With the impending takeover of our club set to be confirmed in a matter of hours, it’s difficult not to let yourself get totally carried away with hopes of a dramatic revival under Stewart Donald’s new era of ownership.
Ellis Short’s reign soured to the point of irreversible damage, and upon the confirmation that the American businessman had agreed to sell the club, a collective sigh of relief was released on Wearside.
That being said, some fans will remain sceptical. After years of mismanagement and aimless leadership, there will of course be those needing firm action from the new ownership to be convinced of its worth - and who can really blame them?
So, what could Stewart Donald do over the course of the next few weeks in order to ensure he is able to hold the collective belief of the Sunderland faithful and move our club back in the right direction?
Sustain open communications with the fanbase
Donald has already been impressive with the manner in which he has communicated the whole process of buying the club - much to the relief of many Sunderland supporters.
Social media has enabled the former Eastleigh owner to communicate directly with the club’s fans thus far. Donald must now ensure he continues to be as open and accessible after his takeover of the club is confirmed.
The absent ownership of Ellis Short was nothing short of infuriating. No communication, seemingly no clear plan (more on that shortly), and no real sense that Short was ever interested, or in absolute control. Clearer communication would most certainly have aided the American’s cause had he chosen to be more transparent.
As Donald secures his ownership of the club, he must continue to be so engaging with the fans on a personal level - even if he is advised against such clarity. Many might raise an eyebrow at the way in which Donald seems so self-evident; however, this is a positive change.
Engaging with fans is something we’ve craved for a number of years - now it seems we have it, and long may it continue. Stewart is set to appear on the Roker Rapport Podcast this week; keep an eye out for that, as we’ll be asking him questions from the fans via Twitter.
Communicate a clear plan
As previously mentioned, life under Short seemed like some perpetual attempt at finding stability, but what was his plan?
Back in 2015 the then-owner lashed out at former player Michael Gray for suggesting he had ‘lied’ to fans about finances:
First of all, no-one who knows me or knows anything about me would say that I have no ambition for the club. That ambition certainly has not been realised yet, but it does not mean that I don’t have it.
Secondly, the assertion that I have been unwilling to spend money to fulfil the ambitions of the club and its fans is completely wrong. Every penny that comes from TV money and other commercial activities is spent on operating the club - that is, buying players, wages, and other associated costs.
I have never taken money out of the club. In fact, I have funded significant shortfalls each and every season. The amount that I fund, every season, exceeds the collective total amount funded by every owner the club has ever had since the club was formed in 1879.
I have done this willingly because I want us to be more than a club that simply exists in the top flight.
However, it’s easy to see why people questioned Short’s intentions - we simply were never made aware of hopes, dreams, or aspirations. Try going back and finding quotes or soundbites from the American: they’re practically impossible to find.
Short rarely stepped foot into the spotlight, and, in turn, fans were never permitted into the inner sanctum of the Sunderland supremo’s plans for the club. Where was the vision, where were we headed?
When the club was in crisis mode, occasionally Short emerged from the gloom in an attempt at pacifying restless supporters, but there never seemed to be any long-term plan in place.
Instead, Short relied upon a succession of advisers in an attempt at finding success. It’s safe to say that none of those appointed performed particularly well, and much of that can be traced to a variety of approaches and no real leadership from the top.
From the likes of O’Neill and Bruce handling dealings before a flirtation with the European Director of Football model under De Fanti and Congerton, to the likes of David Moyes and Martin Bain. Sunderland have staggered from approach to approach, fresh idea to novel concept - never finding any form of real, lasting success.
Stewart Donald could do well in identifying a clear lack of long-term planning as being a key component in the downfall of our club. Subsequently, he and his fellow investors would gain an enormous amount of respect should they share their long-term plan with the fans.
Charlie Methven has mentioned a goal of making the club “fully sustainable” and realising that the task ahead won’t be a walk in the park, but once the takeover is confirmed fans will be hoping for more detailed information.
Decisive action in appointing a new manager
Sunderland’s current managerial vacancy needs to be remedied as soon as possible in order for the club to properly begin the rebuilding process.
The next manager will be a critical appointment, and Donald must appoint someone with vision, tenacity, transfer acumen, and a winning mentality. Nothing less will do. It’s an obvious statement to make, but the sooner we appoint a preferred candidate, the more chance we give ourselves of finding success next season.
Decisive action on this front will be seen as the first major step in Donald’s ownership, and will be welcomed by fans as a sign that the new owner has a clear plan for the club.
Obviously, fans won’t want the club to rush into a random appointment, but they will want to see an efficient appointment found in a relatively swift fashion.
Considering Chris Wilder seems set to sign a new deal with Sheffield United, fans will be keen to see who Donald has in mind for the open job. Alex Rae, Jack Ross, and Michael Appleton are all said to be in contention according to bookmakers - could Stewart Donald have reached out to them already?
Ultimately, the new manager will have an immense task ahead as he attempts to rebuild a team capable of finding a swift return to the Championship.
The sooner he is appointed, the better - for all involved.