You Can't Have It Both Ways

January 20, 2019

 

If you asked for the two biggest criticisms of Ellis Short, they’d probably be a lack of communication and a lack of knowledge.

 

Our new chairman has shown his football knowledge in words and deeds throughout his life. He’s shown that he knows what it means to be a fan, knows how to build a club and build a business.

 

And communication? Well, I think it’s fair to say neither Donald nor Methven are the shy retiring types. And yet, again, some of us are unhappy.

 

Some fans have gone from ‘we wish he’d speak’ to ‘we wish he’d shut up’ and from ‘he doesn’t know what he’s talking about’ to ‘his experience makes him bitter’. You can’t have it both ways.

 

Of course, the truth, as with most things, is we’d all like something somewhere between the two.

 

We’d like to be kept aware of the latest news without everything being played out in public and we’d like to know that we can trust the knowledge and experience of the board to keep us heading towards winning the war, while accepting we can’t win every battle.

 

The last month or so have seen the first challenge the board have faced in relation to the fans. The recent dip in form and results have seen fans start to worry. The Maja situation and the lack of signings early in the transfer window have brought all of the fears that were present in the summer back to the fore. And the response hasn’t been received well.

 

We’ve gone from 43 points from 20 games to 10 points from 7 and, over a season, that’s going from 99 points to 77 points. From title winners to scraping into the play offs.

 

Now, don’t get me wrong, from where we were, that’s great progress but, having made that progress, the club must take the next steps.

 

Our chairman decided to tweet the fans and his promises that they’re ‘working hard’ are positive but, because of the choice of words, it leaves everyone uncertain.

 

He told us that we were already the biggest spenders and have a wage bill over £10m more than anyone else and that ‘no club is anywhere close’.

 

The problem is that Charlton, Barnsley, Luton and Portsmouth are close. And there are no bonus points available for having amazing fans or a big wage bill.

 

The last seven games have seen us play three of the teams listed above. They’ve highlighted that, while we’ve a squad more than strong enough to compete in this division (thanks to our summer transfer business), we lack the cutting edge to move above the pack, to dominate and move clear at the top.

 

The size of the wage bill can’t be claimed as a badge of commitment or honour. The board have been working hard to reduce the wage bill since they arrived. If offers were to come in for Oviedo and Cattermole, the likelihood is we could lose over £5m from the wage bill in two simple steps. The tweet would then return to successful financial management. Like the fans who wanted one thing and now aren’t happy with it, they can’t have it both ways.

 

And what about the big spending that apparently happened in the summer? We signed the ninth top scorer in League 1, a squad player from Burton and, although he was captain at Peterborough, a player that they had listed as needing to move on. I don’t have a problem with those signings, they were what we needed, they still are what we need in the team. But don’t big them up as something they’re not.

 

I’m delighted they’re cutting the wage bill, restructuring the club, they brought in League 1 players to help us get going in League 1. Stability is very close. The squad was remodelled to get us in a position to push on from January and we’ve achieved that.

 

But now it’s time. Time to move further with the wage reduction or rather reallocation. Maybe we can’t sell Oviedo or Catts but we could loan them out, if offers come in and reduce the wages we’re paying. Reduce the wages further by offloading the likes of Ruiter and Love to make room for signings. Then we’ll still have the wage bill but will have a squad to match.

 

And it’s time to spend the money. Not millions, not even a million probably, but not going in cheap and hoping to scrap out a bargain basement deal. We know Grigg is a target. If he had been able to line up in the last two games, we could well have won them. Those 4 points would have put us top of the table with a game in hand. But we didn’t. We tried to get a bargain and it seems to have backfired. There’s no such thing as a bargain basement marquee signing.

 

We need signings. Everyone knows that, including the owners. And we need them now. Not expensive signings, not free signings. Not Championship wages, but not League 2. We need to buy players who will get us promoted and also be functional in the Championship.

 

We love our owners keeping us up to date, drinking and sitting with the fans and talking football, but we don’t need to know everything. Maybe that’s partly our fault. We should let them get on with it rather than bombarding them with questions on twitter.

 

But in return we need to trust them to do their best for the club. And, right now, the best way to earn our trust is doing what we all know is needed.

 

Of course, the truth is, we want to know everything we want to hear and nothing about what we don’t want to hear. But, you know, you can’t have it both ways.

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At the back end of the 1980s, football fanzines began to sweep the country and in 1989 we were presented with a new vehicle on which to enjoy some of this ride – A Love Supreme. ALS was a place we could all go to celebrate and commiserate being a Sunderland fan. Win, lose or draw, the pages of the fanzine became solace for many of us as we stumbled our way through our day to day lives, punctuated by the ups and downs of more match days than any of us care to remember.

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