On the on-the-pitch side I’m more of a viewer, and I’m gonna be interested to see what the view is in terms of how we’re gonna change things going forward, and if the answer is a bunch of excuses, then I’ll roll my eyes and think “this ain’t gonna work”.
- Charlie Methven on the Roker Rapport Podcast, May 28 2019
When Charlie Methven and Tony Davison opted to resign and walk away Sunderland AFC, alarm bells should have been ringing regarding the precise reasons why people who were apparently key board members had opted to spend their immediate futures away from the club. For some the issues now affecting us have been apparent for a lot longer than the likes of myself, who are now coming around to the idea that something just isn’t right behind the scenes - something so severe that we’re regressing badly on the pitch.
I don’t feel any shame in saying that. I actually like Stewart Donald as a bloke having met him briefly on a handful of occasions, and believe that whilst ultimately he got into business with Sunderland to eventually make some money from the venture, he’s set out to try to do something good at the club while he’s here. It was too good an opportunity for him to turn down of course, but I don’t think it’d be unfair to allege that initially he wanted to help restore Sunderland back to its rightful place whilst keeping the supporters happy at the same time.
At first I’d say he got quite a lot right, but since the end of last season it’s obvious that the attention of those at the top of the club hasn’t been solely on what ultimately matters - the football and results on the pitch. Months and months went by as attempts to finalise various takeover deals came and went, and ultimately we settled on something which gives fans some insurance that, regardless of how Donald actually does here, we could well have a wealthy American consortium waiting in the wings to take us forward.
Whilst people from within the club may argue that I’m wrong here or wide of the mark, I can’t help but wonder just how much of an impact the lack of leadership and visibility of management on a day-to-day basis is having at the club.
Everyone involved in a position of ‘power’ is either here part-time, or not here at all. Richard Hill and Tony Coton are not based on Wearside. Stewart Donald is a busy man, based in Oxford with many other business interests meaning it’d be impossible to expect him to focus solely on running Sunderland. Neil Fox - Donald’s right hand man - is also involved in other ventures and is based in Oxfordshire. Academy manager Paul Reid isn’t here full time.
That complete lack of visibility across the board means you cannot possibly run SAFC - or the area that you are responsible for - to the best of your ability. And at a time when results on the pitch for our senior, U23 and U18s sides are horrific, it’s impossible to justify that this is feasibly the right way to run a football club with the size and stature of ours.
Simply put, the structure off the field is having an impact on everything else.
It’s impossible to deny that our recruitment has been shocking since Tony Coton and Richard Hill came into the club. Some good has been done - signing the likes of Luke O’Nien, shifting on high earners and cancelling the contracts of AWOL players - but a lot of bad has marred it and, as such, we look ill-equipped to compete in League One after three transfer windows. Surely, as a person in power, you’d want to get a firm grip on the situation and be around the club daily to ensure you fix the problems that you’ve helped to create?
Likewise, it’s hard to ignore the fact that our three most prominent sides are struggling massively. The first team manager is probably the most senior figure in the AOL most days, and who do they even answer to? Who are they conversing with, one-to-one, in order to ensure everyone in a management position is on the same page throughout the club?
It’s tantamount to neglect.
I don’t expect that Stewart Donald should be at the club every day, because how many owners of clubs are? They employ experienced and qualified people to run their football clubs, and that is exactly what I’d advise Stewart Donald and Juan Sartori to do next.
The lack of direction is causing serious issues. The club needs day-to-day leadership in the form of a Director of Football who is responsible for overseeing the entire footballing operation. This isn’t revolutionary, not even at this level - clubs playing further down the pyramid than Sunderland are better equipped than we are when it comes to senior management and visibility of key figures who have a say in decision-making.
Below a Director of Football should be a technical management team who look after the first team, U23s and the academy. They should be held accountable for when results go badly, they should work in conjunction with one another to ensure everyone is moving in the same direction on and off the pitch. Alongside them should be the chief scout and his team, who ultimately report to the DoF when it comes to recruitment. The DoF is responsible for ensuring that the club are signing the right types of players, and the scouting team should be well-schooled in what it is that they’re supposed to be looking for.
Then, a CEO should be in place to ‘run the club’, as it were. You can imagine that since these guys came on board that the load has been shared amongst several people, most prominently Stewart Donald, Tony Davison and Charlie Methven. Two of those people have moved on and it’d be unreasonable to expect the other to devote his entire working life to running Sunderland when he has so much else going on. Who is eating up the work done by Charlie Methven, most importantly? He was probably more involved than anyone when it came to fan engagement, PR and marketing.
Surely, in that case, you’d look to employ an experienced, forward-thinking CEO who is not only based in Sunderland but is here with the sole remit to run this club as stringently as possible.
The marketing, business, fan liaison and media teams should ultimately answer to someone with senior authority who is around the Black Cats House and the Academy on a daily basis. There’s quite clearly a lack of leadership and that has led to a decline in standards and a general malaise around the club that has manifested onto the pitch.
Stewart Donald can still save the reputation of his tenure as owner if he addresses the issues that are clear even for fans to see head on, instead of burying his head in the sand. My advice? He either appoints people who can run the club and the various departments that currently lack visible senior management figures to do the work for him, or he sells up to someone else who will run the club properly. You wouldn’t run any other business this way, so why run a prestigious and massive football club like this?