Long ago I went on a course and learnt about business planning. There is a whole industry of management consultants out there making money by making these things complicated, but they’re not. A business should have an overall aim or vision – why does it exist? It should have values, showing how it intends to achieve its aim, and objectives for the next two to three years. And that’s about it.
I’d love to see Ellis Short’s business plan for Sunderland. If there’s been a plan since he took over it’s failed, dramatically, and there’s no sign that the current plan, if such exists, will do any better.
Football is not a complicated industry. A football club’s business plan should be pretty straightforward. To give Ellis a hand, I thought I’d start one off for him.
What is our vision for Sunderland? How about “We want Sunderland to be a successful football club, competitive in the Premier League, challenging for domestic honours and for entry to European football”? OK, I’d like to say “We want Sunderland to win every one of its games and thus win everything ever” but there’d be a touch of the Toon Army about that sort of attitude.
Values – how do we want to be successful? There’s plenty of scope for debate about this. I think we want Sunderland to be a club at the centre of the local community, mindful of its past and reflecting the passion of its support. Perhaps we value passion and commitment more than the quality of football. Should we focus more on making history today instead of harping on about 1973 and the long-distant days of Len Shackleton, Charlie Buchan and other heroes of the past? Do we want to foster local talent or do we not care where the players come from as long as they play for the shirt? It would be great to hear some proper debate about this rather than the usual clichés from the club, which just obscure the choices they have decided to make.
As for our objectives over the next three years, how about: 1. build a squad to achieve promotion and which has a realistic chance of surviving in the Premier League; 2. managerial stability; 3. ensure at least one player per year graduates from the Academy into the first team squad.
In the unlikely event that Ellis Short reads this, he might wonder why I haven’t put as an objective “reducing the club’s debt”. In my view, this is not the club’s objective, it’s his personal objective. And even with cost saving (ie less to spend on wages / transfers) the club’s primary objective is still to achieve a sustainable promotion.
In fact, Short really has only two tasks in relation to Sunderland – to appoint a chief executive who knows something about running a football club and to set a budget for the club. He’s failed at both. We had the disastrous Director of Football experiment, which anyone could see wouldn’t work. We had Margaret Byrne, so far out of her depth it’s a wonder she didn’t drown. The current incumbent, Martin Bain, hardly inspires confidence and looks to be repeating the mistakes of the past. It’s obvious that over-reliance on loan players is not a good business model, yet here we are again doing just that with Grabban and Browning in particular.
Short wants to sell and this is apparently why a fire-sale of assets and an influx of loan signings and lower-league players is acceptable. I’ve sold two houses and a flat and on each occasion I was told by the estate agent that in order to maximise the purchase price I had to smarten the place up. Stuff went into storage, DIY jobs were done, paint was slapped on walls, and the structural issues were all hidden in the hope that the surveyor wouldn’t notice. Why are we not doing the same, bringing in some signings to put us in contention for promotion and making the club a more viable proposition for sale? Instead, Short has dug up the garden, knocked down a couple of walls, and left a mysterious brown stain on the bedroom carpet. If you watched Homes Under The Hammer, mate, you’d know that properties like that end up going for next to nothing at auction. But I’m sure our Texan billionaire has a plan.