RR: So... can you tell us a little about how you know Kristjaan Speakman?
JK: I was employed by him as an Academy coach at Birmingham City FC back in 2017.
RR: How did you find working for him?
JK: Working for him was great. He brought in some good people to work within the academy and created a strong culture for us all to improve and develop.
RR: How well thought of is he by the other staff and coaches at Birmingham?
JK: He is very highly thought of by the staff as he always looked to improve all multi-disciplines within the academy, as well as spending lots of time organising CPD events for us all to improve and better ourselves.
Nationwide he is highly thought of, and has done many talks through player development project - the leading coaching provider which has coaches across the globe, and talks about his values and how he developed the culture at the club.
RR: What sort of coach/manager is he?
JK: As a manager for me you always felt supported and that you were progressing, but he also wanted to stretch you as an individual and get you out of your comfort zone.
RR: Sunderland have a cat1 academy, but it’s safe to say we don’t use it well enough. How confident would you be that Kristjaan will place academy development and proper player progression into the first team as a top priority?
JK: I feel he will improve the academy immensely. His track record of bringing through players at BCFC was very impressive, and he would always look to have the right programmes for each individual for them to be successful.
Top players such as Demerai Gray, Nathan Redmond and Jack Butland have all progressed through under him, and most recently Jude Bellingham, who he has had mentored and supported throughout his entire experience, and has been a big factor in why the player stayed at the club when he had potential European suitors looking at him all the time.
He will play a huge part in making the programme so good for individual players that they won’t want to leave, which might not have been the case in recent years, with many academy products leaving Sunderland.
RR: He’s spent a long time at Birmingham. Do you think he’ll be a miss there?
JK: He will definitely be a miss at Birmingham - but it’s good news for me, and I’m very happy as a Sunderland fan that he will hopefully join the club.
RR: Becoming the Sporting Director of a club like Sunderland is a big career move - do you think he’ll make a good appointment?
JK: I feel he will do well in the role.
He’ll look at every aspect of the club and look at how things can be developed and improved, but also put in support processes for that to happen. I definitely feel there will be a positive culture at the club under his stewardship.
RR: And finally... What would you say to anyone who isn’t sure about this appointment/don’t know who he is?
JK: You just have to look at his record of bringing through players at BCFC to know he will be a great success. Birmingham City FC have a highly respected academy in the UK for developing not just players, but good people as well.