Dear Roker Report,
My last communication from the Falklands as I return to the UK at the weekend!
I read with great interest the article by Martin Wanless about rebuilding Sunderland and I’d like to express my own thoughts.
I was VERY enthusiastic when Donald and Co. talked about us adopting a Dortmund model as I felt it was the best way forward for a club like Sunderland. Dortmund, Ajax and a few other clubs have done spectacularly well and punched well above their weight by using this model and there is absolutely no reason why it can’t work equally well for us. This should have been an approach that was set in stone from the day they arrived but their actions have completely failed to live up to the rhetoric and what has actually happened has been the exact opposite.
We have ineffective management of the U23’s and a club culture that will sell any asset for virtually any amount of money. Our academy should be for the long term future of the club but our current system seems to struggle to see any further than the afternoon. That has to stop and it has to stop now. We need to recruit the best people for the academy and keep our best players until such time as they can be sold for serious money. If that is going to happen, we need a clear route to first team football and that is where Sunderland have failed for years.
When we were in the Premiership, we loaned out players to clubs in the Championship or League 1 rather than play them. When we dropped into the Championship, we loaned those same players out to League 1 & 2 clubs rather than play them. Now that we’re in League 1 we still rarely use our youth and instead loan them out to clubs in League 2 or lower. If we’re going to keep our good youth prospects they have to have a clear way into the first team. If I was currently a youth player at Sunderland I’m absolutely certain I’d leave because I’d have no faith I’d ever be given a chance in the first team.
The Football Staff
This is another area where Donald & Co. have got things spectacularly wrong, despite talking a good game at the start. Richard Hill has twice been found wanting when running Eastleigh so what sort of insanity made anyone think he’d do a better job at Sunderland?
Plenty people who know and love Sunderland AFC are willing to help and proposed solutions yet they keep getting ignored. Donald was absolutely right that we needed to make better use of Kevin Ball but he hasn’t done so. Ball should be an inherent part of the footballing structure at the club and particularly heavily involved with the youth set up. Kevin Phillips should also be an inherent part of the football structure at the club and especially with the first team. We need a team of people who can use proper modern statistical analysis to identify the right players so we start recruiting intelligently and effectively rather than throwing darts (and money) at a dartboard of players in the vague hope they work out OK.
There is no doubt that managers who succeed here are a certain ‘type’, and there is also no doubt in my mind that Parky isn’t that ‘type’ in any way. The harsh reality is that we sacked a manager who wasn’t quite cutting it but we replaced him with a manager who is far worse. Ross had his failings but he certainly wasn’t helped by the people in charge and he did a far better job than Parky. I’ve often been tempted by the romantic idea of Kevin Phillips being manager of the club and I understand the argument when people say he needs to first prove himself lower down the footballing pyramid. The trouble is that I think that argument is deeply flawed.
We are currently at our lowest point in history and we’re not that much better than mid-table mediocrity in League 1. We can argue about the justice of the way we finished this season but the reality is that we just weren’t good enough and we never really looked good enough this season. It’s all very well saying Phillips needs to prove himself at a lower club but how much lower can we go?
League 1 is a good place for Phillips to prove himself and we are a League 1 club; we’re not even that great as a League 1 club so if he can’t prove himself here, just where is he supposed to start? He’s also a well-respected figure in the game, he was superb as a player so he would have credibility with the players, he understands the club and he has something to prove. He ticks a lot of boxes for us in our current situation. If you want ‘tried and tested’ you get Parky so I’d rather have Phillips, perhaps even with Kevin Ball as his second. In an ideal world I’d also have Peter Reid involved in some way.
Yes, Donald has to go and go quickly for the good of all concerned. We do need an owner with money but even more than that, we need an owner with passion, who cares about the club, the area and the people. Some form of fan ownership or at least partial fan ownership works really well in places like Germany and I am increasingly of the view that it might be the best approach for Sunderland. We are a club about community, the area and the fans. Nobody cares about these things more than us so perhaps it is time for us to step up and play our part.
Keep up the good work
Ed’s Note [Rich]: Thanks Andrew, I hope you have a safe flight and I’m sure you’ll be welcomed back to Blighty with open arms.
I also really enjoyed Martin’s piece and I find it hard to disagree with much of what you’ve written about Sunderland’s past present and future. The Academy is being run down - they’ve even started to float the concept that it might have to be mothballed altogether. Recruitment has, save a few notable exceptions, been an unmitigated disaster with the club paying out more than most of the other clubs put together on a squad that has twice failed to get promoted. The current Manager hasn’t really been given much of a chance, but has ultimately failed to achieve his target too. Many fans want Kevin Phillips, but I’d take any one who has the kind of passion, ideas and creativity we yearn to see at the Stadium of Light.
The current ownership have taken us for a ride and you’re absolutely right - if partial fan ownership at a big club is going to work anywhere, it’s going to be Sunderland where we’re as active and passionate and connected as any group of supporters in England (and the purchase price is low). The first step is for members to vote for the creation of a Supporters’ Trust at the forthcoming Red & White Army’s AGM, and that’s certainly what I’ll be doing.
Dear Roker Report,
Thank you Stewart for being responsible for losing an entire generation of Sunderland supporters . We’re going to be stuck in the third tier due to your penny pinching when all it would’ve needed was to pay Lyle Taylor a goal bonus or pay Josh Maja what he wanted. You’ve left us with a manager with no fight or passion and the fan base has give up on the club. We’re going to be the next Bury.
Ed’s Note [Rich]: That’s about the long and short of it, Paul. But we can’t sit around waiting and hoping that we’re sold and the next owner will be better than the last and there are enough of us to make sure that Sunderland don’t end up going to the wall. We can come together as a fanbase and make sure we’re prepared if we do need to step in and to keep the club alive.
We just need to stay strong. Nil desperandum.