As Sunderland begin the search for a new manager, it’s worth exploring the notion that perhaps some of Jack Ross’ struggles were exacerbated due to Sunderland’s seemingly lacklustre backroom infrastructure.
The need for a Director of Football, or a backroom team capable of aiding the manager, has been something discussed on more than one occasion on this site. Back in May, when John Park was linked with the club, a piece analysing the need to find Ross some support was published.
Questions need to be asked of the recruitment strategy, and this general disconnect between wants, needs, and acquisitions suggests that Sunderland’s ownership - whether current or incoming - might well look to install a director capable of effectively recruiting potentially valuable players that can cut their teeth with our club in order to enhance their reputation.
Some blame could well be laid at Jack Ross’ door, too. Perhaps his vision for the side wasn’t quite executed or considered effectively - though a turbulent summer will no doubt have hindered affairs.
Sunderland, though, need some direction.
You could argue that very little has changed - that Sunderland haven’t learned from their mistakes.
The team seemingly in charge of Sunderland’s recruitment and overall strategy are the manager, Tony Coton, the club’s head of recruitment, and Richard Hill who appears to be in charge of football operations.
Unfortunately, the argument can be made that this triumvirate was always going to struggle to deliver the team and results required in order to bring success to our club. Ross clearly had his faults as a manager, but he also lacked experience in the English market and league system.
Coton came from the back of a pretty turbulent spell with Aston Villa that saw the club fail to secure promotion whilst battling with FFP rules. He was actively involved in the club’s transfer dealings with Steve Bruce to which Black Country Radio noted:
For all of Bruce’s clever transfer activity in the season just gone, most of the players he brought in came with Premier League wages attached. And still they didn’t get promoted.
And let’s not forget, he also spent big money in January the season before, not long after taking over, where he brought in Neil Taylor, James Bree and Henri Lansbury, who have been largely anonymous since – Birkir Bjanarson who has been a bit-part player (arguably undeservedly so at times) – and Scott Hogan for a cool £12 million, which most would agree he hasn’t repaid – a total outlay of around £25 million. He did get Sam Johnstone on loan, though.
Not exactly inspiring.
Richard Hill arrived at the club from Donald’s former club, Eastleigh, where he was a manager before moving into a Director of Football role. Not much is truly known about Hill, but question marks will linger around a man with his background primarily in the National League.
Hill’s lack of experience in the Football League was always going to be a major question mark hanging over his ability to positively affect the club’s development. It could be argued that his, Coton’s, and Ross’ work within the club hasn’t been particularly inspiring.
Sunderland’s playing squad had clear weaknesses heading into this past summer, namely limited pace and athleticism throughout the team. Unfortunately, these glaring issues were never fully addressed.
Sunderland need a backroom team in place who are both simultaneously pragmatic, but also inventive and forward thinking when it comes to recruitment, managerial appointments, and being capable of discussing gameplans and tactical approaches with the manager as they help him to improve his side week after week.
This team needs to be the driving force in all Sunderland do moving forward. They need to help discern the team’s style of play, aid with the recruitment, and be prepared with replacements for all members of staff should the need arise.
You can identify names like Les Reed, Luis Campos, Michael Zorc, Jon Rudkin, and Michael Edwards as being crucial to their respective sides’ successes - it’s time Sunderland looked to modernise as a club. Improving our backroom infrastructure is just as important as hiring our new manager.