Almost a year to the day, Stewart Donald made his debut on the Roker Rapport Podcast. His musings were fascinating, to say the least; however, perhaps the most intriguing comment was the new ownership’s vision for the future of the club - the fabled Dortmund model. Stewart Donald stated on the pod that:
I think the team we’d like to follow a model upon is Borussia Dortmund.
They [the media] kept asking us if one day we could compete with the Chelsea’s, Tottenham’s and Manchester United’s of this world.
Well, first of all that’s not our level. Not now. But if you do look at Dortmund, they don’t even try and compete financially with Bayern Munich, they do it their own way. But because this is a success they can compete with Bayern on the pitch with a very clear identity of who they are.
The topic had re-emerged in recent weeks as fans have pointed to Sunderland’s recruitment policy as an issue that will need to be addressed this summer whether the club find promotion to the Championship, or not.
To add fuel to the discussion, reports emerged this week that the club are allegedly keen on appointing former Celtic scout John Park in a Director of Football role - though Stewart Donald was quick to point out that Tony Coton is still at the club as head of recruitment.
However, the suggestion that Sunderland are in the market for a technical director/director of football is an interesting notion that is worth discussing because, if truth be told, it feels as though Sunderland need a more cohesive, thorough, and innovative approach to their recruitment and coaching policy.
The suggested Dortmund model simply didn’t materialise this season - the eclectic approach to our transfer policy lends credence to that suggestion. Yet, a unified approach to recruitment and coaching is something Sunderland must look to nurture if we are to cultivate a culture of success on Wearside.
As Roker Report’s Jimmy Lowson noted yesterday, in his excellent article on Benji Kimpioka’s current situation:
Dortmund are of course one of football’s leaders when it comes to both developing and spotting the best young talent in world football. It’s hard to imagine the German organisation threatening their youngsters by removing them indefinitely from the first-team picture.
Have Sunderland developed their young talent effectively? Josh Maja had a great start to the season and Denver Hume has demonstrated flashes of excellence, but simultaneously Sunderland have allowed several young talents out on loan whilst bringing in other club’s young players in an attempt to develop their skills.
In general, Sunderland’s recruitment policy has been somewhat erratic. The free signings of Jon McLaughlin, Dylan McGeouch and Chris Maguire are commendable, yet other signings haven’t produced as much success.
Take for example the heart of Sunderland’s defence. We needed athleticism, pace and resoluteness - any fan could have offered that level of insight going into this season. Instead, we acquired an aging Glenn Loovens, signed Tom Flanagan who isn’t a domineering central defender, and Jack Baldwin who, despite some good showings, struggles to impose himself on games consistently.
In recent weeks, Alim Ozturk has looked the pick of the bunch, yet he was consigned to bench-warming duties after a handful of outings. January’s solution was to loan in young Jimmy Dunne, yet despite some solid showings, he isn’t the player we have needed to rectify our defensive frailties.
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 need look no further than people like Les Reed, Paul Mitchell and Steve Hitchen to appreciate that someone occupying a footballing directorship can provide an element of strategy and foresight than can be incredibly beneficial to a club.
Would John Park be able to bring that to Sunderland? Who knows. But it is clear to see that Sunderland could benefit from an intelligent footballing brain capable of merging Jack Ross’ tactical vision for the club with the required recruitment needed to realise said vision.
Furthermore, the director should be bring value for money. How many of Sunderland’s signings this season would bring a return on their investment if sold? McLaughlin, Maguire, McGeouch, maybe Luke O’Nien? This season’s acquisitions have been solid if unspectacular, yet they certainly don’t suggest a side built with a particular model or vision in mind - and that is the crux of the issue.
Roberto De Fanti and Lee Congerton might well have left a sour taste in many mouths upon the suggestion of hiring a Director of Football, but if Sunderland are to develop into a side capable of developing and nurturing young or undiscovered talent, then bringing in someone capable of aiding the manager find the personnel and approach required to find lasting success is something we should readily embrace.
It’s definitely a case of ifs and buts, yet Sunderland need a strategy in order to create a culture of success.