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Do Sunderland need a Director of Football?

Do Sunderland need a Director of Football? If so, how soon? What do you envisage the main benefits would be, both short and long term? Do you think that employing another high-paid backroom team member is on the radar of the club’s owners?

Sunderland Unveil New Manager Phil Parkinson Photo by Sunderland AFC/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Q: Do Sunderland need a Director of Football?

Tom Atkinson says...

Sunderland 100% need a Director of Football, there’s no doubt about it.

Director’s of Football often wear different hats at different clubs. Some focus purely on recruitment, others are more focused on finances and club development across the board. The main issue with our club at present is the fact that we seemingly have little identity or long-term strategy that echoes between the boardroom and the rest of the club. Flipping from Jack Ross’ footballing approach to Phil Parkinson’s indicates that we don’t have a genuine footballing plan in place that we are intent on developing and delivering.

Furthermore, in terms of player recruitment we have also struggled; however, that might not necessarily be down to the recruitment team. How much control does the manager have over signings? What about the Head of Recruitment? Or any other exec?

The whole approach feels rather convoluted and doesn’t adhere itself to developing long-term success. None of the players signed have really fitted into the “Dortmund Model” that was discussed early in Donald and Methven’s reign.

The issue, though, is that it’s incredibly difficult to simply hire the right person overnight. In fact, hiring a good Director of Football is probably a trickier process than hiring a manager.

Director’s of Football aren’t really household names, and sometimes the best of them seemingly appear from nowhere. In Sunderland’s case, I think we need to hire someone equal parts respected and progressive. That person will likely need several analysts and scouts to help advise on strategy and potential signings, so we would be throwing a big chunk of money at the whole process.

Personally, I think getting this signing right is more important than this January window.

Say we throw money at getting promoted and manage it... where do we go from there? Would we be lumbered with a squad not fit for purpose in The Championship? Sunderland need to be constantly looking ahead to the future, and the best way we can do that right now is by hiring someone to help implement the vision we need and want.

Sunderland U21 v Liverpool U21 - Barclays U21 Premier League
Sunderland’s last ‘Director of Football’ type figure was Lee Congerton, who was not successful
Photo by Ian Horrocks - Sunderland AFC/Getty Images

James Nickels says...

Without a shadow of a doubt. The club is entirely lacking leadership, coherence and structure at a footballing level. Whatever it is called: Sporting/Technical Director or Director of Football, it is clear we need a constant presence in the club and academy overseeing matters on the pitch, not just off it. Not like a manager or head coach either. They’ll oversee the long-term and implement a plan to follow.

I think Methven, Donald and his current senior management crew severely lack in their knowledge of how to run a football club on the pitch. All successful clubs have one, and not one at loggerheads with a manager in a crossover of roles (cough: Congerton) or a football agent doing his mates a favour (cough: De Fanti), but a man who exudes leadership, coherence and direction. One who preferably has been embedded into the modern game and has experience in technical roles. Jack Ross has all but admitted (according to Nick Barnes) that he wanted one, and he needed an experienced assistant too.

Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven are beginning to implement a scouting structure, but we need a man to lead it. Above Coton. Above Richard Hill. Somebody to provide an overarching strategy and vision to implement onto the football club, from the manager all the way down to the youngest lads in the academy.

Just look at the current Premier League top three: Liverpool, Leicester and Manchester City. Each club have head coaches at the top of their game and squads full of talent. But in each, Michael Edwards, Txiki Begiristan and Jon Rudkin oversee everything. They’ve all been in their roles for at least 3 to 5 years.

Football has changed - no longer is a club merely one man in charge with the cash then one managing with trackies tucked into a pair of black mundials. Largely gone are the omnipotent and omniscient managers of old. Now, directors operate above them and work toward a long-term vision for the club, and figure out how to implement it.

They have to be as just as wise and savvy in the boardroom and with technical data as they do on the training ground and with genuine ability.

Cambridge United v Leicester City - Pre-Season Friendly - Abbey Stadium
Jon Rudkin, Leicester City director of football
Photo by Joe Giddens/PA Images via Getty Images

Gav says...

The biggest blot on Stewart Donald’s copy sheet is undoubtedly the club’s recruitment strategy and football operations since he arrived. There’s no clear and obvious plan in place, and having spoke about replicating a model used by Borussia Dortmund he has left himself open to immense scrutiny, particular since it’s obvious we have been working with a paper thin recruitment team and have no real plan in place beyond signing names we perceive will be good enough to succeed at this level.

In the summer this should have been recognised, particularly after the farce that was the January transfer window. Once it became obvious to everyone that Will Grigg was not the answer, the light should have come on and Stewart should have recognised that his personal interference in that particular deal - it has since came to light that Stewart made it his personal task to ensure the transfer was completed - should not have happened.

I’ve spoken about this repeatedly, but a Director of Football is crucially needed at Sunderland. I have no problem with Stewart and Charlie’s running of the business side of the club and think they’ve made some hugely positive moves. They should not have any influence on the footballing side of the operation, though, and it’s clear that there’s a complete lack of direction in that area.

There’s nobody acting as the buffer between owner, and those beneath him - namely Tony Coton (Chief Scout), Richard Hill (Head of Football Operations), Paul Reid (Academy Manager), and the managers of our 1st team, U23s and U18s.

Stewart and Charlie have other commitments. Stewart recently admitted his personal life has taken a back-seat due to his work with the club. Charlie runs a PR firm, and has his own family life too. They aren’t able to be in Sunderland six days a week to oversee the running of the football club, and that lack of direction is not helpful.

Placing someone else in that position is vital, and could prove to be important in how the direction of the club moves either positively or negatively between now and the end of their tenure as owners, whenever that may be.

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