Recently, as Sunderland’s summer has ambled into life, social media has seen a decent number of fans express their uncertainty about the club’s approach to proceedings.
A limited pre-season schedule thus far, slow uptake on signing new faces, and laboured rumblings of potential new ownership have all given some fans cause to voice their concerns about the club’s approach to a second season in League One.
And whilst some might label those concerns as “bed-wetting”, others point to our recent history of gross incompetence and unpreparedness as a marker that must be avoided at all costs if the club is to progress back up the league pyramid.
So, are fans right to be concerned? As usual, there’s no straightforward answer, but it is a topic worth discussing, and one that might offer some food for thought for the club’s ownership team.
First of all, it’s worth stating that fans’ concerns aren’t primarily aimed at creating some kind of self-perpetuating sense of victimhood that we as fans are simply content wallowing in.
For many, the concern is born from years of mismanagement that almost led to administration and a future potentially resembling that of a team like Bolton Wanderers and their merry squad of seven.
As such, those concerns should be acknowledged, analysed, and discussed. Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven were ferocious in their PR drive last year. Communication was a key component to driving excitement within the fanbase and bringing many fans back onside. Simply put, that level of openness will be needed again this summer in order to ensure fans continue to show their utmost support.
Fans appreciate being kept in the loop, so to speak, and although it might frustrate Donald at times - especially on Twitter, where he deleted his account this morning - both he and Methven know that increased interactions with the fanbase have essentially allowed them to develop a sense of positivity.
As such, they will likely need to maintain that aspect of their ownership in order to ensure they keep their title as transparent owners - even if that means facing questions they might not like.
It does feel like the ownership team have committed too much to being open and transparent to give up on the approach now; therefore, fans expect to be able to critique and question the club. In my opinion that’s fair enough. If the ownership utilised fan interaction as a means to rekindling fans’ excitement last season, they need to continue with that approach even if the situation isn’t perhaps quite as rosy.
@SunderlandAFC These are the facts. Signings will happen soon with investment in the team where sensible. Club investment will happen - we have plans & options and I will explain how & why in due course (month). Speculation though is just that ⚪️— stewart donald (@stewartdonald3) June 30, 2019
One major issue that has seemingly been the crux of our slow start to the summer has been the potential of fresh investment - despite Donald arguing that is not the case.
Whether the potential investment has had a huge impact is obviously not public knowledge, but from a logical standpoint it can be argued that Sunderland’s dealings will be affected one way or another.
An injection of cash into the club likely increases the playing budget, which, in turn, has an impact on Sunderland’s dealings. More money equates to more/more expensive signings. No new money suggests the club play by different rules - though that isn’t necessarily a bad thing if the club have planned for such an outcome.
Signings will happen, of course, but has the slowdown in negotiations hindered the club’s ability to be proactive in the market? Many fans would argue yes, and that’s a fair judgement to make. Ultimately, though, there is still plenty of time to bring players in and judgement cannot be entirely passed until the window closes. Of course, bringing players in ahead of pre-season makes a difference, but is it the end of the world if they join during the summer’s preparations? Not really.
Sunderland’s limited pre-season plans thus far are another cause for concern, but again on closer inspection it’s clear to understand why fans are worried.
With only three games announced so far (although Donald hinted a home fixture is also soon to be announced), many will liken the plans to those made in the summer of 2013 where Sunderland held three pre-season fixtures against less than imposing opposition before playing in a bizarre cup competition in Hong Kong.
Pre-season might primarily be about fitness and trying new styles of play, but a pre-planned schedule with a decent selection of opposition gives the impression of a club with a clear plan. Sunderland’s slow start to their recruitment drive for “six to eight new players” coupled with their lack of a detailed pre-season plan means fans will be anxious - especially when these issues have plagued our club in the past.
It’s up to the ownership to show people that they are being overly worrisome. That could be as soon as today if we announce a signing or two and reveal another couple of summer fixtures.
Ultimately, though, Sunderland’s owners - no matter who they are - will be questioned at every turn. The best way to answer critics? With tangible results and positive news.