small hype back then. People were quoting it in the German media; some coaches, some players mentioned it, so we got a niche and following. From that, the amount of readers got bigger and we got some consultancy projects.

"I wrote a book with another guy who was a guest writer on the blog. These consultancy projects and networking and meeting different coaches really helped me. You could say it was surprising, because we were just some young coaches talking about the game."

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Maric's blog caught the eye of Thomas Tuchel 12 years ago, after writing about Mainz's game against Bayern Munich. The then Mainz boss invited the Austrian on board for a consultancy role over the course of the season.

Tuchel wasn't the only upcoming German coach who was drawn in by Maric's football talk. He became friends with RB Salzburg U18s head coach Marco Rose and was appointed as his assistant in 2016. The pair became part of the first-team set-up after Oscar Garcia departed the club in 2017 and have worked closely together ever since.

"Marco was a former player of Thomas' (Tuchel, at Mainz), and he heard of the blog and me," Maric explains.

"It was just a lucky coincidence that he was coaching at Salzburg and I was studying there (at the University of Salzburg) and had my amateur team there. We met and started to talk football.

"From there, after a few months of talking, he was open to me becoming his Assistant Coach. It helped me a lot, because I probably would still be coaching in amateur football instead of having experienced Premier League and Champions League."

The duo worked together at Borussia Monchengladbach and Borussia Dortmund before going their separate ways after leaving the Signal Iduna in 2022.

We Are Sunderland: Rene Maric (left) worked alongside Erling Haaland and Marco Rose (right) during their time at Borussia Dortmund.Rene Maric (left) worked alongside Erling Haaland and Marco Rose (right) during their time at Borussia Dortmund. (Image: PA Wire)

Maric would join Leeds United in the summer of 2022, with similar football ideologies to then boss Jesse Marsch, before leaving at the same time as the American head coach. The 31-year-old would head back to mainland Europe where he's now Head of Coaching Methodology at Bayern Munich, while also head coach of the Bavarians Under-19s side.

Labelled a 'laptop coach' by some - and unphased by those accusations - Maric is fully immersed in the data side of the game and has been tasked with creating a 'Bayern Munich style of play.' The Austrian is a big believer in allowing people to work authentically as they would, rather than impose a strict regime, as long as certain parts of the methodology are adhered to.

READ MORE: Sunderland's 2023-24 season review and where it went wrong

For an insight into his coaching and managerial style of play, Maric cites Bayern Munich U19's win over FC Basel in the UEFA Youth League as the Bayern Munich way.

He tells the Training Ground Guru: "The first half against Basel with our U19s (on February 7th, which Bayern won 2-0) was what I want them to play like, because that is the Bayern Munich way. In the second half, they showed what happens if the coach is not able to help as much as he should. It took me too long to make the change in that game. Normally, I don't like to do these changes anyway, as I think they have to figure out solutions by themselves, and I'm just supporting them.

"But in that game, with these circumstances, maybe I could have helped them more, so I told them that I'm thankful that they reacted really well in terms of if things are not working as they should, they did a great job. They ran 15km more than in the game before, which is an unheard of statistic. It's the players showing that they wanted to win the game and I really, really appreciate it."

We Are Sunderland: Bayern U19's fluid 4-3-3 from their win over FC Basel in the UEFA Youth League.Bayern U19's fluid 4-3-3 from their win over FC Basel in the UEFA Youth League. (Image: Wyscout)

A brace from Lovro Zvonarek gave Bayern a 2-0 win on the night to see them through to the knockout stages of the competition.

As we see from the average positioning above, Maric's young side operate in a fluid 4-3-3, with the role of both full-backs hugely important. Right-back Max Scholze and left-back Adam Aznou often find themselves on the ball in central areas of the pitch, in inverted full-back positions, like we've seen Sunderland try to utilize throughout the recent campaign.

Scholze offers a great attacking outlet from right-back and almost opens the scoring after just 15 minutes with a mazy run up field, similar to Niall Huggins' goal of the season against Watford. It's that freedom to attack in possession which is particularly exciting, although Scholze's effort against Basel is saved down low by Tim Pfeiffer. 

We Are Sunderland: Max Scholze is given the freedom to invert his attacking run infield and comes close to opening the scoring.Max Scholze is given the freedom to invert his attacking run infield and comes close to opening the scoring. (Image: UEFA TV)

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Interestingly, the role of an inverted full-back isn't something that Maric specifically sets his side up to play that way, rather he gives the players the creative license to roam, while others fill into positions that have been vacated elsewhere.

At the Leichtathletik Stadion, Bayern enjoyed an xG of 2.09 according to Wyscout, while limiting the hosts to an xG of just 0.29.

We Are Sunderland: Bayern Munich U19's trendline against FC Basel in the UEFA Youth League.Bayern Munich U19's trendline against FC Basel in the UEFA Youth League. (Image: Wyscout)Bayern had 16 shots, with five on target, while the Swiss side had 12 shots, but none on target. As per the usual case with developmental games, possession was evenly shared, with Bayern edging things at 52 - 48 per cent.

The forward runs from Bayern's U19s are particularly pleasing on the eye as midfielders break lines and they get a number of bodies into the box. Their opening goal of the night from Zvonarek a well worked goal and some individual brilliance from the Croatian attacking midfielder.

The speed at which the German side hit FC Basel on the break sees them cut open the hosts. Their second goal an equally well worked goal starting down Bayern's left as they hit the hosts on the counter.

The video below shows a great passage of one touch football from Maric's side against Feyenoord in the next round of the competition. Javier Fernandez providing the final touch with a deft finish.

Maric places an emphasis on wanting his Bayern youth sides to be the dominant team, minimising space for the opposition when they have the ball, and maximising it in possession. Interestingly, the Austrian talks about the need to have individual players who can do that - very much like Jack Clarke has for Sunderland this season - but also the need to have a stricture in place. While accepting that's not reinventing the wheel, Maric's sides press high to win the ball back, but are also accepting that they can operate in a low block when they need to.

His work in youth development back in Germany ticks a big box for the Sunderland hierarchy and while he's kept his cards close to his chest in terms of what type of head coach he'd become in the future, he cites Mikel Arteta's Arsenal as a potential blueprint.

"It's maybe easier to say the teams that I really love to watch," Maric explains. "You have a lot of fantastic teams (in England). Obviously Manchester City are amazing. You have Liverpool, Inter with (Simone) Inzaghi, you have a lot of great teams in the Bundesliga in the top three. Brighton. If you go back to last season in the Championship, Swansea with Russell Martin, Burnley with Vincent (Kompany), they were really good to watch too.

"The last two seasons are a tremendous job by (Kieran) McKenna. But if you would ask me if I could wish for my team to play like one team, I might actually choose Arsenal, because that mixture of being able to play a specific style with the ball and against the ball, I think they just fulfil it. I think this is very attractive and not easy to create, it takes some time. I really enjoy watching them."

Maric's most interesting belief - "Tactics don't exist."

"You have decisions of players," he says. "Tactics is the word people use to influence these decisions. I want to improve their understanding of the game. If you get pressed from the right, you cannot run through the opponent, so you have to get around them. It might be the right touch past him, it might be a pass, it might be that you adapt your position.

"In the end, I see my role as a Head Coach as influencing and improving the decision-making of the players. I think the word tactics is very confusing, actually. With the Red Bull pressing style, you have these reference points of the ball, the team-mate and the opponent. When you first look at the opponent, you call it man-marking. If you're looking first at your team-mate, you call it zonal marking. If you're looking first at the ball, you call it pressing.

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"In the end, I always tie back to what is the important information and the relevant things on the pitch for the players? That's how my thinking was shaped the last years. I only think about it from the players' perspective and in terms of their decision-making.

"With formations, you might make it harder to grasp, and then you may need half a second longer, and then you might not be able to execute that decision or you might make the wrong decision. It helps if you focus on the eyes and the head and the legs of the players and teach the game and not teach your personal favourite style or language."

Bayern are understood to be happy with the work Maric is doing with the academy at the Bavarian side and are keen for him to stay, but he'll have to make a decision whether now is the right time to take his first step into management.