Craig Davies says...
I had the pleasure of sitting alongside former Sunderland player Kieron Brady a few months ago during a podcast all too eagerly entitled ‘The Takeover Special’ - a footballing premature ejaculate if there ever was one.
Despite the over-enthusiasm of the event and the subsequent disappointment of nothing happening other than a mysterious loan and a new lift at the Academy, it was an educational experience listening to Kieron and his thoughts on what we believed in August would soon be a post-Donald era. He discussed creating a club ethos that ran from the top to the bottom, built on high and ruthless expectations and transparent professionalism both on and off the park. An almost tangible, visible and completely identifiable ethos formed by the key metrics of localtiy, demographics, history, a relentless ambition that was unforgiving of disloyalty and lack of commitment.
He told of his time, and how well it was known in footballing circles even then that Sunderland AFC was a soft touch, easy money and little to no expectation. Nearly 30 years later we’re having the same conversations.
For me, the post Donald era must be transformative in every aspect. To build an ethos that can define us as successful, ambitious and inclusive will take time and effort.
This must come from the top. Board members who are progressive, enterprising and wholly committed to a meaningful transformation. I would love to see a genuinely well regarded Director of Football with an impeccable reputation and a clear track of positive results. Our scouting system needs an overhaul in both investment and scale. When Ferguson took over at United he identified quickly his youth system was inadequate and within weeks he’d quadrupled the amount of scouts. Within months he employed even more. Certainly it will have cost the club money, but the value of such an investment is almost incalculable. The class of 92 were the result of that particular investment and it should be the goal of our category A Academy to replicate such a success.
It’s a system that builds from the roots up and spreads it’s captivating ethos throughout the club. I would love owners who were realistic and spoke in language we can genuinely understand and not to make Donald’s mistake of trying to be all things to all people.
I want common sense, not pie-in-the-sky promises built on fantasy. The new leadership team must be focussed on financial and long term sustainability and be clear with the supporters about what can genuinely be done and what can’t. For me, the key changes required are all long term, but are necessary to sustain us long term.
Phil West says...
Looking ahead to a post-Stewart Donald era at Sunderland, I want the club to return to what we flirted with, all too briefly, during the Roy Keane and Niall Quinn era.
Namely, standards that were high, the club being run professionally and efficiently on every level, and crucially, the re-establishment of the connection between the club and its fanbase.
Since those days of 2006/07, there have been too many short-term fixes, poor planning, and wretched mismanagement. Whoever becomes the custodian of our club when Stewart Donald finally leaves must grasp the nettle and ensure that all areas of the club are brought up to scratch.
I would love to see a strong figure, ideally with football business experience at a club of reasonable stature, overseeing day to day operations, and driving things forward. They don’t necessarily have to have an affiliation with Sunderland (that would be a bonus).
In 2006, when he took over, Niall Quinn went out to the pubs and clubs. He listened to the supporters and he understood what they wanted to see. This is the kind of template that would work well for us. Don’t repeat Stewart Donald’s mistakes of going ridiculously overboard with fan engagement, but strike a balance between realism and optimism. Give the fans hope, but don’t dish out fantasies.
Recruitment must be addressed, and the scouting system overhauled. Don’t place people into certain positions because they happen to be your friends. Let’s aim to bring together a recruitment team who have a laser-like focus on bringing in the best players we can find.
Hopefully any new ownership group will provide good funds, which will allow us to target players of a higher calibre and offer them a strong vision of why they should sign for Sunderland. No half-measures or shortcuts, please.
Aesthetically, the fanzone, as good an idea as it is, should be dismantled and rebuilt properly. I would love to see a new regime make this happen, complete with a proper, well-planned fanzone.
As we all know, the stadium is riddled with issues, from poor cleanliness to questionable catering standards. These issues would ideally be rectified as well, giving us a stadium that would be befitting of a club operating to a plan, with clear direction, and everybody pulling together to achieve what we all want to see.
I accept that this might be somewhat idealistic, but why not set our bar as high as we can? Clubs like Leicester and Wolves are great examples of what can happen when you do things properly, and there’s no reason that, given time, we cannot do the same.
Tom Atkinson says...
First of all, I think it’s worth noting that we need to be very cautious ahead of any new ownership’s arrival. Stewart Donald and co. could have done more to fast track success - that is for certain; however, now that the relationship between current owners and large sections of the fanbase seems to have decayed somewhat, the worry is that the club could be sold to a group that might not have any interest in fan engagement and sustainable growth.
At present, Sunderland are not the finished product, so to speak. Our stadium, fanbase, academy, and training facilities are impressive, yet our league position is cause for concern to many potential buyers. Fans would love for owner that are simply in love with Sunderland itself, but the majority of interest will be from groups keen on buying the cub, investing just enough capital to develop success, and then either upping their level of investment as they aim for the riches of the Premier League, or selling the club for profit to another group willing to risk investment in taking the club up a level.
As such, I’m going to be wishful and realistic at the same time because we’d all love for someone with deep pockets to buy our success, but unfortunately that likely won’t be happening.
The biggest positive that any ownership group can do for this football club is hire a nucleus of management capable of designing, implementing, and monitoring long-term success. That means a CEO capable of instigating financial growth off the pitch, and a Director with footballing knowledge capable of developing an identity and plan to cultivate young talent capable of growing with the team or being sold for profit. Furthermore, I’d like to see the ownership team embrace data and analytics, putting that at the forefront of their approach to recruitment.
Yes this would cost money, but it is an investment in the long-term ability of the club to actually generate more revenue, which would allow us to be more self-reliant.
A CEO and his team should be capable of generating more income than their expenditure. A footballing director and his team should be able to develop a recruitment and youth plan capable of bringing both success and financial growth. Analytics can help with both of these areas; of course, it won’t be simple, but those are the high standards that need to be set at Sunderland.
Rich Speight says...
My ideal preference for the future ownership and management of Sunderland AFC is to become a pioneer in a mixed model of fan and public ownership.
An arms length company owned by the local authorities that host the club’s physical infrastructure, Sunderland and South Tyneside, would take a minority 49% stake with the rest of the club owned by a democratic fan group.
This group’s mass membership would include season ticket holders, casual fans and exiles around the world, paying a reasonable but not extortionate fee - £3 a week maybe - to get voting rights and benefits (online streaming services, etc). This ongoing income would be a guarantee of our survival.
An elected supervisory board would appoint and set the goals for a professional team of business and football people to run day-to-day affairs. New ways of involving fans in the democratic element of the club would be trialed. The club would aim to break even, with fans with more money given the opportunity to invest in club bonds to fund specific projects agreed by the democratic fan group (i.e redeveloping parts of the ground).
Women’s football - which we can expect to be the major growth area in the game globally over the next two decades - would have greater prominence with an aim of parity with the men’s team by 2035. Local business, particularly cooperatives and social enterprises, would get first option on contracts to supply catering, and staff directly and indirectly employed at the club would be guaranteed a living wage, have guaranteed hours and be encouraged to unionise.
As happens in Bilbao, the club (backed by the councils) and its academy would become dedicated to developing a life-long love of playing football and other sports across the community and its coaching and scouting network should reach deep into the communities of Sunderland, South Tyneside and County Durham.
The profits of player sales, TV rights and sponsorship would be reinvested in the club and community. This is my dream. Making it a reality is a massive challenge.
Tom Middleton says...
My biggest fear about the post- Donald era is that as a club we will continue to make the same mistakes.
Whatever people’s views are on Donald, which I know split opinion, I genuinely believe that he did/has done a lot of things that needed to be done. As an example, addressing the overstaffing off the field in certain departments, recruiting in others etc, to make us a more viable business (again, I know that some people question this but I tend to believe the best in people until proven otherwise). This work needs to be continued by whoever comes next.
We can’t ever be in a situation again where we would be in administration if it wasn’t for an owner writing a substantial check each month.
I also think some of the vision that was outlined in the early days of Donald’s tenure needs to be implemented. The Dortmund model is one that I do think we should aspire to. It’s clear to me that we need a strategic vision that all parts of the club - business side, football side, admin side etc - are working to.
I think the new owners need to remove the silos that Kieron Brady has referenced and their needs to be a set of Sunderland standards implemented. This should apply as much to the players as the media/commercial/finance teams as well as the fans.
I think we need to implement a fan advisory board that functions like a school’s governing body; and that this should be backed up with a supporters’ charter. Because, as a final point, if a section of our fans are going to keep on twisting every time something doesn’t go to plan we could have the best and richest board in the world and we still won’t go anywhere. We have to accept that from where we are it’s going to take time if we are going to get things right.