Ship Without A Rudder


It’s only a week since I wrote a piece explaining the urgent need for a director of football to take charge of the football side of the club. But a week is a long time in football.

We’ve played a game for a start and that’s almost always enough to raise the hackles of every Sunderland fan, especially when we play a team who were sitting in the middle of the lower half and struggle to score goals and so we decide to drive the bus on to the pitch, park it across the goal and then sit in it. As usual we’d failed to realise that you

can kick a ball under the bus and so we lose 1-0.

The temptation to blame Parkinson for the loss (and the other losses he’s had) is massive and I will in a minute, but it demonstrates the complete lack of footballing thought and structure in the club.

We clearly have no idea what formation to play, what the ethos of the club is, who are the leaders on the pitch and in the changing room. We need someone to take a tight grasp on the footballing side of the club and take it forwards, but there isn’t anyone.

Stewart Donald and Richard Hill between them are what we’ve currently got and they’re simply not up to the challenge. To be fair, I’m not sure Richard Hill has ever been told he’s involved in a challenge so I’m never sure how much blame to throw in his direction.

Donald’s one great success in football came with Hill as manager and so, I imagine, he trusts his judgement in the same way we hang on the every word of a Stokoe or Reid or Keane (depending how old you are). The problem is, that great success was getting Eastleigh promoted from Conference South to Conference Premier. That would be quite an achievement if we hadn’t been told time and time again that they spent £10m in the process. I’d expect my son’s PE teacher to get a team out of Conference South with £10m, hell, I’d expect my son to manage it. It’s a division where the choice between back four or five is made based on the shift patterns of the right back so to get a team up and fail to kick on into the league like Salford managed is, if anything, a failure.

I’d like to repeat that, as far as I’m concerned, I’m more than happy with Donald owning Sunderland, I’m fine with Hill dealing with contracts and what have you. My issue isn’t who owns the club, my issue is who runs it. And at the moment, that’s no one.

When I wrote my piece last week, I was relatively happy with the non-football side of the club. We were going to need to replace Tony Davison, sure, but Charlie Methven seemed to be keeping plates spinning and things seemed to be moving forwards. His departure extends my worries to another empty desk desperately in need of filling with the right person.

We need two people, one football, one non-football to run the club. The Chairman, perhaps Donald, perhaps Sartori, perhaps an appointment to be confirmed, manages those two, but should leave the day to day operations and strategy to them. The roles need to be filled and need to be filled urgently but more important, with the right people. We can’t afford to get someone ‘because he’s cheap’, ‘because he’s a mate’, ‘because his references were amazing’. That just isn’t good enough.

The club is at the precipice of falling again and falling rapidly. Those two appointments need to be Premier League appointments because, while Charlie Methven was right that we need to accept we are currently in League One, the club as a whole must stand up and be counted as one of the top ten to twelve clubs in England and start the journey back.

Actually, Parkinson’s references are a great example. Who says they were great? The former Whitehawk manager? The Chairman of the Hampshire Senior Cup winning team? Or maybe it was just some lads playing 5 a side in the Beacon.

The appointment of Parkinson has proved itself to be a mistake. If we lived in an age of honour, he’d have resigned by now but we don’t and I expect the payment of some ludicrous figure that could pay for the foodbanks of Sunderland for two or three years will be paid into his pocket to end the brief embarrassment (I should add that we’d probably all do the same in a similar position but I’d like to think I wouldn’t).

The thing is, while I talk a good game and like to think I’ve a deep understanding, I’m basing my belief on Parkinson’s failing on my gut feeling and my level one FA coaching badge. I might be totally wrong. Perhaps the work inside the academy is amazing and we’ll all see it soon, perhaps my belief that the players look utterly demotivated and, after finally getting a good block of time on the training pitch, look worse than before is my naïve lack of understanding. I certainly couldn’t do the job. But my gut says it’s a done deal and you can’t get the fans and the players back from here. At the end of the day it’s a decision that should be taken by the director of football... And there in we return to the problem.

Let me make this as simple as I can. We need an executive level employee who looks after all aspects of the non-footballing side, there’s plenty needs doing (though, to be fair, much has been done). We also need someone with serious experience of the modern professional game at the top level to come in and bring a professionalism to every aspect of the football in the club. We need that person to make an immediate decision on the manager and any replacement and an equally quick decision on what he or others will be spending in January. It’s time for the board to do what boards should do and create a structure with round pegs in round holes, not mates who can give it a bash or people who once did you a favour. If this club isn’t run soon, there’s a real danger it will be run into the ground.

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