Like most of you, I’ve read the Martin Bain interview that has been published in both the Sunderland Echo and the Newcastle Evening Chronicle over the last twenty-four hours or so and having had some time to reflect, I thought that I’d give some of my own feelings on what the Sunderland CEO has said.
The interview - which was, apparently, conducted last Thursday in front of a select group of journalists (well, James Hunter of the NEC and Phil Smith of the SE) - offers some clarity on a number of things, such as the whereabouts of funds that have came in to the club over the summer through player sales and some acknowledgement of what happened in regards to the Ricky Alvarez situation - the first time that anyone from the club has spoken publicly about a subject which, for the last two years or so, has very much been brushed under the carpet.
I’m not privy to just how the conversation between Bain and the press went down, but the guarded nature of it all, to me, just shows how out of touch with the supporters the club are at the minute. There are still many questions left unanswered, challenging ones that the followers of this fantastic football club would most likely love to know the answers to.
He’ll never do it, but I think that Martin Bain should speak directly to supporters if he wants to be taken seriously. Not through a carefully selected process where they control the narrative, but in an environment where fans can come forward and give their own feelings on the way things are going at Sunderland.
That said, has too much damage already been done to his reputation? I don’t know. It’s quite possible that we’ve reached the stage where it doesn’t matter any more what is said, people are never going to get behind the higher-uppers at Sunderland until they’re out of the door - which is why I struggled to accept some of what Bain was saying, in particular his comments on Ellis Short’s long-term commitment to the club.
Moving forward he’s not saying ‘I won’t write the cheques’, he’s saying ‘I don’t want to continue to fund losses, I want to fund growth and improvement’.
I’m sure that Ellis looks at the football club now and recognises that he’s made mistakes.
He spent an awful lot and now wants to do things differently. We have to do things in a way where we can get steady growth and be more sustainable, so that we’re not being kneejerk in what we do. We couldn’t continue the way things have been in recent years but he is absolutely, categorically, still funding the club.
Looking at getting steadier growth – to change some of the identity issues that we’ve had and invest in different areas of the club – is so important for us to move forward.
Having lived through the entirety of the Ellis Short era, the last thing that I want to hear is that this man wants to continue to oversee the running of this football club for the long-term. It’s almost insulting - why should we trust him, or Bain? Why should we believe a word he’s saying?
Further confusion came when he spoke about our past mistakes in the transfer market:
When you’re in the situation which we’ve been in the past, you’re making last minute signings, you’re not doing what you set out to do, I can see why mistakes have been made.
Isn’t that exactly what we did on deadline day? We signed three players at last minute, and scrambled around trying to convince other clubs to lend us one of their strikers on the cheap. Again, comments that are tough to take at face value when the reality of our situation is so apparent.
Perhaps what disappointed me most was the assumption that fans are only angry because results on the pitch have been poor. Bain said:
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.
Comments like that show just how out of touch Bain actually is, in my view.
Having read both parts of the interview, I feel unfulfilled. There are still some things I’d like to know the answers to.
- Is Ellis Short still actively looking to sell the club? Bain’s words would suggest that the owner has plans for the long term at Sunderland and you could be forgiven for assuming that he’s no longer looking to move us on.
- Why couldn’t we afford to even loan a striker towards the end of the transfer window? It’s clear to all of us that one was needed, yet from what we can tell very little was done about it. Bain tells us that the wage bill has been reduced massively - surely we could have stretched to even a Martyn Waghorn - a player who I know for a fact made it clear to the club that he’d love to come back - or a loan for Jordan Rhodes, a player that is out of favour at his current club? Just two suggestions off the top of my head.
- Simon Grayson spoke about having a competitive Championship budget early in the summer, yet as the window drew on it became clear that he had very little to work with. What changed? Was he misled?
- What is going to be done about the rapid decline in attendances at the Stadium of Light, if anything? Who takes the fall for that? Why were prices raised for corporate boxes, and why do we now charge them for cup games? Knowing full-well revenue would be lost from them following relegation, we shouldn’t be trying to put off/price local businesses out of investing in the club.
On top of that, some admission of mistakes from Bain might go some way to correcting his image in the eyes of supporters. He was the one that sanctioned an all-expenses paid trip to New York around the same time as we made a large number of redundancies to ordinary club staff. He was the one that sanctioned the poorly-organised and executed farce that was our pre-season friendly with Celtic, an event that was supposed to be wholesome and family-oriented. He was the one that sanctioned the sale of our most important defender to Watford, Younes Kaboul, for a paltry sum of money.
The fact of the matter is that all of these cost-saving measures have, in some way, played in a part where we find ourselves currently - one place above the relegation zone of the second tier, without a win in any of our last six games, without a single home win since 2016.
Is it ‘transparency’ that fans even want? I’m certain that most of us just want to hear of a plan - anything. All that Bain has said so far is that we’re trying to save money, and that it might be fixed one day. There’s not a hint of a target, or a milestone, or any semblance of a plan.
So yeah, there’s my ten-pence worth. Make of it what you will - I might have even misjudged some of it in your own opinion, but that’s how I see it anyways. Ultimately though, I just feel more frustrated having read Bain’s carefully-constructed words - and I still don’t quite know why I’m supposed to be happy about the job he’s doing. He won’t be getting a pat on the back from me anytime soon.