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Barnesy’s Blog: Where is the Leadership at Sunderland AFC?

“Stop acting like the Wizard of Oz fearing someone is about to pull back the curtain” says BBC Newcastle’s Sunderland commentator, who has some choice words for those running the club.

Leadership. It’s all about leadership. In business, education and in football it’s about leadership and sadly at the moment it’s something Sunderland lack.

Instead, we have a muddled incoherent club that stumbled through the appointment of a new head coach and have now become embroiled once again in the debate surrounding exactly who owns what of the football club?

It is a fresh start for the club, it has been many years now where the club had no real long-term vision and also cost cutting at its forefront which basically led to an asset stripping in almost all departments at the club.

So said Kyril Louis-Dreyfus when he ‘took over’ the football club and seemingly distanced himself from the ‘old regime’ but who this week was photographed at Cheltenham Town alongside Charlie Methven who, to put it mildly, is anathema to most if not all Sunderland fans and who is seen, rightly or wrongly, along with Stewart Donald, as the architects of the club’s demise.

Sunderland v Tranmere Rovers - Papa John’s Trophy Final Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

The continued presence of the pair whether it be in their absence as is the case with Donald, or in daylight as is clearly the case with Methven, and to a certain degree Juan Sartori, though he largely escapes the general opprobrium levelled at his two colleagues, inevitably has led to further anger and bewilderment.

Charlie Methven has a legitimate right to be at games. Whether it is wise is another issue, and I would certainly suggest that over this past fortnight it was clearly unwise, but what it signalled to fans was the question mark of who was making the decisions in the boardroom, despite Kyril Louis-Dreyfus saying the buck effectively stops with him. Finally, the club has admitted who holds what in terms of shares and inevitably it doesn’t stack up for the fans.

This is where the question of leadership arises. A club of the stature and size of Sunderland needs a figurehead. Niall Quinn grasped the concept when he was Chairman, and while his time at the helm was flawed he was able to mask his mistakes by his ability to recognise the fans need someone to stand up and be present and vocal. His masterstroke at Bristol of taking fans off a flight back to Newcastle and paying for taxis is a potent and lasting example of his authority and command.

Now we have a quiet board. Kristjaan Speakman fronts up as Sporting Director but where is the umbrella voice speaking for the club as a whole? Kyril Louis-Dreyfus is conspicuous but anonymous. He may not like a public persona but unfortunately, it comes with the job. Sir Bob Murray hated public speaking but respected it was expected of him.

The saga surrounding the appointment of Alex Neil exposed the vacuum at the top. It needs to be addressed. This is a football club which we repeatedly say is too big to be in League One but which repeatedly acts like a football club which is League One in all but size.

It needs someone to grab it by the scruff of the neck rather than mire itself in obfuscation. The longer the club pretended it could hide behind non-disclosure agreements the more its fans would get agitated, angry and frustrated and eventually just give up on it.

Sunderland v Everton - Premier League
Sunderland needs a talisman like Niall Quinn
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

There is a great irony in that Charlie Methven did just that when he exposed himself to ultimate ridicule on Sunderland ‘til I Die when he fronted up. He was the antithesis in so many ways to Niall Quinn but the one thing they both had in common was the realisation a club this size needs a talisman.

Unfortunately, Methven was the wrong fit, and now by association he has become to fans a misfit.

The club needs to understand this and not hide from its responsibilities to its fanbase who (owner after owner, has admitted) are the real owners, because without them there is no football club.

Yes, they can peddle spreadsheets, bank balances, and talk of administration and liquidation but would anyone ever let this great football club flounder into thin air?

I don’t believe so. It is at a crossroads.

Fans quite rightly are sickened by the thought they may have to spend a fifth season in the third tier but the club has a new head coach prepared to work hard to avoid that scenario. The club needs to respond too.

It’s the perfect time to stand up and shout across the rooftops that Sunderland AFC is proud and loud and to stop acting like the Wizard of Oz fearing someone is about to pull back the curtain.

Lobby Card For ‘The Wizard Of Oz’
One with no heart, one with no courage, one with no brain...
Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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