Ellis Short: The Unscrutinised Architect Of Our Downward Spiral

Since Ellis Short took full control of Sunderland, it's been a downward spiral from the brink of Premier League stability. Just why isn't his role in all of those receiving the scrutiny it deserves?

We all know Newcastle fans love a protest against Mike Ashley. The city's launderettes must do a roaring trade, so often have bed sheets been soiled with classic slogans such as "Boycoutt the club" and then at a more recent, rather pathetic looking protest, one placard suggested fellow supporters, "Toot if you want Ashley oot". Piss taking aside, it is interesting that a section of their fan base - however small it may be - is evidently extremely vocal with their animosity toward him.

Interesting in the sense that if you were asked to look at the league table with no prior knowledge of Premier League football and left to pick which of the region's clubs you thought were currently engaged in protests against their ownership, you'd surely plump for Sunderland. Of course, football extends beyond league tables or even cup competitions. Ashley's decisions to play loose with the club's tradition and history, along with three consecutive derby defeats and the selling of star players such as Cabaye have not gone down well with the Newcastle fan base.

That said, for all the anti-Ashley rhetoric, he has Newcastle in a relatively stable position financially and in the comfortable, no man's land of mid table mediocrity. Oh, how we'd kill for that Sunderland at this very moment in time. Instead, despite our owner's apparently good intentions, we are nothing short of a mess, flirting with relegation once again. Even if we do somehow stay up this season, another tumultuous summer lies ahead.

It's going to be a crucial one - something we're used to saying by now - given the staggering number of players not only due to leave the club, but to do so for free. Nobody is likely to shed a tear when the contracts of a swathe of players including Carlos Cuellar, Sebastian Larsson and Craig Gardner run down and they finally leave the club, but due to the sheer numbers bound to leave, a massive revolution is required. Then there are the loan players due to return to their parent clubs. No, this is not a revolution like the one promised by Paolo Di Canio, though it will be of similar, if not greater magnitude in terms of transfer business.

This is the culmination of years of mismanagement under our owner, Ellis Short. I'm not for one minute suggesting Sunderland fans should be taking to the streets or scrawling on bed sheets in protest, but it is fairly surprising that Short has gotten off so lightly, while a series of managers, players and even a Director of Football have all been appointed and then fallen by the wayside.

While a different owner or chairman wouldn't have necessarily prevented Steve Bruce's final act as Sunderland manager - which lumbered us with a significant number of the current crop of mediocre, high earners - the litany of errors and hire and fire policy that followed, culminating with another disastrous summer preceding this season, may not have happened. For all of the anger directed at Ashley by Newcastle fans for selling out the club's history - renaming St James' Park and the like - he has stood firm when it comes to both transfer strategy and his manager, while our policy, if there is one, seems to change annually.

We all had a good chuckle when Alan Pardew was handed an eight year contract, as if that somehow the length of it immediately equated to stability, but Ashley has had opportunities to sack him and chosen not to. In fairness, it's not working out too badly for them, is it? Meanwhile on Wearside, Steve Bruce was given two full seasons under Short, before Martin O'Neill stepped in to pick up the pieces after his sacking, only to be given the boot himself before he'd taken charge of a single season in its entirety.

Following that, the length of tenure reduced again as Paolo Di Canio was brought in as a fire fighter, managing to keep us up before leaving us in a worse state than ever when he was shown the door just months after being given the job. Not far behind him was Roberto De Fanti, who had taken on a role new to the club, as its first Director of Football.

By appointing Di Canio, Short formed a rod for his own back. The Italian made himself instantly popular with the fans by winning a derby 3-0 and then publicly laying into players, who were rightly seen as being overpaid and underperforming. Whether we agree with what he said or not, the fact is, he shouldn't have been saying it at all. His popularity with the fans will have no doubt made it more difficult for Short to do the right thing and get rid of him. If he had never employed him in the first place, we might not be in our current predicament.

That's been the hallmark of the Short era to date; we're in a constant state of flux as he struggles to continually rectify a shambles of his own creation. Whether these decisions are of his making or due to bad advice, I suppose it comes as part of the modern football package. We are being run by a money man, from Texas, with as far as I'm aware no background knowledge of "soccer". He's been advised by, or put his faith in various footballing minds, be it Niall Quinn as chairman or Martin O'Neill as an experienced manager. All have been moved on in the Short cycle. The latest plan is the continental model, which remains in place despite De Fanti's exit.

I say continental model, but is that really how Short sees the Director of Football role? Does he view it through the filter of say, an Udinese, in the way that we did when the whole idea was introduced? I wonder whether he was motivated more by previous failure of supposed experts like Bruce and O'Neill who he had watched fail miserably after spending his money and in looking for an alternative, stumbled upon the idea of a Director of Football, rather than having some grand plan for the club's future. Bizarrely, that solution involved an ex-agent, rather than someone with real experience of the position.

This litany of mistakes has seemingly gone unmentioned, unquestioned and rarely considered by our fans. We've berated players, looked on quizzically as managers have made tactical errors, torn our hair out as another new signing has failed to deliver, whilst players who have been moved on end up thriving elsewhere, but at no point has there been any collective questioning of Short and his role in the whole debacle.

This is another symptom of the contemporary game; the foreign owner and his billions, which he can spend - or not, as is increasingly the case - as he sees fit, running a club in the North East of England, with no tangible connection to the sport or area. Yet in spite of all that, there's always an underlying fear that if he didn't have us, who else would? Sometimes, even when what you have isn't working, the alternative could be even more terrifying.

Similarly, Newcastle fans should remember that Mike Ashley bailed them out when they were on their knees after the rampant misspending of the previous ownership. Indeed, if it wasn't for him, they could well have become another Leeds Utd. In fairness, they took to him for a time, particularly when he presented himself as a man of the people, who went out in the Bigg Market buying supporters drinks. When the club got relegated, he changed things and started the process of getting them on an even keel. With financial prudence though, has come supporter unrest at what is perceived as a lack of ambition. Given that Short has always given off an air of being "one of us", by drinking in the town and wearing FTM pin badges, are we also allowing ourselves to be blinded by a similar charade?

The more mistakes he makes and the less time given to managers and players, the less patience fans will have too. Impatience at the top breeds impatience in the stands, particularly when fans are forking out big money to see their team lose the majority of the time. When your club's owner hires and fires with such alarming regularity, is it not to be anticipated that fans will also expect and even demand instant results? Gus Poyet is already being questioned in some quarters. I'm not saying fans want him out or anything absurd like that, but how many bad results before they do and how long before Ellis' finger gets itchy, hovering as it so often does over that hot seat ejection button?

What's certain is that this summer will be a major test of his resolve and it will show us what his long term intentions really are. With a raft of new players required and few saleable assets remaining, just where is the money going to come from to go out and get them, particularly if we do go down? Short has been cost cutting, there is no doubt about that, and most of our recent transfer windows have been funded by big money sales such as Darren Bent, Jordan Henderson and Simon Mignolet.

Selling to buy is always a risky model, especially when you trade quality for quantity. Newcastle have actually managed the process with a degree of success so far and their fans should be careful what they wish for. When it goes wrong, and you try to cost cut too quickly and revolutionise your playing staff en masse every summer, then you end up on a one way street signposted "Relegation". Whether we can put the brakes on before we reach the end of the road or not, what Short does next will define his reign at the club. Any more mistakes and mere relegation might turn out to be the last of our worries.

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