Question Time


I don’t believe in asking too many questions during the season. I don’t think it’s the right thing to do. They’re doing their jobs to the best of their abilities and having fans constantly saying ‘but, why…’ ‘have you thought about…’ does nothing.

Also, I think it’s worth saying, I do genuinely believe that everyone has done their jobs to the best of their ability and it’s been a long time since I could have said that about Sunderland AFC at the end of a season.

I’ve said all year that this season was about turning the corner and facing in the right direction again and I just want the board to reassure me that that is happening.

I actually think that, in maybe 4 or 5 years, we’ll look back with relief that we didn’t go up. I remember 1998 and a squad that wasn’t quite good enough to get promoted, losing to a side that weren’t good enough to be promoted. Charlton were relegated, we won the title with a record points total and then had two seventh place finishes in the Premier League. That wouldn’t have happened if we’d sneaked across the line against Charlton.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m gutted. I’ve spent most of the time since 5pm on Sunday saying ‘but’ or ‘if’ followed by thoughts on the season’s referees, home draws, Checkatrade energy, injuries… But, several hours later, my ifs and buts haven’t changed the results. We are where we are.

Anyway, now it is question time. Not out of bitterness or anger, but rather so we can learn and move forwards.

RECRUITMENT

In the summer we seem to have decided that we needed bodies. I think that was probably fair. A squad so low on numbers that squad building (while unsure of who was staying) was sensible. It created quite an odd squad to start the season and inevitably, it meant Jack Ross had to look at the ingredients he had before he decided what he was going to make.

Presumably the manager was involved in planning the recruitment for January. Presumably he told the club what he wanted so he could develop the style he wanted to play. If that’s the case, what happened next makes no sense.

Three loan signings came in. In my opinion all three played well and were better options than the existing squad offered. Why did Sterling appear so rarely and Dunne form part of the random picks of ‘two from four’ centre backs? Why not use him alongside another to develop a back four who could work together?

We were looking for a ball playing striker to replace Maja. We got two. One clearly wasn’t fit so did we turn to the other? No, we opted for Wyke. I have nothing against Wyke but why make four out of five signings – Leadbittter, Morgan, Grigg, Sterling – players who want the ball to their feet to play football, and then play the long balls out from the keeper and back four to the big man up front? Is that the fault of recruitment or the manager? Either way, it can’t happen again.

WAGES AND BONUSES

Stewart Donald’s early media appearances presented a man who was not happy with the direction football was moving. His anger at the agents and players’ expectations was in line with what almost all fans think. Charlie Methven’s piss take comments were, again, met with praise. But, here’s the thing, I thought my house was too expensive and the estate agent was an arse but I really liked it, and someone else had bid the asking price. I could have told the buyer that I had principles and wouldn’t pay what they wanted. I could have said that, if they used a different estate agent, I’d buy their house. But both courses of action would have left me homeless.

There are a number of stories about us not signing players this season based around the poor behaviour of the agent and players. The few I’ve heard again from the players side make me think that, while the club have moved away from piss taking in one direction, we might have tried to move all the way to the club taking the piss. There has to be a happy medium.

Stewart also said he didn’t believe in win or goal bonuses. Do our players get bonuses? In some games this season we’ve played against teams who clearly wanted it more than we did. Are there financial reasons contributing to that?

I’d love to live in a world where the honour of the club and the love of winning drove us to victory but we don’t.

MONEY

The goal this season was to get the club onto a sound financial footing. Get the court cases done and finished with, reduce the costs to a manageable level, get the wage bill under control.

I’d like to know if that’s been achieved. There are various stories and counter stories circulating about the financing of the club and, in many ways, I don’t care. But rumours that the club has already borrowed against next season’s parachute payment would suggest a club struggling to balance the books in league one.

I understand and expected investment would be needed in the Championship but if we need a third party to help us get to the starting line, that doesn’t bode well for the future of the club. Is it true that we’ve already spent next year’s parachute payment?

Can the club run as a self sufficient business in League One? If we do need investment, is it on the horizon? And is it a top up investor for league one or someone who can take us through the Championship and on to the promised land? The openness of the new owners has been a wonderful change from the last owner but, for me, the questions I’ve raised need answering, and need answering publicly and need answering quickly.

If the answers tell us that we’re still on the right road, fine. Disappointing season done, we move forwards. But if there are signs that we’re not sure how to move forwards then we should prepare for a bumpy ten weeks between now and the start of next season.

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