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Five point plan: What Ellis Short and Martin Bain must do to secure Sunderland’s future

With David Moyes gone it is now down to the Sunderland owner and CEO to vastly improve our fortunes over the summer - here’s what they need to do.

Sunderland v Swansea City - Premier League Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Well, David Moyes has fled the sinking ship, and Ellis Short will now look to someone else to lead this beleaguered club back to the promised land. I’ll save you the corny quotes about endings being new beginnings, and phoenixes rising from the ashes; however their sentiment certainly stands. This relegation is most definitely a cathartic moment in our club’s modern history, and should not be taken lightly.

After today we stand at the proverbial crossroads, on the edge of the precipice or any other location symbolic with change and potential danger. With a summer exodus on the horizon, and serious debts hindering any chances of a quick fix - the club really need to get this next appointment absolutely spot on if we are to recover from this season’s abject woe.

As fans we’ve taken a few beatings this season, and I’m not just talking about on the pitch. Pundits and the mainstream media have constantly looked to the club for a juicy story to fill headlines; some of them were deserved of course, yet others reeked of Sunderland being a soft target for sensationalism. The fans have clearly stood by their team though, and that is to be commended.

The issue many of us have with the club at the moment - and indeed is part of the reason as to why we are such an easy target for the media - is that there is very little, if indeed anything, really coming out of the club in the way of positivity. However, this could very soon change.

Middlesbrough v Sunderland - Premier League
Slapgate was but one negative media story to come from the club in the last couple of years. Why? Because we do little to generate any positivity.
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

David Moyes mentioned in one of his first few press conferences at the club that the season would be a relegation scrap, but what was the need?

Well, they would probably be right because that's where they've been every other year for the last four years, so why would it suddenly change?

I think it will be, I don't think you can hide the facts, that will be the case, yes. People will be flat because they are hoping that something is going to dramatically change - it can't dramatically change, it can't.

Why did Moyes lower the expectations of his reign right off the bat? It’s bizarre, and while many argue(d) that it’s the realism we’ve lacked in the last few years, ultimately it came across as abject pessimism and Moyes never recovered.

Whoever is installed as the new manager must absolutely connect with the fans as soon as possible. Get out into the crowds and meet them; be open and honest and communicate effectively creating optimism whilst also managing expectations. It seems a difficult act to master, but good managers do just that.

As well as the new manager needing to connect with the fanbase, the club’s hierarchy must also follow his suit. Other than using buzz phrases like long-term planning, embarking on a journey, and getting back to basics, Martin Bain and the club’s hierarchy have done little to suggest how the club will operate going forward. Saying you’re going to buy players and then sell them at a profit is a sterling idea, but if you’re relegated and your best players want to leave then how do you suppose you sell them for more than you paid?

Essentially the club have done very little to offer a positive outlook on how the club can improve over the coming years and head back in the right direction. Ellis Short’s relative silence has been the true measure by which the club have neglected to really explain to the fans as to how things will get better, yet now is an opportunity to halt the slide and reverse the faltering relationship between the fans and those men presiding over our beloved institute.

Sunderland v Liverpool - Premier League
Short is another who needs to do better - he is our owner, and we need a relationship with him.
Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

I understand that businesses don’t go around giving out their plans to the masses, and that there are certain aspects of our club that we simply can’t be involved with. However, for too long our club has neglected the very people who keep it in business: us.

Subsequently, something needs to change, and soon will, when a new manager is appointed.

Going forward this summer with the new man in charge, the club need to communicate far more effectively with us about how they intend to change for the better. It doesn’t need to be proofed with data and cheesy quotes - a simple set of promises is all we need to not only engage the disenfranchised elements of the fanbase, but also to stoke the flames of those still wildly in love with this wonderful club.

Communication

First and foremost, communication between the club and the fans simply has to improve. Chris Waters does a sterling job as fan liaison, but he cannot do this alone. The club’s hierarchy simply have to do more to engage with the fans and listen to their issues. On top of that, they must not hide behind the new boss in the hopes that the optimism he brings will be enough to silence those who have been irked this season.

We’ve heard of meetings between branches and representatives from the club, but why not open this up to a far larger audience? Many of us have little to no idea as to how to really communicate with the club, and there needs to be a promotion of ways in which people can make their voices heard.

A fan’s forum would be a great place to start. Yes people might be upset at the position in which we find ourselves, yet allowing them to ask the genuine, honest questions that need to be answered is a step in the right direction. Involve the branches and a wider audience - integrate the two and hear the opinions that matter direct from the horse’s mouth.

There needs to be a refreshed and committed strategy for fan engagement which will act as both a mechanism for rebuilding trust whilst also maintaining the transparency so many of us crave. Emails and orchestrated interviews are fine, but they do little to convey any real emotion, and often lead to a barrage of further questions. Regular interaction with regular fans could be such an important barometer in measuring issues facing the club, and could potentially help with formulating a plan to tackle said problems.

We just want more open, honest interaction between the club and the fans - it really isn’t a lot to ask.

Clarification on finances

We’ve all read up about the position in which the club currently resides with regards to finances, and recent comments in the wake of Moyes’ departure suggest worse news is yet to come. However, if we are to move forward as a club, Ellis Short must come out and speak to the fans. We don’t want to see some sleek media-crafted interview involving Bain on the club’s website - just Ellis Short giving an honest, candid interview about the state of the club.

Local journalists have hinted in the wake of yesterday’s news that there isn’t a pot to piss in this summer, and that is only going to further darken this tricky situation. Bain has spoke of selling players in order to clear the debt, but is that genuinely doable in the Championship? History says no. We need some sort of plan going forward, and the club need to let us be a part of that process.

Finally the fans need clarification regarding Short’s intentions. Does he want to sell, or is he here for the foreseeable future? We understand it’s a tricky situation, but some information would be much appreciated.

Sales & signings

Tying nicely into the notion of finances - the comings and goings over the course of the last few years have been extremely poor, and must be remedied going into the future.

This is obviously easier said than done, yet ultimately from the outside looking in it would appear that no cohesive strategy has ever been in place. We tried and failed some bastardized incarnation of the Udinese model before reverting back to managers being in full control of transfer dealings - ultimately, neither has worked particularly well.

Simon Wilson has been brought into the club under the ambiguous title of chief football officer, yet even Bain’s explanation of his role was rather vague:

In Simon, we are bringing someone to the club who has highly impressive track record of putting the building blocks in place in order to give clubs the best chance of achieving success.

Harnessing his knowledge and experience in developing effective football infrastructures at the highest level, will give us a great platform from which to re-define our approach to the fundamental areas of the club such as scouting, recruitment, medical services, player pathways and youth development.

Simon will play an important part in driving our re-building process, and helping us to achieve our aim of making the football club stronger in the future.

Again, buzzwords galore, yet very little substance. Is he tasked with overhauling the entire club?

Moyes and Bain spoke of some innate desire to buy young, British players who would be then sold on at a profit... a rebirth of the Udinese bastard? Who knows! Ultimately young and British does little to really offer an explanation on the club’s new transfer policy, and this needs to be addressed.

Perhaps several signings into our summer odyssey we will be able to ascertain something resembling a plan, but surely relations between fans and the club would be much improved if we had some inclination of the type of player the club hopes to acquire? And before people point and shout about showing our hands before its even our turn to gamble - simply stating the style of player you are interested in does not automatically put the seller into the driver’s seat.

Style & identity

Transfer policy, finances and the future of our club are really worthless though if we, as a club, don’t know the direction in which we are heading. How will the new manager want to play the game? Are we to be a side filled with power, pace and athleticism? Or will we be a side focusing on technical ability and starving the opposition of possession? This is something the club can generally discuss ahead of next season - again this isn’t showing your hand, and it won’t weaken our position in the transfer market. If anything it shows prospective players that we are organised, efficient and have a long-term plan in place; it is a positive and should be welcomed.

It is up to the club to really set in stone how our team is to function. A major strength behind Southampton’s impressive rise to the Premier League - and the subsequent stability developed on the south coast - is down to the fact that the club have a very clear style and ethos. Les Reed was appointed head of football development in 2010 and has since guided the club to continued success, and he argues that:.

Succession planning is a major factor in business. You have to be ready.

Reed is in charge of finding transfer targets as well as hiring and firing managers and coaches. He and his team have a clear plan for the club which is well publicised, and has certainly worked for them over the course of the last few seasons. What do Sunderland have?

Is Wilson to adopt this role, or will Bain do the talking? Will the new manager be in charge of style, identity and player acquisitions, or will Wilson and Bain have some say in the way in which the club is run? There are so many variables at play that I think the fan’s deserve to have a voice and be heard regarding our future style and identity.

A cohesive plan

Ultimately, the club need some form of cohesive plan going forward that actively involves the fans more than ever before. These really are dark times and our club really is in a tricky situation - we need to come together as a united club in order to find our feet and grow again.

Discussion and clarification on key issues is a necessity that simply has to happen. Involve the fans, listen to them and work with them to create a plan for the future that works for all parties involved.

Perhaps something we as fans should consider is coming together to form an organization that constantly looks at ways in which the club can positively improve using the fans as a mechanism for change. Something akin to Everton’s Blue Union which argued before the club’s takeover in 2016 that it:

believes wholeheartedly that the integration of fans into a real People’s Club will bring about a change for the better in Everton’s fortunes when the fan’s opinion, the fans voice, the fans ideas are increasingly deferred in favour of those of the club’s owners, the premier league and the media organisations who inject billions into the game, a game, which without those fans, is nothing.

That it is time for change at Goodison is an issue that both the Blue Union and Everton’s owners are in complete agreement with, but it is here where the agreement ends, for the Blue Union believes that the stagnation of our club has been brought about through the inability of Everton’s current owners to develop and deliver a cohesive business plan and their failure to execute the change we all desire.

Our plan is simple; that the board, who have delivered nothing but failure since March 2000 and who are bereft of any tangible ideas to address this problem, are relieved of the responsibility of identifying and selling the club to a new owner who can adequately illustrate the resources and the business acumen to take the club forward.

Sounds familiar? Should the club fail to address the aforementioned issues, perhaps we the fans should consider taking matters into our own hands much like those Evertonians did?

Right now we’re in no-man’s land, rudderless and simply clueless. The club need to act and we need to be involved.

After all even Ellis Short recently claimed that:

"We need to improve, both on and off the field, and despite the bitter disappointment of today there is a strong determination to do so throughout the club. There is significant work to be done over the summer and when the season is concluded, we intend to share our plans to move forward with our supporters”

Now is the time for the club to embrace its biggest asset going forward into the future: us. We must hold the club to scrutiny whilst simultaneously giving it all our support in the quest for a positive future.