Sunderland Changes Offer More Questions Than Assurances

Mark Runnacles

Lee Congerton has been confirmed as the new head of Sunderland's player recruitment. But is he just another role of the dice, or can the Black Cats finally commit to a course?

"We change everything". They were three words offered by Paolo Di Canio which came to define a stunningly hectic summer for Sunderland and reignite the optimism of fans for whom struggle had become too familiar. They feel like a lifetime ago.

To give people their due, everything did change too. There was a new coach with a new tactical philosophy being supported by a new recruitment team headed up by a new Director of Football who was required to bring in half a new squad. Even the star turns, Danny Rose, Simon Mignolet and Stephane Sessegnon had gone.

Then things changed again. Suddenly there was another new manager with another new tactical philosophy. Previously banished players were back. Before long, the Director of Football, Roberto De Fanti, had gone and another five new players had arrived.

Recently, things have once again changed. Lee Congerton and Steven Houston have arrived from Hamburg to form another new recruitment team with Valentino Angeloni and Massimo Mirabelli making way.

No one is really mentioning it yet, but regardless of whether or not Sunderland's bid for Premier League survival is successful, big changes are once again coming this summer. As things stand, Keiren Westwood, Oscar Ustari, Phil Bardsley, Andrea Dossena, Jack Colback, Seb Larsson, Carlos Cuellar and Craig Gardner are due to be out of contract in the summer. Meanwhile, Ki Sung-Yueng, Fabio Borini, Ondrey Celustka, Marcos Alonso and Santiago Vergini are due to return to their parent clubs.

Losing the majority of those players won't cause many to lose any sleep, but it doesn't take an advanced mathematics degree from Oxford to note that Sunderland will likely be facing the prospect of half next season's squad being new arrivals again.

In fact, you could probably argue that things have changed so much at the club that what we have now is just the same old Sunderland we had before. Same old Sunderland striving for stability but constantly placing itself in transition.

It's not that I have a problem with the club's apparent intentions. In fact I think they have the theory bang on the money. I appreciate it is a source of distrust for many, but the continental system of employing a separate team to specifically look after transfers is the right way forward.

The cold reality of modern football is that there is just too much for a manager to keep on top of by himself. Too many relevant leagues to keep an eye on, too many agents to deal with, too many months in advance to keep ahead of etc. Add in their actual coaching duties and there are just too many pies and not enough fingers. They need the help.

So the actual plan is one I am fully behind. I have grown concerned about the execution of it, however. I don't have many answers, admittedly, but some of the questions are certainly worrying.

If the remit of the Director of Football, or whatever you want to call it, is a long and mid-term one, do we have sufficient courage of that conviction to resist the urge to condemn people for short-term, often inherited failings?

Why are our current scouting staff, who were not given the time to effect change, coming from and going to a club like Inter Milan yet being replaced by people who have been part of the decline of a huge club like Hamburg? What role did the pair have in that and what exactly are their credentials? I'm not sure those hailing the appointments have really dug deep enough.

With a manager in place who openly favours a very continental, or even South American, style of play, is it too great a contradiction to appoint a chiefly British recruitment staff to support him?

Have the lessons been learned that saw De Fanti easily cast as the faceless scapegoat? In other words, will Congerton be presented to the press and allowed to connect with the supporters?

I am always an optimist when it comes to Sunderland and that's something to which regular readers will attest, and I do applaud the vision of the club. But it's becoming increasingly tough to buy into that vision when no discernible foundations appear to be being laid to make it a reality.

We just seem to lurch from one new era to the next, one manager to the next, one philosophy to the next, one recruitment drive to the next, one set of loaned players to the next.

And it isn't some grand design either. I don't think anyone at the club specifically wants to role the dice. I know first hand that Ellis Short himself craves stability at the club more than anyone. However, perhaps a degree of hardship must be accepted to go hand-in-hand with that process. You have to commend people who have the stones to stand up and admit they made a mistake, but are we judging them to be mistakes a bit too early?

In some cases - allowing Paolo Di Canio to start this season in charge, for example - that isn't an accusation you can lay at the club's feet. I'm not sold on the need for blanket changes to necessarily follow it, though.

We are no strangers to hardship and we endure it better than most. We can take an extraordinary amount of it. History has offered us no other alternative than to develop an immunity. If necessary, we can do it again. It needs to be the good kind of hardship, though; the kind of hardship that pays your dues en-route to better times rather than the bleak and endless hand-to-mouth hardship that it has started to feel like.

I hope that in a years time I am writing a follow-up to this declaring my concerns to have been proven unfounded. Sunderland is not as tough a nut to crack as it has seemed over the last decade, so there is every chance I will be.

Was Roberto De Fanti the principle root of Sunderland's problems? Without hearing his side of the story, it's tough to judge, but probably not. Even when we get his side, the lack of time he spent in the job will make definitive conclusions difficult. But the time has come to commit to something. No more doubt. No more experiments. No more witch-hunts or pantomime villains.

In the apparently perpetual blame game scramble for Sunderland scapegoats, there are a lot of big questions currently going unasked.

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