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Comment: the Sunderland statement masquerading as a ‘Martin Bain interview’ offers little so far

Embattled Sunderland CEO Martin Bain has given an interview to the local press in which he attempts to appease an increasingly irate fanbase.

Sunderland v West Bromwich Albion - Premier League Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

So, Sunderland AFC have chosen to address the public as tension continues to grow on Wearside over the club’s summer activity and dismal opening to the Championship campaign.

With Simon Grayson’s side hovering just above the relegation places to English football’s third tier, Sunderland’s chief executive has decided to address the media with an ‘exclusive interview’ to the club’s favoured press personnel who report for the Sunderland Echo and the Evening Chronicle.

Offering a few tidbits to those who haven’t read between the lines previously, the CEO’s address reads more like a club statement than any question and answer session with local journalists.

Addressing fan concerns through stage managed press interviews can only go so far. Addressing fan concerns with fans is surely what’s needed at Sunderland AFC right now.

Martin Bain

A recurring theme throughout the interview is a stock response from Bain to fan disquiet over the club’s financial dealings both on and off the pitch that various chunks of income have simply been put towards the apparent black hole that is the ‘running of the club’.

And whilst Bain provides a few figures in his address, a little ‘give and take’ features in the numbers he drops which still don’t entirely add up.

I recognise that we have sold players for a large amount of money and our spend is not commensurate with that.

The truth is that every penny of the £33m that we received for Jordan Pickford and Vito Mannone has gone into the running of the club.

Fans have not seen that money paid out on new players this summer, and the reason is that the money was already accounted for, primarily because of significant payments due this summer for players signed in previous seasons.

For the first time, the club acknowledge they had to fork out for 2014’s disastrous handling of the Ricky Alvarez transfer with Bain quoting a figure of £10m shelled out to Inter Milan.

There is also some response to the criticism of the loan exits for Sunderland’s former big money purchases - Fabio Borini, Wahbi Khazri and Papy Djilobodji - that many had derided for failing to bring cash into a cash-less transfer kitty. All have appearance clauses in their season-long deals according to Bain which will trigger permanent deals.

The chief executive has taken a battering to his image this year following own-goals like the club trip to New York which coincided with an announcement that 70-odd staff would be made redundant as well as the twentieth anniversary ‘celebrations’ of the Stadium of Light which attracted such an unpleasant raft of headlines and indeed experience for Sunderland fans who turned out.

An apology for those episodes would not go amiss.

But in his attempts at addressing a carefully pre-selected basket of gripes being aired by supporters with increasing exasperation, it is curious to note Martin Bain’s assumption that none of this soul searching would have been necessary had the club not lost a handful of games in the last few weeks:

I know its repetition but I do genuinely believe the work we’ve done over the summer, everything we’ve done, not just transfers, if we had managed to get the results in recent weeks the mindset would be different.

It’s a curious aside and one which will have many supporters - who have been raising these issues with regularity during the course of 2017 and long before - raising an eyebrow. As if this current run of results - no wins in five - is the real cause of current angst and can be quietened merely by getting a couple of results on the pitch.

If Mr Bain and co happened to cast a gaze around the Stadium of Light last Tuesday for the visit of Nottingham Forest, they will of course have noted the 25,000 Sunderland fans who have now apparently opted not to turn up and follow the city’s football club.

Sunderland v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship
Stadium of Light
Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

And whilst Mr Bain is at it, perhaps he would care to take a look at the league table and begin to reconcile in his own mind, that it is the decisions taken by himself and the club in the summer which have resulted in the football team looking forlornly upwards at the rest of the Championship, bar the three teams immediately below.

A Part Two is promised by the local press tomorrow. Perhaps then we shall learn how the decision to set Simon Grayson’s budget at a mere £1.25m was actually arrived at and why the club opted not to afford its chosen manager with a transfer kitty of any sort.

Perhaps we will be reassured that the talk of administration is nonsense and that the club will immediately address its dire public image, PR guff, social media faux pas and marketing activity.

Amidst talk of supporter protest this is a CEO under pressure - from all angles. This is also a football club up for sale, and prospective bidders will instantly be put off should the talk of fan unrest continue for any length of time. The boardroom attempt to quieten the hoards may yet pay off.

What is clear though, is there was never any intent to attempt funding a push for promotion whilst the squad has been padded out by short term deals and cheap quick fixes. How you react to what has been said is of course up to you, but there’s nothing much new here and more questions than answers this evening.