There has been much made over the past few weeks about Sunderland being a divided club. The superfluous club statement regarding the sale of the club this week made reference again to divisiveness.
However, far from being divided I would argue that Sunderland is very much united - with one aim - to return to its rightful place in the football hierarchy.
This is not to belittle the many good and great football clubs in League One, but a reflection that not just Sunderland fans but many football fans - and this is often a point made to me on our travels around the country - believe Sunderland to be too big a club, with its fan-base and facilities, to be languishing in the third tier.
With that in mind it is no wonder Sunderland fans’ patience has worn thin this season. Worn thinner and thinner by the continued muddle that the football club has become.
Stewart Donald has decided to leave, a decision which one can argue has been on his mind for some time considering the failed attempts to sell to Mark Campbell and the FPP group, but which became a priority following the statement made by the fans’ groups to accelerate his departure.
We could argue all day long the rights and wrongs of the last fortnight, but social media has largely done that and all I would add is that looking at it in the round I suspect mistakes would be admitted from all sides. This, though, isn’t the nub of the issue for me.
The football club is at its lowest historical point, but at least now it seems with recent results to be edging away from its all-time low and hopefully that point won’t be revisited.
There has been talk of a club with no-one running it; an Academy not fit for purpose; a non-existent scouting network and so on. However, that is not the real issue. The club is being run on a day-to-day basis. If it wasn’t it wouldn’t function full stop. The Academy is at a crossroads. It is more by ill luck than judgement that the current under 23’s are not as good as those of the past, and with no money to spend to bolster the ranks at that level we will have to wait for the under 16’s to progress, from which I’m led to believe there are some very good prospects. The scouting network is now being addressed.
These are all areas of the club which currently reflect the fact Sunderland are in League One. The greater issue, for me, is in going forward and that is where I think the decision by Stewart Donald to move on is probably the right one.
Eighteen months ago Stewart Donald arrived to take-over a club desperately in need of new blood. Donald, Charlie Methven and to an extent Juan Sartori injected that much-needed dynamism. However, without going over old ground regarding last season and the beginning of this, the time has come for a change.
Stewart Donald doesn’t present a clear and convincing case for the financial state of the club. His interviews lack clarity and direction, and regardless of whether he has been pressed enough on the financial situation it is clear to me his answers will always be mired in obfuscation and befuddlement.
Charlie Methven has slipped into an uncharacteristic silence, though is undoubtedly still pulling some strings from a constituency afar, and Juan Sartori is being Juan Sartori - in other words, enjoying life but a long way away from Sunderland.
The football club needs a much greater cohesion than the three can now offer.
There has been a clarion call for a chief executive or CEO to be appointed at the club, and with the owners clearly opposed to going down that road then it is only through new ownership that it will probably be achieved.
This is not to denigrate those people at the club who are now holding it together and continuing to make it function, but as has been pointed out on this forum there are areas of the club that need addressing, such as ticketing, that can only change if the club has a structure which allows it to grow rather than tick over.
Above and beyond the club to my mind has reached a point that, to evolve, it needs owners with deeper pockets and a greater degree of control in all areas from communication to commercial to football.
I disregard all the accusations levelled at Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven. They to me are as inevitable as night following day and one only has to look back even as far as Tom Cowie to accept they are part and parcel of owning a football club. What is more important is to take the long view – the overview – and I believe the time is right for change if Sunderland AFC is to prosper and compete where it belongs.
You can catch Nick Barnes each and every weeknight on BBC Newcastle’s TotalSport show between 5pm-7pm, and also alongside Gary Bennett providing the match commentary for each and every Sunderland home and away game.