Sunderland AFC, at the time of writing, finds itself in an immense state of limbo.
Currently way off where we were told the club should be at the start of the season, a small run of decent form on the pitch coupled with results going our way elsewhere has rather amazingly put the first team back into contention for a place in the top six - nine points behind the team who are top of the table, the position that the club’s owners told us was what we’d be aiming for come the end of the season.
It’s not beyond reason that we could catapult ourselves further up the league in the coming weeks, and indeed be back competing for one of the top two places. And only right, too - Sunderland are a big club in a poor league, and the fact we’ve not competed for a spot in the automatic promotion places all season is a damn disgrace, really.
But, what happens on the pitch is only a small part of why I’m keen to see the back of the current owner. In fact, it’s completely separate. Even if the club do get promoted this season, I’ll still wish to see Stewart Donald sell up, as the issues which matter to me will still remain.
You see, I like many others was initially very keen to see Stewart and his cadre of cronies come into the club as everything felt very fresh. I took me a lot longer than many others to come round to the idea that things might be better if they moved into the hands of others, and I regret that terribly. I’m reminded of it daily.
But the issues around the club’s infrastructure have always lingered, and the deeper I’ve looked into it the more concerned I get about the lack of care applied to it.
Stewart Donald sacked CEO Martin Bain mere weeks into the job, and he was not replaced, though a portion of his role was assumed by Tony Davison and Charlie Methven. Now that both men have departed, it’s reasonable to ask: who is doing their jobs?
In response to their respective departures, Sunderland appointed Dave Jones and Tom Sloanes to the club’s board as non-executive directors. Both men have admitted that they’ll be unable to fulfil a full-time role due to their interests elsewhere.
Sunderland don’t have a CEO. We don’t have a Director of Football. And that’s just the start.
Is the club being run in a manner which elicits the best possible results from each and every individual? Are the people who are in senior positions at the club currently really the best we can hope for? The fact the same recruitment team remains in place despite three largely awful transfer windows is telling, as is the fact that our U23s and U18s are seemingly in free-fall.
I’d be interested to know what Stewart thinks about the progress of our youth teams, and the impact that repeatedly losing might have on their individual abilities to develop. The message coming out of the club has been that results ultimately don’t matter, but try telling that to a young player facing his umpteenth stuffing of the season in a red and white shirt.
Who is overseeing the club’s commercial business? Are we a fast-paced, forward-thinking club which is working towards maximising our commercial potential? What are we doing to drive up revenues and bring as much money back into the club as possible? What is being done to urge as many supporters along to games as possible?
Our ticketing systems are below-par and stuck in the dark ages - the end-to-end experience is terrible, particularly if you need customer service. The corporate offerings are poor, something I myself experienced recently.
Who is driving the footballing side of the operation forward?
Who is ensuring we’re working to a plan that will see the club develop on the pitch, creating a philosophy that we can work to regardless of who the manager is?
Who is ensuring the club’s recruitment works in conjunction with such a plan, meaning that we go into each transfer window knowing which type of players fit the mould, researched in excruciating detail?
Just who is there, day-to-day, running the club?
Stewart Donald says that the club is in ‘cracking shape’, but to me a club in cracking shape has an infrastructure in place that will ensure it can develop and work to a plan over the long-term. Right now, Sunderland’s infrastructure is threadbare, with no signs that moves will be made to not only improve it, but hold people to account when doing a bad job.
And that’s why I feel that Sunderland’s owner needs to go. It’s nothing personal, because my personal interactions with the man have been nothing but pleasant. It’s purely and simply about my football club, and what I personally feel is for the best.
My gut feeling is that Stewart won’t sell before the end of the season, because the club becomes worth an awful lot more if promotion is gained - and, based on recent results, it appears that is still very much attainable, particularly if we have a good January window.
Whether you’re pro-Donald or anti-Donald, all that we all want is for this club to be successful long-term, and I hope that message doesn’t become diluted over time.