Sunderland are gearing up for a crucial January transfer window with a new team heading up the recruitment and scouting operation at a club which has suffered from years of poor player purchases.
Former Wales and Fulham manager Chris Coleman is preparing to lead his first round of player trading since joining the club in November, aided by his assistant Kit Symons and the coaching staff at the Stadium of Light.
Chief executive Martin Bain takes charge of the finance and negotiation side, assisted by solicitor Lois Jarvis who heads up the legal, contracting and administration functions at the club.
And there’s a new name taking an active part in much of the behind-the-scenes activity, with Neale McDermott promoted earlier this year to the position of Recruitment Officer. The 32-year-old is now heading up a scouting operation which it would be fair to say has failed to deliver in recent years.
McDermott, a black-and-white supporter, is the son of Terry - former Liverpool and Newcastle midfielder and assistant to Kevin Keegan at St James Park during the permed one’s two spells as manager of the Magpies.
After holding positions with global giants Red Bull and Adidas, where he was responsible for scouting young prospects ripe to be signed to endorsement deals, McDermott joined Sunderland’s academy as head of recruitment in March 2017.
His is an intriguing career path and his role with Adidas was explored in a feature with the New York Times in January this year prior to his departure. McDermott is installed with a huge range of contacts in the game and is credited with some early work following the careers of Dele Alli and Demarai Gray.
In theory, McDermott should be able to aid the Black Cats in identifying young talent at Premier League clubs - with Championship sides increasingly utilising such prospects on loan to great effect in recent years.
Of course this new structure is merely the latest in a lengthy line of attempts to structure the Black Cats recruitment and scouting operation in recent years. Most incarnations have been short-lived and judged by results on the pitch and off it; Sunderland’s depressing league position and financial results indicate little has succeeded.
Simon Grayson and his long associated chief scout Ian Miller worked with Martin Bain in the summer during a busy recruitment drive following relegation. Ten players arrived for a combined £1.25m but aside from top-scorer Lewis Grabban, perhaps Aiden McGeady and an honourable mention for youngster Tyias Browning for showing promise, few have impressed for any sustained period this season.
Before them, former Manchester City hot-shot Simon Wilson was employed for a brief spell during the tenure of David Moyes to oversee the academy, scouting, performance and recruitment departments, but quietly departed in the summer on the same day as former assistant Paul Bracewell.
Sunderland’s January transfer window of 2016 is hailed as one of the few successful ones in recent years when Sam Allardyce whisked in Jan Kirchhoff, Wahbi Khazri and Lamine Kone to lead a charge to safety, but the following summer saw Big Sam becoming increasingly frustrated before he departed for England.
And before Allardyce, Sunderland experimented with two attempts at installing a director of football. Both Roberto De Fanti and Lee Congerton emerged discredited for their dismal efforts with millions wasted on sub-standard players who have taken years to wash through the club and the accounts.
The common denominator in the continued inability to attract and retain decent players to the Stadium of Light has been owner Ellis Short of course. The American financier has plunged millions into the club with little success and though his role in signing off expenditure and signings has never been entirely clear, the proof in the pudding suggests he may well have hampered Sunderland’s activity.
With the Black Cats stuck fast in the Championship bottom three and preparing for a crucial January transfer window, Sunderland can little afford to get this one wrong. Relegation to League One would be a disaster of armageddon-like proportions for a club saddled with one of the highest levels of debt in European football.
Who knows what budget - if any - Coleman and his team are working with, but it’s safe to assume it will be tiny and the magnitude of it reliant on selling a few key individuals. The Black Cats boss and his team of assembled January talent-spotters have their work cut out to unearth a few cut-price gems to save this season.