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Roker Roundtable: Now that the season has ended, how should Kristjaan Speakman be judged?

Sunderland’s sporting director has been criticised this season, but with promotion secured, has he succeeded in his task?

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Gav says…

There are many facets to this, and ultimately, I’m reluctant to start showering praise on the man, regardless of the fact we’ve been promoted.

Obviously, the full facts around the departure of Lee Johnson and then the way he was replaced haven’t been fully established, but I can’t help feeling that Speakman has been incredibly lucky - lucky that Alex Neil is so good, for one, and lucky that Roy Keane was a mean negotiator, because things could have gone differently.

Who actually wanted Jermain Defoe... was it Speakman? That whole saga played a huge part in Johnson’s departure, and we all know how it ended with Jermain.

We have, however, built a strong squad - Alex Pritchard was a great signing but he attributed his arrival at the club to Lee Johnson, not Speakman, when talking about it after Saturday’s match. Patrick Roberts was ultimately a success and a very astute signing, and despite the fact Corry Evans took a while to get going, he’s a huge part of the reason why we went up.

As was Bailey Wright - a player who for most of the summer looked set to leave the club. Why I’m not sure - again, it’s hard to really pin any of this on anyone because we don’t know the full facts.

The top and bottom of it is that the decision to sack Lee Johnson paid off, even if they did it because they felt replacing him would earn automatic promotion. Who ultimately pushed for his departure isn’t known, but I’d be worried if Speakman- as our Sporting Director- didn’t have a big say in how things played out.

Has he succeeded? Hmm…..I guess. For some reason I just don’t feel comfortable saying it.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One - Play Off - Final - Wembley Stadium Photo by Steven Paston/PA Images via Getty Images

Kelvin Beattie says…

If we judge him solely on promotion, then he has surely contributed to this success.

We will probably never know the full story around Lee Johnson’s sacking and the shambles that then ensued, which makes it difficult to know where to rightly proportion blame for the dithering that contributed to lost points and increased angst and tension all round.

Surely Speakman will have learned something from this debacle, and if he has, I think we can look forward and anticipate him playing a major role in the rise of this phenomenon that is SAFC.

I believe in giving credit where it is due, and that those responsible for eventually giving Alex Neil the job got it right. Hopefully they can tie him down to a mutually beneficial contract, and Speakman can crack on with what was promised when he and Kyril Louis-Dreyfus first arrived.

Many of us liked what we were hearing, and signed up for this message of root-and-branch development and re-organisation, so it’s time to let him get on with that job. 6/10 from me so far.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Play-Off Final Photo by Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Mark says…

I may be in a minority, but I think the recruitment team and Kristjaan Speakman deserve immense praise.

Just look at the players we signed this season: Alex Pritchard, Patrick Roberts, Corry Evans; Danny Batth, Jay Matete, Dennis Cirkin; Jack Clarke, Nathan Broadhead and Callum Doyle. There are others too, like Trai Hume, who were signed with a view to the future. How can you say those guys are not an improvement on the likes of Chris Maguire, Josh Scowen, Callum McFadzean, and Will Grigg?

OK so we had the whole Jermain Defoe saga, as well as the Roy Keane ‘will-he or won’t-he’, but ultimately the club - aided in large part, I’d imagine, by Speakman - brought in Alex Neil, which was perhaps the best piece of business this season.

And now, as Neil takes us into the Championship, there are reasons to be hopeful, not only in terms of the management team, but through the supporting recruitment team.

If Speakman can deliver Championship upgrades in a few key areas, Sunderland haven’t just gone up, but are well-positioned to succeed. And that is, in no small part, down to the structure the club adopted following the disastrous Phil Parkinson era, with Speakman front and centre.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Play-Off Final Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Gary Engel says…

The appointment of Kristjaan Speakman was the start of an exciting new era, of a new, improved and modern way of thinking and running a club like the big boys. Many of us remember Sunderland’s unsuccessful brush with the ‘Dortmund model’, and an attempt at running the club with a director of football.

However, with a new manager and owner coming in at around the same time, Speakman’s role looked like a welcome new opportunity. After all, many other fallen clubs have improved their fortunes by putting a sporting director at the heartbeat of the rebuild.

As a fan, it can be easy to criticize a manager or sporting director for any of their mistakes. Therefore, when Johnson’s failings became all too evident, and the January signings didn’t appear to be the wisest acquisitions, Speakman did come under fire.

Fortunately, everyone is happy now, with promotion achieved, but I think the best way to judge Speakman isn’t just on what we achieved on Saturday. Instead, you must look at the three transfer windows he has been involved in.

He unearthed Ross Stewart, he took punts on Corry Evans and Alex Pritchard, and he brought Patrick Roberts in from his position of bench warmer in Ligue 1. He knows talent, but it is one thing to spot it, and another thing entirely to find players with the desire and drive to resurrect once-promising careers.

Clearly, the work that Alex Neil has done in recent weeks has given those mentioned the motivation and platform to do that. It also goes to prove what an immense partnership Speakman and Neil could prove to be for this club, given the chance. Neil has said how players from lower divisions can sometimes be harder grafters, so that is where Speakman’s real talents could come to the fore.

Hopefully, any errors we’ve made this season will not be repeated going forward, and Speakman, currently the toast of Wearside, will remain that for some time to come. After all, his position as sporting director should be central to our continuity, as well as the foundation of our future success!

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One - Play Off - Final - Wembley Stadium Photo by Steven Paston/PA Images via Getty Images

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