clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Ellis Short's weak ownership is at the heart of Sunderland's decline

With David Moyes’ future up in the air, now seems the perfect time to reflect on how Sunderland got themselves into this sorry mess.

Sunderland v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

David Moyes’ appointment is the latest, and potentially the most damaging, mistake of Ellis Short’s miserable tenure as owner of Sunderland football club.

Our American overlord took a serious gamble giving complete autonomy to a manager whose hesitancy over transfers has been mocked to the point of parody for years. Giving a £30 million summer transfer kitty to a man often ridiculed as “Dithering Dave” would have been a gigantic gamble were it 2005, whilst the Glaswegian was at the peak of his powers; therefore, doing it in 2016 after three embarrassing years for the Scot was a huge leap of faith.

The logic, one would assume, is that his organisational skills and tenacity would allow Sunderland to compete consistently after a difficult summer of transition. It was hoped that Moyes’ ability to make Everton a perennial Europa League level outfit that mixed technique and creativity with a physical blue collar mentality could be replicated at Sunderland.

Sunderland v AFC Bournemouth - Premier League Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

It became almost immediately obvious, however, that this was not the same David Moyes we witnessed at Everton. Rather than harnessing the positivity garnered in the wake of last season’s survival, Moyes deflated the buoyant mood around the club almost instantly with his crippling negativity. His now infamous relegation battle comments set the wrong tone with both the players and fans from the off, and his public declaration that he rejected the job last year because he didn’t think we’d survive was also misguided. There’s realism, and then there’s downright pessimism - what was he thinking?

Why was our owner willing to put faith in this man to take over the club in such a difficult time? What made him believe somebody with no faith in the players at his disposal could establish the club as something more than Premier League cannon fodder?

At best Short concluded the short-term pain was an acceptable risk if it meant gaining a manager who could establish Sunderland as something greater than a team merely treading water season after season. At worst this was a sign of Short throwing in the towel, giving a man low in confidence enough rope to hang himself, whilst Martin Bain is hired in order to cut costs as the club is flogged to potential buyers.

Logic escaped Sunderland’s January transfer window which essentially killed any chance of survival. Sunderland were a mere two points from safety going into the New Year having shown genuine improvement in victories over Watford and Leicester City, quality additions could have potentially afforded us that extra dimension that could have boosted our performances.

The club freed up funds by selling one of the team’s most dynamic players, Patrick Van Aanholt, to a relegation rival with the intention of buying a striker to support Jermain Defoe. Yet the club failed in their endeavours. Unable to get a deal over the line for Leonardo Ulloa, they failed to find another striker who could provide the physical support required to offer a different dynamic in the absence of injury-ridden Anichebe. Despite the sale of PVA and the pursuit of Ulloa, the question has to be asked: was there ever a plan B?

Completed deals in January were largely mocked. Darron Gibson and Bryan Oviedo were brought in from the fringes of the Everton squad. Whilst a villain of Aston Villa’s relegation, Joleon Lescott, was also signed despite his ongoing efforts to find fitness in the wake of a serious knee injury. To be fair, Oviedo played well before succumbing to his latest injury, whilst Darron Gibson looks like a good player still getting used to the fact he can no longer run. Lescott has played less than an hour of football for the club - offering next to nothing in terms of value for money.

After struggling desperately with player recruitment in the summer - Moyes, Bain and Short did an even worse job of things in January, when the season could still have been salvaged. Is there any form of plan whatsoever from up high? Or had Ellis Short merely closed the purse strings tight?

Sunderland v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League
A familiar location?
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Defenders of Ellis Short will point to the FA’s role in the recent decline on Wearside. They will argue that everything would have been fine this season had Allardyce not been snatched from us to manage the national team. Yet whilst it’s impossible to imagine things getting as bad as this under ‘Big Sam’, this explanation lets our owner off way too easily.

Smarter clubs of a similar size to Sunderland wouldn't have fallen apart quite so easily, just because they lost their manager. Take Southampton for example, they scout coaches year round for that exact possibility - knowing that a good manager, just like a good player, may be enticed away by richer, larger clubs.

Also the lack of a consistent scouting system, or key figure in a role similar to that of a Director of Football, ultimately left the club more helpless than they should have been when Allardyce’s head was turned. Again take Southampton as an example and the role Les Reed plays in their ongoing search for coaches and players - Sunderland’s lack of such a steady figure has almost certainly damaged their ability to find stability.

All of the aforementioned issues move us then to this self-perpetuating cycle of awfulness that Short has essentially created.

Allardyce had too much control at Sunderland because he wouldn’t take the job without it. Short had to bow to his commands because of the terrible situation the former Bolton gaffer was inheriting. He walked into a mess because our owner coaxed a retired coach back into the job the previous summer. Dick Advocaat left after an awful start, disenfranchised by our Director of Football’s poor acquisitions.

At the time young hungry English coaches Sean Dyche and Paul Clement were reportedly being considered for the role. Regardless of how close those two managers - currently sitting above Sunderland in the Premier League - came to joining Short on Wearside is something of a moot point, but as is often the case with Short, he took the popular, safe, short-term option, failing to try and build anything substantial for the future health of our club.

Ever since the moronic attempts to rebuild and re-structure transfer recruitment in the summer of 2013 under Paolo Di Canio. Quick fixes and desperate attempts to rectify previous errors have held the club back.

We’ve never recovered from the utter stupidity of attempting to install a long-term system whilst having one of the most combustible characters in football coaching the team. Initial attempts to modernise the club and not leave the final say on signings on one man's shoulders, like a sensible football club, were irrelevant when you have a coach who specialises in short-term motivation and rules in such an unsustainable manner ruining everything else.

Di Canio divided the squad, played simplistic football that lacked tactical coherence and berated marquee summer signing Emanuele Giaccherini. Having the fiery Italian as the centrepiece of Sunderland’s rebuild with a Director of Football in place is the worst of the many bad decisions over Sunderland’s ten year stay in the top flight.

Aston Villa v Sunderland - Premier League
The start of the end?
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

The awkward structure at the club never worked with Poyet as at no point did it appear everyone was on the same page. Throughout the former Chelsea midfielder’s time on Wearside you were often left wondering who was a Roberto De Fanti signing, who was a Lee Congerton signing and who had Poyet forced the club to sign. Stubbornness unraveled the structure. Poyet’s insistence on bringing players he was fond of lead to an imbalanced squad, and to be quite frank a lot of Poyet’s favourites simply weren’t good enough. Will Buckley and Ignacio Scocco stand out as two that never really convinced in red and white.

Even after the great escape 1.0 - one of the most remarkable feel good moments in Sunderland’s recent history - Short couldn’t get his team working together. Key players Ki Sung Yeung, Fabio Borini and Marcos Alonso weren’t retained; Congerton and Poyet failed to work cohesively and ultimately the club once again found themselves facing mounting pressure that required a new manager to provide the impetus needed to limp over the finish line.

Misconceptions surround the director of football system that Short - to his credit - wanted to bring to Wearside. People often come to simplistic conclusions as to why it failed, dismissing it as a foreign system unsuited to Sunderland, and indeed English football in general. Failures over those two and a half years were largely issues of personnel though, rather than being broader faults with the overall structure. Coaches, or managers, or whatever you want to label them as, were seemingly never on the same page as our Director of Football which lead to a plethora of poor acquisitions and tactical approaches.

Despite his best efforts to bring Sunderland into the 21st century, Short has given up and moved Sunderland back towards the footballing stone-age. Allowing an out of touch, damaged manager to operate with old-fashioned control and preach out of date ideas of football is little more than sheer ineptitude on Short’s part.

Living in his outdated Premier League bubble Moyes has put too much faith in players he’s previously worked with whilst simultaneously distrusting talented creative types like Wahbi Khazri. To rely on grafters like Fabio Borini and Sebastian Larsson, to play long ball after long ball, cross after aimless cross, and to leave a desperately poor team looking woefully limp in attack is nothing short of shameful.

After years of desperate knee-jerk reactions made for the sole purpose of avoiding relegation, Sunderland this season are going down, heavily in debt, with a poor squad which will be heavily depleted come the summer’s guaranteed exodus of rats fleeing the sinking ship.

Whilst Moyes escalated Sunderland’s decline, the awful short-term culture that has infected the club and stilted progress is largely due to woeful decisions made year after year upstairs. Ellis Short, what on earth have you done to our club?