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EXCLUSIVE: Charlie Methven discusses Sunderland’s investment, transfer window & scouting plans

In an exclusive Podcast interview with Roker Report, Sunderland Executive Director Charlie Methven has given updates on the club’s plans for the future - including the January transfer window, the increased scouting network, investment and more.

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Sunderland executive director Charlie Methven and the club’s academy director Paul Reid were the guests on the latest episode of the Roker Rapport Podcast, which will be available in full and for free from tomorrow (details of how to listen are below).

The pair covered an array of topics - from the recent investment in the club, results at academy level and the appointment of Phil Parkinson - and answered questions from fans.

Methven was asked about the recent investment in the club and what that will mean for the club and while he said that more details will be forthcoming on that subject in the very near future, he did confirm the news that a new Scandinavian head scout [Janne Wilkman] has joined, and discussed further additions to the expanded scouting network, as well as what that will mean to the club:

I think there will be more detail on this in the very, very near future and it’s been noted in the local and fan media that a Scandanavian head scout has been appointed full-time, there’s also a full-time scout approved in the Midlands and I think there will be another full-time appointment as well.

Then below that you have a bunch of part-time people reporting in to those heads, so in terms of a structure it’s something Tony Coton has been working on with Richard Hill and the board for some time now and it’s obviously relevant to the Academy as well because once you’ve got these regional heads, then you can start looking at well what kind of local scouts in those areas can report into those regional heads on Academy recruitment as well.

You actually start to build up a network of people who are being overseen and managed in the right way by people used to managing team of scouts because as Paul said earlier on it’s not any more about a bloke in a sheepskin standing on a touchline, these things have to be structured, they have to be processes, they have to be durable.

We are trying to build something here that is of lasting significance to the club and these things do take a little bit of time to bed in and to come to fruition, getting the rounds pegs in the round holes and then finding the right young player who then comes into the Academy, who then might take another two years before he fulfills his potential.

So that entire process might be three years from now, we end up with a player coming through into the first team and you can date it back to that all came from that investment that happened at that time.

We’re fully aware that although there may be short term benefits, the main benefit to the club is going to be in the medium to long term.

We then asked Methven a question from a fan who wanted to know what FPP got from the investment into Sunderland.

Methven revealed that the deal was solely between FPP and Madrox Partners, the holding company of he, Stewart Donald and Juan Sartori but then discussed in detail what the club hopes to achieve from this investment and how that will differ from the wasteful club from recent times:

The arrangements between FPP and MADROX - which is Stewart, mine and Juan Sartori’s holding company - are entirely private.

They have no financial connection with Sunderland AFC and that’s the way it will stay.

In terms of their motivations, I always say to people ‘if you want to find out what somebody’s motivations are, ask them’, it’s then up to them whether they tell you the answer or not. It’s not up to me to say.

All I can say is that, when I first sat in this studio 15-16-17 months ago, what we discussed was that the club had to be stripped back very, very hard.

I remember saying that at the time and it received very little attention when Stewart said and I said it but the amount of wastage at the club was quite extraordinary.

I saw something online the other day, which either infuriated me or else kind of amused me, somebody said ‘oh you know, the easy bit’s cutting costs’.

No it’s not, cutting costs is horrendous, it’s really painful. Even the bits that are clear wastage still involve human beings, still involve HR processes, still involve complex paperwork and decision making and all of it is negative. It’s not the fun stuff.

When Paul and I sit down and say how are we going to apply this new investment to academy recruitment, that’s fun, that’s great.

Sitting down and saying how are we going to get more productivity out of 40% fewer staff, that’s really tough and really, really challenging.

So that first year was stripping away of wastage that had built up over an awful long time, I mean we are talking about a decade of fat building up and when I say that I think everyone is aware now that we were employing more than twice as many people as Newcastle United.

I saw the numbers the other day, we were employing 30 people more than Tottenham Hotspur and this is when Sunderland were in the Championship, they were employing more people than Tottenham Hotsur when they were finishing second in the Premier League.

So there was an awful lot of work that had to be done because in your cutting with your scalpel, you have to be as careful as you possibly can be that you’re cutting out the bits that can be cut out and you’re not cutting out some of the essential organs and that’s really tough.

When you’re going from several hundred staff to a much tighter number, that’s a really difficult thing to achieve.

So here we are, we said at the start that ultimately we would want investment to come into the club to enable us to compete at the next level. When I said that at the time, I didn’t mean after the club gets promoted to the Championship that we then go out and look for investment.

You need to have that before, you need to be ready and if you wait that long it’s too late. It means you can’t compete when you eventually make that step.

So some of the changes that have been put in place with this investment in terms of the academy, the infrastructure - again, just as waste was building up in the club as a whole, there was woeful investment going into the infrastructure, so things like just the machines at the swimming pool in the academy had all gone. The speaker system at the Stadium of Light is not all that great, there are a couple of lifts that have been out for repair for some time.

These all sound trivial but you add them all together and it’s actually quite a lot of work and quite a lot of money to put all these things right.

So we’ve a long list of things that need to be put right to get Sunderland infrastructurally back in fighting shape.

We’ve got plans for the recruitment side of things and a few appointments here and there which we think will really enable things to tick up another level.

Just things like my side of the club, the media side. They’ve been battling on brilliantly, winning awards, etc. but with some bits of equipment that have, frankly, been gaffer taped over the last three years that the club hasn’t really been in a great place.

So just little bits here or there to enable us to take things back in a positive direction having stripped it all back.

That’s what this investment was always going to be about and it’s great to be able to have those positive conversations again about how can we now improve things, rather than how can we steady the ship and stop it sinking?

In regards to the January transfer window, Methven said that Parkinson was always going to be backed regardless of the investment and that will still happen:

We had a discussion, the board had a discussion with the manager when he came in and we made it clear that we would support him in the January transfer window - this is before that investment is made - really speaking, that was going to happen anyway. This investment isn’t about what we are going to be doing in January, that was going to happen in any case.

That and an awful lot more was discussed during the podcast and you can listen to all of it as soon as it becomes available by subscribing on Acast, iTunes, Spotify, & YouTube or make sure to follow us on social media @RokerRapportPod @RokerReport, Roker Report on Facebook or Roker Report on Instagram.

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