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Sunderland ‘Til I Die: Martin Bain’s inadequacies exposed as transfer strategy borders on lunacy

Like bald men fighting for a comb, the Sunderland management team’s garish attempts at implementing a vision and strategy are laid bare in Netflix’s documentary - but should we laugh or cry?

Fundamentally, the overall financial aspect of the football club is what will help determine our success going forward. So I have a big task on my hands as to how we might look at what we invest, where we invest it - maybe having to realign some of that spend - and that’s probably my biggest task going forward.

Like it or lump it, we should be looking at bringing players to this club and selling them for a greater value. We have to look at acquiring players at a younger age, too.

Martin Bain’s arrival at Sunderland in May 2016 brought a keen sense of intrigue. A figure of derision as he was forced out of Rangers by former owner Craig Whyte, Bain arrived on Wearside fresh from Maccabi Tel Aviv where he had seen his club clinch a domestic treble and had aided the Israeli Premier League in negotiating a bumper broadcast deal.

Fans were cautiously hopeful that Bain could be the man capable of reversing our faltering fortunes. He spoke with gusto about restructuring the club’s financial strategy. He saw developing talent and using the proceeds sales to balance our mountainous debts as the only way to heal what was already a badly broken club - both key factors identified by the club’s current ownership as needing improvement.

However, relegation times two, the hiring of charisma-killers David Moyes and Simon Grayson, a lack of financial recovery, and a whole host of other complaints saw Bain dismissed not long after Stewart Donald’s purchase of the club.

In the new Netflix documentary, Sunderland ‘Til I Die, Bain’s anemic stewardship is exposed in full as fans go behind the scenes and witness a rudderless club sailing directly towards doom. From a confusing recruitment strategy to missing communication, Bain’s stewardship is shown to be one complete disaster.

Episode Two of the new Netflix documentary begins the eyebrow raising, which swiftly turns into astonishment, anger, and sheer disbelief.

Jimmy Sinclair, former Academy boss, showcases the shocking insight into the club’s lack of coherent policy when he outlines his plan for the club:

We’re [going to be] testing our best young talents rather than playing with players that’ll get us better results with no end product for the club.

Erm... what? Was that merely a misguided statement, or did Sinclair just argue that winning games with older players who won’t bring us a profit is a bad thing?

The former Rangers man goes on to note:

The only question marks you could have: if they [academy products] can make the challenge without embarrassing us too much?

I think it would be healthier for the club, healthier for the young players, and cheaper.

Ah - lunacy it is, then.

“Let me bring you a tale of pain and suffering.”
Image: Sunderland AFC

The documentary repeatedly highlights the complete lack of funds available for the club; it’s a recurring theme that is one everyone’s lips. Sinclair’s plan seems to be good enough for Bain and also Grayson, who quips he’s good at working with young players when essentially told that he’ll have no money.

There’s no fight from anyone in front of the camera - instead there is this bizarre sense of acceptance that doesn’t feel like confidence, but more like ineptitude. At one point, Grayson tries to employ simile in order to articulate how big a job this is, and how great an opportunity he sees it to be. However, labelling the club, and job at hand, as being, “like the titanic,” is all the foreshadowing you need, really.

The documentary is like a dark, gritty comedy at times. Another truly horrific, yet also shockingly comedic moment, comes when Martin Bain, Jimmy Sinclair, and the scouting team meet to discuss potential summer targets:

JS: So, really, what we’re charged with as a recruitment department is just to produce a list of the people we think—

MB: You’ve done this, though, in terms of profiling these type of loans, for example, with no understanding of the wage budget.

JS: Absolutely.

MB: You’re a bit in the dark, aren’t ya?

A list is shown briefly in a frame, it contains thirteen Premier League players including Will Hughes of Watford, and Scott McTominay of Manchester United. Bain also notes that his hard copy also contains Zlatan Ibrahimovic as a potential striking target.

Daily Express

Call it a disconnect, poor leadership, a lack of communication, delusion, or whatever takes your fancy, but Sunderland were in free-fall the moment we exited the Premier League.

Jimmy Sinclair continues with his head in the sand sketch as Bain suffers a small mental breakdown live on camera:

JS: Well, what I think the lads have tried to do, Martin, is to try and cover the spectrum with a hint of pragmatism about it ... I think this club is an excellent vehicle, I think, for any player to sign and make his mark.

MB: I disagree with you. Do you think we make enough of that?

JS: I don’t think we do.

MB: Why would that player come to Sunderland as opposed to somewhere else? All the clubs are after a similar bunch of players.

JS: I think there’s a lot of great signs that we’re on the right track.

Fans are then treated to former assistant manager Glynn Snodin accompanying Chief Scout of the club Sandy Miller on a foray into scouting potential targets. The reason for Snodin’s lack of interest? The player is wearing gloves and it isn’t even cold.

Bain then meets local sponsors and brutally acknowledges that Short is simply “not prepared to have a go again.”

Deadline day soon arrives and Bain struggles. Both he and Grayson welcome the new recruits with about as much charisma and excitement as a muffled yawn found lingering in a padded cell of boredom and repulsion.

It’s sheer lunacy.

So uninspiring.

After losing out on a last-ditch attempt to sign Ross McCormack from Aston Villa, Martin Bain rather ironically argues against the club simply trying to “plug gaps” because we simply cannot afford to “splash the cash.”

However, despite Jimmy Sinclair being adamant that we sign young players and have a handful of more experienced pros, the club spends £1.26 million on Marc Wilson, Callum McManaman, Aiden McGeady, Lewis Grabban, James Vaughan, and Jason Steele as well as a few youngsters on loan.

So... what was the plan?

Episode two of Sunderland ‘Til I Die seems to perfectly encapsulate the sheer ineptitude found within the club’s ranks during last season. Martin Bain resembles a lost puppy working with no real guidance while Simon Grayson flips paper on an easel pad, analysing the great philosophical argument that working class fans want hard-working players. It’s like something out of The Office.

Grayson ends the episode with a hint of irritation that is soon swept away by either foolishness or a misplaced sense of content - it’s difficult to tell. When talking about the club’s transfer dealings he says, “Did I agree with it? No. But that’s just my opinion.”

Right-oh Si, I’m sure Martin and Jimmy’s vision of a club throwing youngsters into the fore, hoping they don’t make fools of themselves as we search for fiscal equilibrium was absolutely spellbinding.

The apathy shown from all corners of the club’s management is bewildering. Last season was perhaps the lowest ebb in our recent tumultuous history, yet the men placed in charge of the ship seemingly sailed right into the metaphorical iceberg that relegation embodies... perhaps Grayson was right with that earlier bit of figurative language, then?

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