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Leadership: What are the fundamentals for running a football club, & how do SAFC measure up?

Running a football club is something very few can experience but the presence of leadership is something we have in all walks of life. What are the fundamentals, and how do Sunderland’s owners measure up against them?

Photo by Sunderland AFC/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

I imagine, at the elite level, running a football club has many trials and tribulations in which many of us will never experience. For a Lehman in football hierarchy or managing a business, we may never understand the complexities involved. What we can all appreciate however is excellent leadership and how this can create a togetherness to fight for the same cause.

When running a football club, I imagine how it looks in our heads, differs to what actually happens on a day to day, month to month and annual basis but taking a look at the fundamentals of leadership and basic aspects of running a football club can surely be correlated? Something I hope resonates with most supporters in the points to come.


Philosophy is something mostly attributed to football managers and what happens on the pitch. However, surely this has to be about more than what happens in setting up first team training ready to go on a Saturday.

Any leader, in our case Stewart Donald, has to create a vision for the troops on the ground - the overshadowing goals in which he wants to run through the veins of his empire to achieve and be successful. Many factors affect the vision a leader has, not least money but a great leader deals with what he or she has and implements the plan accordingly.

For years, I have screamed until I’m blue in the face that fundamental mistakes are a regular occurrence at SAFC due to a lack of identity and vision to implement any sort of plan and Donald still hasn’t addressed this.


Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One - Stadium of Light Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images

Hire a competent manager

To employ someone, a leader MUST set out the specification for what they are looking for in the person they want to bring in.

Without a philosophy or vision, how can this come to fruition? The jury is still out on Phil Parkinson for many Sunderland fans, but I imagine the fact that he does have a promotion on his CV was all that mattered as this is Donald’s solitary demand.

Whatever we think of Parkinson and his somewhat mixed consistency in terms of results, he’s here, and we need to find consistency in his vision and philosophy because I for one cannot see it coming from anywhere in the hierarchy of the club.


Sunderland v Bristol Rovers - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Make effective use of funds to run the club

Effectively use of funds available to a club are used to source its day to day running such as wages, maintenance of assets and other necessities. Sunderland AFC has one of the best fanbases in the country, no doubt about it. Fans sell out almost every away allocation.

Sunderland also average in and around 30k at home games but when they are called to arms by the leaders in this club, they respond in their thousands.

For example, 46,039 to be precise for the Boxing Day game against Bradford.

When you add the sales from merchandise, other match day revenues and sponsorship etc this adds up to a club which does generate huge collateral. Admittedly, overheads for such a large club in cash strapped League One are astronomical, therefore Sunderland must use money wisely, something Donald and co addressed immediately: big TICK for that.

However, when directors call on fans to update season tickets as a source of revenue in uncertain times and backtrack on some astoundingly bad PR, when they have taken £20 million out of the club is hypocrisy of the highest order. Sunderland has taken steps towards steadying the ship, but the recent finance release undermines all of that.


Sunderland v Bradford City - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Generate further Income for recruitment

By no means am I a marketing specialist but I understand that asking businesses to part with money and buy in to a company for sponsorship is difficult, especially as they want something in return.

Clubs like Sunderland must accept that investment can be difficult to pull in, given that we are pretty much the furthest point from London, but this is where we look to leadership for some ingenuity, a step outside of the box.

Any further income must have the sole purpose of improving the playing squad. The philosophy of the club and manager must be intertwined and liaised with the recruitment team in order to target the players that fit the mould of that philosophy.

If the foundations are not there, it does become a case of selecting square pegs top fit round holes which causes a disjointed and inconsistent outcome on the field. I cannot recollect another club which recruits as painfully badly as Sunderland, I’ll wait for suggestions. Sometimes we have got it right, beautifully: exchanging Altidore for Defoe.

Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

For far too long though, Sunderland’s lack of vision, identity and philosophy has meant a distinct waste of seven figure sums on player transfers, subsequent legal cases and players who have no resale value and come in on inflated wages because they see our club as a meal ticket.

The club must address how it spends money on players, ensuring the deals are right for the integrity of the club and the player, something they failed on massively with the likes of Maja and Kimpioka.

At a time when they should be looking to the U23’s and the rest of the academy and securing the long term future of talent, they are selling of assets as the best case scenario, seemingly through the complacency or a distinct lack of future planning and to be fluid in developments around other clubs poaching.


As a club, Sunderland’s failings are there for all to see, rarely do we get it right and when we do, that last hurdle is mostly out of our reach. Sunderland’s - or more precisely - Stewart Donald’s incapability to have a robust business model and effective philosophy for the entire club, means the shortcomings will continue.

As a leadership team they are reactive rather than proactive which, in my opinion, unfortunately will mean Sunderland will remain many steps behind their rivals in achieving shared goals.

Sunderland in its current plight needs clear vision and leadership, and this has not been entirely addressed by the current owners since taking over.

When this club knows its direction it will achieve success, but as it stands it will continue to ride the whirlpool of incompetence aboard the rudderless ship of HMS Madrox.

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