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Sunderland CEO Martin Bain's long term plan - Short Lived, and long gone

Regardless of whether Chris Coleman’s appointment as manager is imminent, one thing we should all be able to agree upon is that Bain's long term plan is over - and a very Short existence it was.

In the summer of 2016 we were told that a conscientious team of professionals were performing delicate surgery on our squad, which had ended the previous season looking in minimal need of a full rebuild.

Nevertheless, as players arrived with neither the pedigree nor the potential to make a real difference, we were told that this was the start of a sustainable long term plan of securing top young British talent which would see us thrive long term, both on and off the pitch.

Yet just one year later we have endured a budget summer transfer window, focusing on loans, older players and short term deals, which has left us staring consecutive relegations in the face.

Though this change in approach has been stark and clear for all to see, we have received no explanation from the charming and supposedly open Mr Bain as to why the plan he spoke of so fondly and passionately has been discarded. This is the same Martin Bain who has in his short stint as Chief Executive so far, relished using club and media channels to take part in seemingly candid and honest interviews, which a cynic would say were designed to lull fans into passivity.

Viewed from this perspective, Bain's trademark approachable smile and caring tone is little more than a carefully designed sales pitch, engineered to buy himself just enough space to fulfil another remit: being the hatchet man hired to claw back money for a billionaire way out of his depth.

The absent figure of Ellis Short is unsurprisingly defended at every opportunity by Bain, who explains that fans should trust in Short's self proclaimed 'personal and financial commitment'.

This is despite years of mismanagement, calamity and humiliation, all of which have been a precursor to what now seems like oblivion. Whether Short made decisions himself or trusted the wrong people to do it for him, the level of mismanagement during his ownership has been staggering and continues at pace.

The Mirror

To me, Martin Bain is the latest in a long line of bad attempts by Short to delegate his authority wisely.

Besides performing a fundamental business tactic of sacking the lowest paid staff when the debt gets high, it isn't clear what Bain has actually done. He's flooded the media with third rate PR slogans and he can act like he cares about the history, the city and the region, but his footballing knowledge appears non-existent, and limited to who he knows and what his friends tell him.

That's a huge problem when he is responsible for choosing the manager and restructuring the club. When all is said and done, we still lack someone with real influence at the top who knows football and can set up an identity and a system behind the scenes, ready for managers to come and go as they do these days.

Yes, we've got Kevin Ball, Robbie Stockdale and some academy coaches who appear to be well liked at the club. But the lack of a single footballing influence who can guide the restoration of a culture that can filter from the top down, is a major problem. The idea that the fans can take the lead and restore the pride and identity into the players in the modern age is laughable. We are so far removed from their world, the only hope is a top down reform. That these decisions will likely be left to Bain is enough to make a fan weep.

And though Short continues to cover the bills just enough to keep the lights on, this is quite frankly not enough.

Sunderland v Middlesbrough - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

As the man who poisoned the well, Short is not due any degree of praise or thanks for supplying just enough water to stave off dehydration. While he may be keeping the club alive, his decisions over the last nine years have put us at risk and ruined what could and should have been a prosperous future secured during the most lucrative period in Premier League history.

Yet after all this time and all he has done, he is not willing to supply enough for us to thrive. So as we linger on with just enough to stave off death, we lack the resources we should have to invest and grow into the club we should be.

The financial realities of relegation do not escape me. Of course revenue will be lower and this has dictated the amount we have been able to spend. As a result, our summer transfer window has been bleak and meagre pickings, with older players, loanees and short term deals brought in. This stands in complete contrast to the crucial long term strategy Martin Bain spoke so passionately and frequently about mere months ago.

So where is this long term plan, which was the justification for last seasons bizarre amalgamation of overpriced British players too young, inexperienced or shit to have an impact?

I thought the whole reason we bought Donald Love and Paddy McNair was because they would be the first of many like them? Is that not a thing anymore? Why restrict ourselves to young players from the British market last season when we had some money to spend, if we did not intend to persist with a policy and add similar players this season? We've been told all the money is being spent on running costs and debts, but why totally abandon this plan so quickly? Is it no longer the best way to solve our problems? Will Bain shoulder a portion of the blame and apologise for our relegation, given that it was him who so passionately insisted that spending what money we had on talented youth in the future would lead to a sustainable future for this club?

Did this plan rest solely on targeting young players who had previously been managed by David Moyes? While ridiculous, this is of course completely believable, as our scouting has often relied heavily on the imagination, or lack thereof, of managers. Many of these managers have been forced to work under a director of football, as though this is not something we mentioned before we hired them. These managers also work begrudgingly on a budget far lower than promised, if rumours are to be believed. And because they are not satisfied with their budgets, or they are told to sign players they do not want, they are left with a squad that does not match their philosophy and that they do not believe in. So when these managers leave, we are lumbered with an uneven squad, suited to no particular style and becoming more bloated and unattractive to each new manager.

Meanwhile, with each passing year our scouting system is swiftly replaced or departs voluntarily, having lost the faith of the owner or vice versa. And given this ever more tumultuous state of affairs which no one in their right mind would want to be a part of, we are forced to offer inflated wages and long term contracts just to convince unproven, overrated or over the hill players to join us.

The scouting system in particular represents a major obstacle to any long term plan taking effect.

Senior members of the scouting and recruitment team like Simon Wilson and Mick Doherty swiftly followed Moyes in leaving their roles last summer, not seeing out a full year. Rob MacKenzie, a consultant who oversaw a three month assessment of our scouting processes this summer (don't ask me what he found or improved), came and went without much noise or change. Meanwhile, Grayson did not immediately bring his chief scout from Preston - Ian Miller - as many thought he would. Billy McKinlay also left only a few days ago, having joined Sunderland as a scout on a non-contract basis under Moyes last year.

All this scouting upheaval has taken place in Bain's tenure of just over a year, while the previous five years were not dissimilar and the chaos shows no sign of abating. So who on Earth is managing the scouting for us if there's no one left from last season’s long term plan visionaries?

Such instability cannot possibly result in anything other than poorly researched and unimaginative transfer targets, contributing further to the assembly of a squad of players not suited to the club, a certain style of play or each other. We talk about long term plans and stability, yet we had a Billy McKinlay employed as a chief scout on a non contract basis. How can we identify the right player, at the right time, for a particular style, in these conditions?

The only reason I can think of to explain why we wouldn't implement a new scouting system at such a pivotal time - or adequately replace those who have departed - is because Short and Bain aren't actually interested in the long term future of this club beyond ensuring it's fit for sale. Why spend money repairing or replacing a system that is in perpetual infancy, when you don't intend to be around to see the benefits?

This summer has shown a contentment amongst the hierarchy to do things on the cheap, risk nothing financially and completely abandon the plan that they spent all of last season telling us was the golden ticket to fix our problems. And though Bain insisted that "promotion was the target" at the beginning of the season, I cannot help but feel that this was another calculated move to keep the fans happy for as long as he could.

First, they don't replace their main scouts who leave when Moyes goes, then they sell our best prospect and loan anyone they can as quickly as possible just to save money on wages this season, then lose out on a manager who had no confidence he wouldn't be gone a week after a takeover they are desperately trying to seal. They then hire a manager who is known for little more than keeping teams in this league when the takeover falls through, abandoning the famous plan based on signing young, hungry prospects we can nurture and sell on for a profit and instead spending £1 million on ten players, most of whom are older, on short term deals or loans. There is nothing that shows long term thinking here.

Actions would seem to dictate that what matters now is the short term eradication of a chronic rot. A cosmetic halt to an institutional free fall, sufficient for Short and Bain to secure a sale that makes financial sense for them. For this to happen, Sunderland don't need an expensive scouting system or to challenge for promotion. We need to be a Championship team, with better accounts and less upheaval than we've experienced in the last six years.

Fair enough you might say. But who says they can even deliver that? Judging from the season so far, even this is beyond them. By choosing to be satisfied with players who on paper should keep us in the league, these businessmen have failed to grasp what is most essential in the Championship; a team. While on paper we may have the individuals necessary to keep us up, on the pitch we do not have a team. And the pitch is where relegation is decided.

So why do players never seem to form a team? Why, no matter who we sign or who we sell, or which manager takes the hot seat, do the long term results on the pitch never differ? Allardyce was an anomaly and we will never know how it would have turned out if he had two or three years in the job. After decent starts, it went wrong for Bruce, O'Neill and Poyet.

For what it's worth, my view is that - as a fan - I don't know what my club is anymore. I get no sense from boardroom to pitch that this club is the institution it was. The feeling I used to get, the buzz or the knot in my stomach on match day is barely noticeable anymore. Judging from my experience, i would guess that it is the same for a large number of fans and I would bet it's the same for the players as well.

Why don't the players buy into it? Because what is there at this club for them to buy into? Ten players cannot just come into a club and decide to form a culture of hard work, passion and teamwork. It has to come from the top down to be sustainable. Otherwise, if a culture is generated by a charismatic manager - such as Allardyce - when that manager leaves it will evaporate.

For the past nine years, whether intentionally or not, Ellis Short has presided over a dismantling of any unity, identity and purpose this club had. Players, no longer passionate about the game or driven enough to further their careers beyond a 4 year deal and £60k a week, have been given premium contracts just to convince them to move North.

And as they have come and gone, it has eroded and diluted the club's culture to be little more than a pit stop for players out of love with the game. Our club no longer embodies the values of passion or ambition, hard work or humility. And now, just when we need Ellis Short to stand up and back a plan - financially and personally - to restore these cultural traits and foster a tangible atmosphere around this club that new players could buy in to, he will not. Whatever Short says, I cannot bring myself to believe that he is looking long term, or that he would even know what to do if he was.

Maintaining financial and personal commitment to this club is a very vague statement. Short could do so much more, but he clearly views his obligation to be no more than ensuring all the interest payments on the loans he approved are paid as we plummet into League 1. He may be ensuring that his mistakes don't mean we go out of business, but if that is the full measure of his commitment, then I think fans have a right to demand more.

If you're a well run club with a hierarchy who actually care about the long term, relegation should not destroy a plan for a sustainable recruitment policy. It of course impacts upon the finances and the players you can attract and buy, but there's no reason we couldn't look to Leagues 1 or 2, Scotland, Ireland or the continent to unearth a gem. Though Martin Bain, Ellis Short and all managers in recent memory have insisted upon the need for a long term strategy to build an identity, it all amounts to cheap words from individuals who have neither the inclination nor the ability to implement one.

Every team that doesn't have hundreds of millions to spend each year must gain their advantage by operating intelligently with a long term plan.

We haven't replaced the admittedly awful recruitment systems of the past with a good one. It's been replaced by nothing at all. In previous summers we have been able to identify the theme of our recruitment. This summers only discernible trend has been the need to cover gaps in the squad with whoever would come. Loans, older players, short term deals and extensions for the likes of John O'Shea, who this club should have jettisoned years ago.

And while the likes of Steele and McManaman have arrived on permanent deals and are still of an age where they could improve and deliver consistently good performances, the odds of this happening are very low. Our main attraction to them was that they couldn't possibly be a financial loss, because for that to happen you'd have to risk something.

If you're going to build long term and make the right managerial appointment and start to restore a culture around the club, you've got to know what is wrong at the club and you've got to know what is needed to fix it. It's pointless just hiring your friends because you trust them personally. They need to be the right character for this club at this time. I don't think Bain has the capacity or the depth of understanding to make a decision of this kind.

Any new manager is going to walk into a club with no sense of itself, controlled by people who have botched every decision and abandoned every plan in favour of none.

The manager will be relying on Bain to have a plan to help this club rediscover itself from the top down. I will believe such things are possible when I see them.

One thing we should all be able to agree upon is that Bain's long term plan is over, and a very Short existence it was.

Quite apt really.

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