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Sunderland v Luton Town - Sky Bet Championship

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Trusting the Sunderland process - and why the old ways aren’t always best

“The modern game is changing - and giving managers free rein over signings has been shown to have its flaws,” writes Paddy Hollis.

Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

How football clubs dictate their recruitment operations is starting to change. The role of Director of Football/Sporting Director has become a bigger feature of clubs across the globe, to make the running of the club more efficient.

Before Kristjaan Speakman, Sunderland dipped their toe into this structure with almost disastrous consequences. Roberto De Fanti oversaw the signings of some truly awful footballers, many of whom did nothing on Wearside and have done little since leaving.

The return to this model came with the appointment of Speakman, who celebrated three years at the Stadium of Light earlier this month. Our new approach has seen us adopt a transfer policy of building with youth, giving minutes to promising players whom we’ve either signed from elsewhere or have promoted through the club’s vastly improving academy setup.

Sunderland v Ipswich Town - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The club’s successes through this model have turned us from a mediocre outfit struggling to get out of League One, to a strong Championship team looking up rather than down. Of course, the way we work isn’t perfect, with the full efficiency and the success of the model being still very much a work in progress. Yet I’d take this way of working over the seemingly live month-to-month tactic we adopted under Ellis Short, and the less said about Donald and Methven the better.

Going away from the model would give full recruitment power back to a manager, rather than a Sporting Director. This past week has seen one of the more recent examples of when a manager is given free rein on transfers going very wrong coming to a rotten end. Stoke City’s Alex Neil was given the chop after their 1-0 loss to Sheffield Wednesday, a result which was their fourth straight defeat. Losing 31 of his 66 games in charge, Neil dramatically left Sunderland in the summer of 2022, with his aim of being able to have a say on transfers and doubtless a pay rise taking him down to Staffordshire.

He won just 22 of his games at Stoke, annoyingly of course both his games against Tony Mowbray’s Sunderland. He is the definition of how the grass isn’t always greener, and his opportunity to build on his promotion with Sunderland has seen him sacked and booed out of another club just 15 months later.

Plymouth Argyle v Stoke City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images

With Sunderland these days, we are being run in a way a football club should be. KLD, Speakman, and Co have got us moving forward in the right direction. Despite results on the pitch now always being exactly what we want, to me it feels as though there’s a plan.

Our model is designed to ensure that, when we do change the Head Coach, there is minimal disruption on the pitch. Mike Dodds and his other interim coaches oversaw a good win against fellow playoff hopefuls whilst the search for a new boss went on, something which always feels good and is an example of how the coaches and the players had a ‘back to business’ mentality.

The Sunderland hierarchy gets its fair share of criticism, some of it deserved at times but a lot probably not. From where I see it, our way of operating has allowed us to bring in some of the best young talent the club has had in decades, develop them into competitive players at this level and, when the time is right, make a large profit which can then be brought back into the model.

Give me Jack Clarke and Dan Neil over Steven Pienaar and Danny Graham any day from now until the end of time.


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