Following the release of Sunderland Till I Die 2 there has been much said and written about the things that Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven got badly wrong. They got lots wrong, but they also got some things right, and maybe some of the things which they are blamed for are a little more complicated than how they appear to us mere mortals.
The owners took a huge amount of flak over the manner of Josh Maja’s departure. This was directed toward them at the time, and the memory banks have been sorely reawakened as we have been reminded as to how vital Maja was to the team, with more flak directed their way.
The argument is that Maja should have just been given whatever he wanted, and that would have made him stay, or that he should have just been forced to stay for the season. It could also be argued that the contract negotiations should have started in the summer of 2018.
These arguments, however, ignore the fact that Maja should have been given a new contract after relegation from the Premier League in 2017. A three-year contract given at that time by Martin Bain would have meant that Maja would have seen out the 2018/19 season, and we would likely have been promoted.
I would therefore cast the previous regime as the most culpable on this matter - they set the landscape for Maja entering his last 12 months, making his departure inevitable.
Putting an end to apathy
It is easy to forget that in May 2018 people had given up - many had stopped caring, which is worse. The state of the place at that time lead me to be concerned that the club would cease to exist in any recognisable form.
Now, Charlie Methven’s bluff and bluster and blatant opportunism to make money or gain a good headline is obvious. However, it pricked fans interest and dug into their conscience. Now Methven - and I will be kind - divides opinion, but it can’t be denied that he woke up a fanbase.
Moving on the “rotten core”
One thing that is easily forgotten and which wasn’t properly reflected in the secon series of Sunderland Til I Die was how well Donald and co. dealt with the likes of Didier Ndong, Jack Rodwell and Lamine Kone. They played hard ball with what seemed to be the real “rotten core” and moved them on, something that the previous regime failed to do.
The idea of self-sufficiency
Methven and Donald continually made the point that the days of relying on a rich benefactor were over. The club had to survive on its own funds – since we are in League One, without any TV revenue that money had to come from the fans.
That was the right approach then and it is the right one now. I personally think that the issue of the parachute money is moot. Those funds would go to SBC - the bank who the club owed a significant debt, Ellis Short, to clubs to whom we owe transfer fees or to players who were on huge contracts, the money was lost wherever it ended up, and the club was only ever going to be run on its day to day income.
That is the present and the future.
Being economical with the truth
The inconsistent, unclear and misleading messaging - particularly around the parachute payments and the January 2020 budget - cost them big time with fan trust.
I think that after the euphoria of getting control of the club - when they didn’t expect to - lead them to believe that they could say anything, and it would be believed.
Perhaps for a time this was true, but they got found out.
The structure at board level and at recruitment level is amateurish.
Donald clearly took too much on and failed to put a proper structure in place to support him. If the Chairman is also Chief Executive - which is effectively what happened - then bad decisions will be made.
There is plenty of evidence of those bad decisions.
Heart ruling the head
In ‘Sunderland Til I Die’ series two, Stewart Donald admitted that he gets too emotionally involved. Ally that trait with the amateurish structure, and you end up with decisions like he made on 31 January 2019 - paying over the odds for Will Grigg.
The timing and manner of Jack Ross’ dismissal also felt like a gut reaction - the correct decision in my opinion - but it felt like a reaction to circumstance and mood rather than as part of a clearly thought through plan.
Donald clearly makes decisions based on instinct and has a desire to be liked. That will only lead to poor decision-making, and risks diversion from whatever strategy there may have been.
More than a touch of arrogance
This is Charlie Methven’s big failure. As with communication strategy, he clearly believes his own spin. When you spin like he does, fact and fiction become difficult to distinguish from each other. Methven’s personality seems to be that when he is challenged and under pressure, he lashes out in a very arrogant style.
That doesn’t sit well in the North East of England and Methven should have known that.
His sudden departure suggests that deep down, he did.