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An unpalatable truth: Martin Bain holds the key to Sunderland’s short-term, but will he step up?

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Sunderland CEO Martin Bain may be immersed in stemming the flow of cash out of the club; but can he step up to the next level and transform what really matters?

Sunderland chief executive Martin Bain isn’t a popular figure on Wearside - and he knows it - but the former Rangers supremo holds the key to the Black Cats short to medium-term future and supporters might just have to get used to it.

Bain arrived at the Stadium of Light in July 2016 and has overseen a dreadful period in Sunderland AFC history. A painful drop from the Premier League has the club languishing with a post-relegation hangover in the bottom three of the Championship and supporter apathy has reached alarming proportions, with attendances at the Stadium of Light evaporating by the week.

His reign has been marred by several PR gaffes - think New York and the visit of Celtic in July - and the redundancies of over 70 staff from corporate Sunderland AFC, many from relatively low paid jobs.

Sunderland fans are a proud, unforgiving bunch who are currently in unforgiving mood, and Bain is blamed for clinging on to David Moyes for longer than any sane chief executive would have last season, and in doing so ensured the lingering agony was pummeled into the skulls of supporters week after week.

Sunderland v AFC Bournemouth - Premier League
David Moyes
Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

And the man himself has recently completed a round of press interviews to proclaim that the club’s summer transfer business - which was concluded with a total spend of under £1.5m - was a resounding success despite the league table mockingly suggesting otherwise.

But as the dust settles during this mid-term international break, thoughts naturally turn to what happens next in this disappointing season so far, especially with the January window now just 12 weeks away.

What is clear now, is that Sunderland AFC are not going to have new owners any time soon and Ellis Short will continue his absent landlord show and leave the running of the ailing football club he owns to his chosen CEO.

Thanks to the drastic cost-cutting measures that Bain has implemented at Sunderland, the club are no longer hemorrhaging money at the alarming rate they have been in recent years. That gives Ellis Short some breathing space in which to consider his options and seek a ‘premium’ buyer who would be lured - as he was himself seven years ago - by the prospect of purchasing a famous old English club which can be restored to its rightful position in the footballing echelons.

Sunderland v West Bromwich Albion - Premier League Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

That sale of Sunderland AFC looks - at present - to be in no imminent danger of saving everyone’s blushes and ushering in a fresh start for the club, its supporters and the city as a whole - a depressing reality in truth. So perhaps instead of calling for the head of Short, attentions should turn to applying pressure on his CEO.

Because Martin Bain has a key role to play in the coming weeks, and if he continues to get it wrong, that club which is up for sale will be heading for League One. And no one is paying top, medium or perhaps even bottom dollar for that. Sunderland will not be sold for a decent sum until the club can demonstrate it is a viable prospect for promotion back in to the Premier League riches.

So achieving that, and keeping Sunderland out of the wasteland that is the third tier of English football may yet need cash - and in January. And Martin Bain is the man who will determine whether he affords his manager anything to invest when the transfer window next opens - because Ellis Short isn’t going to volunteer anything willingly.

Bury v Sunderland - Carabao Cup First Round
Will Grayson get anything to spend in January?
Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

Short has made it abundantly clear that he will not be channelling any more of his own money into Sunderland if he doesn’t absolutely have to; so the only hope for January investment may be Martin Bain finding a way to accommodate transfer funds from within his ongoing cost-saving mission or selling someone - Kone or Watmore perhaps.

And therein lies the crux of it of course. Bain occasionally launches into grandiose speeches of reconnecting the fractured Wearside support with the club, but his longer term vision for Sunderland has never been furnished with much substance - certainly not in footballing terms.

Rumours suggest the German consortium who got closest to buying Sunderland in the summer had initial plans to keep Bain on in his current role to ease the transition from old owner to new, but by all accounts the man himself was told by the Fulwell73-led group that he would not be kept on.

Sunderland v AFC Bournemouth - Premier League Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

So chances are, once a new buyer is eventually found, Bain will be out on his ear. The long-term seems to be of little interest to the man and the club are stuck in a short-cycle loop of chopping with glee without vision for what comes next.

Certainly there was no relegation clause in Martin Bain’s personal relegation and the man is suitably rewarded by Ellis Short for his cost-cutting verve. That panache for efficiency is clearly the chief executive’s forte, though it is his potential achilles heel for selecting the wrong manager and providing the wrong backing which again poses a potential pitfall.

Whether Simon Grayson is the right man for Sunderland only time will tell. Certainly Bain made sparse mention of him in his boastful press assault last month but the chief executive can little afford another managerial failure so soon after the David Moyes debacle.

Having selected Grayson for his renown for fashioning football league teams from negligible funding, Bain’s current best bet to minimise the risk of another managerial catastrophe bringing the house down is to hand the manager some money to spend in January.

And sadly, Ellis Short may be more likely to authorise some spending if Sunderland are still stuck in the bottom three come Christmas than he would be if Grayson can navigate his team into the heady heights of mid-table. Something has to give.