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Can Kristjaan Speakman fix the issues that are hampering Sunderland?

Speakman has crafted a squad with purpose and vision, and in the light of recent events, Tom Albrighton looks at whether the sporting director can oversee another turnaround in red and white fortunes

Photo by MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A while ago, I penned a jovial article on Kristjaan Speakman being some kind of architect.

In my mind, he was taking part in some kind of footballing Grand Designs, and I was Kevin McCloud, observing from a distance and intrigued by the sight of such an ambitious project.

The Cartier Style Et Luxe At The Goodwood Festival Of Speed Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images

I still see the parallels in this, and whilst it may not be popular to say out loud in the current climate, when viewing his time here through a wider lens, Speakman has performed admirably thus far and probably remains the right man to oversee the project afoot at Sunderland.

That in itself doesn’t mean it’s all been plain sailing, nor does it mean it shall be furthermore.

However, fellow fans of Grand Designs will be familiar with the stage we’re at.

We’re now at that sticky stage where about halfway through the build, it all starts to go a bit ‘Pete Tong’.

Supply issues start to delay the project (no decent strikers bar Kieffer Moore available), the money seems to dry up (no transfers completed at the time of writing), and in the bleak midwinter, despite starting the project with a shared vision and enthusiasm, relationships fray and the marriage of the main protagonists hangs by a thread (as highlighted by the Black Cats’ Bar fiasco).

Kevin McCloud Opens Grand Designs Live Photo by Ferdaus Shamim/WireImage

Avid watchers will also attest to how this goes one of two ways, usually abetted by one Senor McCloud reiterating that it’s time to either double down or quit altogether.

Framed against the backdrop of Sunderland’s tumultuous last six weeks, it’s safe to say that Speakman and company have little option but to do the former, but the question is what doubling down actually means in this situation, and what form it takes.

The fear of many is that doubling down to see this project through will manifest itself in unwavering support of the universally unpopular Michael Beale, who in almost every tangible metric has taken Sunderland backwards at such an alarming rate that if it wasn’t abhorrent, it would border on impressive due its sheer speed.

There’s also a fear that doubling down doesn’t only encapsulate unwavering managerial support, but complete inflexibility regarding transfers by offering no deviation from the model we’ve rapidly become accustomed to.

Concern is also expressed that by sticking so single-mindedly to their philosophy, the current Sunderland board, already in the crosshairs of many a supporter’s ire, would drive them to become more distant and seemingly disconnected than they already appear.

Sunderland v Newcastle United - Emirates FA Cup Third Round Photo by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images

However, this doesn’t have to be the case.

Doubling down doesn’t have to be a case of ignoring what’s in front of us in the hope it’ll miraculously get better on its own, but to build into this model the ability to shift and move, to adapt and to change what’s necessary, when it’s necessary.

If we’re going to borrow from Grand Designs again, this is the stage where the architect points out that it might be more prudent to use a supporting column rather than the cantilever.

At the risk of oversimplifying a complicated project, if Dreyfus and Speakman can develop a greater compromise and allow their understanding to grow, this project can go from looking almost dead in the water to resembling the rising phoenix from the ashes it once threatened to emulate.

The answers aren’t always obvious but in this case, a lot of them are.

The key to reprising their respective roles as the savvy, forward thinkers who are driving the club back to where it belongs seems to be to keep things simple, and a better connection with the fans should come first and foremost.

The hard-line and distant approach isn’t one demanding of popularity and whilst their hard-nosed nature in not tolerating any dissent from the forward facing members of staff such as Tony Mowbray may be deemed fair by their own standards, to have members of staff away from the public gaze repeatedly failing, the optic it creates is far from pleasant and is one that must be dealt with in haste.

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Investment is a subject to be more carefully broached, as money has flowed into the club readily from the hand of Dreyfus, despite it not always being obvious.

That said, many a fan will query the investment in the squad on the back of last season’s exploits and whilst the recruitment model regularly provides young and exciting talent, it’s also one that’s only provided us with one regular first team starter since the summer.

With all this youth comes the need for experience, which is something that’s evidently lacking and not readily addressed.

The list of course can go on and on, musing over every aspect of the club from its foundations upwards, but for now, the uncomfortable thought remains that the club is on a downward trajectory all of their own making, aided and abetted by foolish decision making and awkward silence.

It’s inescapable that those in the upper echelons of the Sunderland hierarchy must remain to see their vision through in its entirety, as painful or as tiresome as it may be.

They may even find themselves having to give more to this project than they anticipated - whether that’s financially or emotionally - but what matters most is that they get things back on track and in double quick time.

Of course, the issues at hand don’t rest solely on the shoulders of Speakman, but as the most forward-facing of those in charge, his job is now a precarious one and despite having masterminded so much good in such a short space of time, he’ll soon have to find answers to the increasing amount of questions being directed his way.

If he can’t do so, then it’s with regret that the man tasked in part with rebuilding this great football club may soon find himself becoming the architect of his own downfall.


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