What a difference a week makes.
As Sunderland fans, we have been subject to some dark times in the last decade, but this week has seen an injection of optimism buoyed by back-to-back-to-back league wins, a trip to Wembley confirmed and the small matter of new ownership thrown into the mix.
We have been here before in the recent past and some fans, you could say, are apprehensive with their thinking, that is this another false dawn. Well for me, the early signs are that this is different to when Donald and co took control, and it does feel that success is just around the corner for the club. Here’s why.
Leadership is something Sunderland AFC has lacked for many years.
Simply having your name above the door is not leadership. Leadership is the management, guidance, and control of something which brings about motivation to provide the maintenance, progress, and achievement of a common goal.
Under Stewart Donald’s tenure we never had that - come to think of it, I am not even sure he knew what his goal was, certainly not a realistic one, anyway.
Under Madrox this club was a rudderless ship, in the hands of a captain who could not buy a clue as to where he was, and in the dark to the world of trouble he was heading in to.
However, under the watchful eye of Kyril Louis-Dreyfus and of those who advise him, I feel that has already changed. There seems to be a shift in the dynamic of the way the club has/is operating on a level that is way above the operational processes that have been installed at Sunderland to date.
I wrote last year that there must be a clear vision, a common goal, with a structured plan to achieve that goal. Not only that, but the club also needed to implement change and install a new calibre of employee to implement the plan effectively. It is no secret that the club has been stuck in its ways for too long, and that there are many individuals involved at the club that have been stealing a living for a while, but that seemingly is being addressed.
Those fans that are expecting KLD to throw money at the club for the sake of it are fundamentally mistaken - he is going to invest wisely in this football club, and I feel the basics will come long before big-money signings.
From the moment Lee Johnson walked through the door, he highlighted failings at the club that go way beyond football. I mean come on, put a battery in the F***ing clocks, man!
The club had lost its soul.
KLD clearly shares that premise, and it’s obvious that he is going to want to own a club that the fans want to support - how many of us have felt that feeling in the last 5 years?
The immediate changes this week point firmly to supporting that idea. Improving the quality of the streaming experience has been long overdue, and providing an improved in-game experience for fans is a great start to the new era at Sunderland. Couple that with investment in improving the pitch at the Stadium of Light, and it starts to highlight the types of changes to infrastructure that will be addressed before the playing squad can be altered in the summer.
The installation of Kristian Speakman as Sporting Director, on the face of it, appears to have been an inspired appointment - he’s a man who clearly understands what is needed within the infrastructure of the whole football club.
Seemingly, Speakman is using his experience to implement a footballing plan and a new dynamism to recruitment throughout the club that has been long overdue. He is structuring the football aspect of the club in the way he sees fit to implement effective change in the short, medium, and long term, and that is key to what Sunderland have been lacking.
We have not had a long-term plan at this club for what feels like an eternity - unless you call throwing a copious amount of money at our problems a long-term plan.
Between Speakman and Johnson you have two men on the same page - they are bringing Sunderland out of a prehistoric mindset and into a new-fangled pedagogy. To some this may make them feel a little uncomfortable, but it is about time Sunderland AFC found a new way of thinking.
To many of us, ‘management speak’ may be disconcerting, but delve a little deeper and you just know there is a change in approach which is bringing about the positives that are we are starting to see appear, not just on the pitch but rippling throughout the entire club.
Throwing money at our problems in January simply wouldn’t have solved them. There was a clear dysfunctionality at the club, and it had to be broken and the diversion to implementing a clear talent pathway from the academy was the only way to restore the heart of this club - we have put our trust in mercenaries for far too long.
At every level there is shifting of deadwood, restructuring, and clear roles being given in order to achieve what is being implemented throughout the club. We have recently seen changes at board level, manager, and with the coaching staff. Now the academy is undergoing restructuring, and Speakman is assigning specific tasks and targets to groups of people who will have accountability - something that does not seem to have been present in the past.
This is something Sunderland fans should really be shouting about. Yes, we have lost some good talent recently, but you would like to think that the p*ss-taking really will stop here.
Being in League One has allowed Sunderland to address its shortcomings, and when you look at the youth players in and around the squad, it is fantastic to see.
It breeds confidence, and it shows every player at the Academy of Light that it is possible, and this will drive standards through the roof. Not only that, the category A status, clear plans and clear pathways into the first team are going to be the driving force behind parents putting the care, development, and wellbeing of their children in the hands of the club.
Obviously, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and over the next few years we are going to know if the plans implemented are going to be enough to turn this club around, and become the giant that currently is having a massive kip.
In the short term, of course there are going to be bumps along the way but for the time being it is up to those in key positions to harness the positivity surrounding the club at present.
Currently the promotion race in League One is playing out like a poker game, with many big players at the table. But, if Sunderland can keep this going over the next two months, then the club is going to be able to really see the strength of its hand.
Hopefully, come the end of the season, it will be Sunderland holding all of the aces.