Just over a year ago, a raging Gary Neville seemed to reach his inner boiling-point with the chaotic shenanigans being played out at his beloved theatre of dreams. Disappointed with the leadership, the organisation, the lack of confidentiality in the boardroom, the football played on the pitch, the incoherent transfer policy and the constant changing of managers, he wasn’t shy in sharing his frustrations.
The people in the boardroom who are overseeing the football operations are nowhere near good enough; they’re not qualified.
They’re playing Football Manager with the biggest club in the world!
Admittedly we aren’t Manchester United, but we are a great, traditional club, with a rich history of success and a loyal support who often live and die by the footballing institution we swear allegiance to from birth. Do you get the impression, like Neville did with the Glasers’ and Ed Woodward, that those who lead our club are ill-qualified to wrestle the beast that is Sunderland AFC back into a position of strength? Are they good enough to lead our club from our current state of lethargic malaise?
I’m not one for proclaiming that Donald and Methven are conmen. Others can rightly believe otherwise. I believe their intentions were good and it’s fruitless to simply point fingers and peddle rumours that are difficult to substantiate. That simply adds toxicity to a situation which is corrosive enough already. I still have hope, but admittedly recognise its rapidly pouring down the plughole of despair.
I’ve always supported them and been an admirer of their slick approach to communications. I was impressed with their bold approach to leadership and remember with clarity the hairs standing up on the back of my neck in their first press conference when the ebullient Methven declared proudly, “The p*ss take part is over.”
How hollow those words seem now.
How naïve I was in my optimism after years of drudge and dull disappointment under the ownership of Ellis Short. Perhaps, like many supporters I was searching for something, anything that might transform my constant frustration and the perpetual blundering of those charged to protect and lead this club and restore my hope. Something to resuscitate my faith.
When Methven pronounced those words, he spoke to me and many others in a way we were crying out for. Like any well-versed, spin-doctor he hit straight at the heart of the matter. He carefully chose the words and tone that he knew would have us salivating for his brutish and bullish approach to leadership after so many seasons of grey, unending dullness.
But it appears, the p*ss take party was not ending, just continuing with a friendlier face with a brighter approach to PR. An approach that uses erudite and smooth spin as mere smoke and mirrors, to titillate the fans, they keep us fuelled by hope and held tightly on the hooks of grand promises, that befuddle us and prevent us from peeling back any of the flimsy layers that may reveal the gaping holes underneath.
Unfortunately for our owners, the harsh realities of factual results and tangible performances - as well as fiscal management that have choked our ambitions - have made their PR manipulation taste bitter. It no longer falls into our ears like sweet honey. It’s more like the rancid kangaroo testicles being eaten in an Australian jungle by minor celebrities.
If the p*ss take party was over, why haven’t the club’s owners savaged the entire squad and threatened them with salary cuts and contract terminations should their performances not improve? Of course, in real life this is near impossible, the legal ramifications are complex and expensive. So rather than end the party of mockery, Donald and Methven have allowed it to flourish and worsen. But they’ve spoken so beautifully its papered over the cracks. When our manager claims his players stopped playing when they went behind on Tuesday night, surely it’s time for the great whip cracker Methven to step in.
The warrior-protester of p*ss taking players and managers seems rather quiet.
If the p*ss take party was truly over, why didn’t our owners instruct out minimalistic recruitment team to halve their salaries, and instead promise them a bounty of end-of-season bonuses four times the worth of any reduction in salary they might have taken, should their recruitment lead to success on the pitch? Their rich bonuses would be a handsome reward for the raw, measurable success they’ve been able to produce and able to clearly show. Instead they’ve been symbolically castrated and flopped from one average freebie to another or wasted two-years-worth of League One transfer money on a player in Grigg, who seems so unhappy at Sunderland, you’d be tempted to believe they throw him in a cage after every match and feed him nothing but bread and water.
If the p*ss take party was truly over why give an out of work manager desperate for a gig a solid two year contract? Why not convince such a manager that this opportunity is so great, that a more lucrative month-to-month contract, again using large, attractive cash incentives dispensed generously for identifiable success on the pitch? Would a hungry manager not back himself to achieve this and perhaps make more money via success-related-bonuses?
Our owners sacked a manager in Ross - deservedly so in the opinion of most supporters - and merely moved sideways (if not backwards) to replace him with a bloke who looks like he’s come to fix your washing machine. While the signing lacked the wow factor to appease the supporters, it wasn’t bizarre or brazenly left-field.
You could map the logic of the decision. But while supporters suspected that this mammoth job was too big for Parkinson, you could understand the thinking of the owners. An out of work manager with no compensation to pay for - a manager who’d gratefully come on a competitive salary and a bonus of a Halfords Gift Card.
Thus far the Parkinson experiment has been an unmitigated failure. The decision to sack Ross was a correct one. Like Parkinson, this job was too big for him. You can’t begin to compare managing St. Mirren or Bradford City to the job of managing Sunderland - a monster of a club whose bite can tear you to shreds, whose size can eat you up and throw you out, if you’re not arrogant enough, hard enough and single minded enough to grab it by the scruff of the neck with every inch of aggression that it mangles you with.
You don’t just need a BTEC in Sports Science and a white board to manage Sunderland - you need a character the size of the Grand Canyon; a backbone made of steel, and shoulders as wide as the Mississippi is long. That was the brief Donald and Methven should have worked on. Stuff the financial value of such a man - what’s the cost of consistent failure without him?
A fish rots from the head down and in our current state of confusion the owners may have to admit - not via spin-doctoring or media-manipulation, but by genuine heart-felt integrity and honesty - that like the managers they’ve chosen (who may have been great fits for Oxford or Eastleigh), this gargantuan professional football club was a bigger and more complex creature than they’d ever imagined.
Like the small-time managers they’ve employed, this club of ours is just too big for them. Too monstrous. Too complicated. What we are currently witnessing feels like another beginning to a new end.
If the p*ss take party was truly over, why does it feel we’re being pranked every week? Perhaps our owners need to question that if they’re not the ones who stopped the p*ss take party, are they responsible for perpetuating it and inviting us suckers along to continually endure it?