Less is More

Sir Alex Ferguson once said the best defenders are the ones you don’t really notice. They’re just as important as any other player but they don’t normally get the same praise or attention from the media and, more importantly, it doesn’t seem to worry them.

It’s a position that tends to appeal to those who like order and structure. They are often the more intelligent off the field, trusted by their colleagues and, as a result, often the captains of the club.

Some players are born to be the celebrity but for every David Beckham, there’s at least one Gary and one Phil Neville. For every rap star striker, there’s a midfielder alongside him who dances like my Dad.

The one thing all players have in common, of course, is their ability to play the game.

Board members are, almost exclusively, the opposite. They love the game but lack the ability to play. Their desire to be involved at that level is the result of an unquenched need to be involved in the game.

They are, of course, successful business people. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t get through the door. And, with the skills to be good at business the same skills I’ve associated with defenders, board members also tend to be people happy to do their job without the need to celebrate with the corner flag or be on the guest list at every A-list party.

Murray is a great Sunderland example, but what of the current trinity?

Don’t get me wrong, I like all three of them and believe that we all owe them a great debt of gratitude. There’s a parallel universe where Saturday’s game was a relegation six pointer with Sunderland trying to claw back the points deducted for administration.

But is their media and touchline presence always helpful?

The board decided to bring the Maja contract deadline into the media.

The same board were unhappy when the player’s side spoke to the media. Were they not just playing the game we had started?

In the Charlton penalty shootout, did a Charlton board member take a penalty? Was that not a chance for a long-time fan to be involved?

If the Chairman replies once on twitter, people will expect him to reply to everyone and this will not always be friendly banter (I am in no way suggesting the behaviour of some fans was acceptable, just inevitable).

By speaking ambiguously in the summer about whether all players had been paid for, Donald led many fans to believe they had been. The recent sale of Maja to Bordeaux and the news of Khazri payments being owed raised questions that, had he not spoken at the start, would never have happened.

I think that, in running the club and turning around the rapidly sinking oil tanker, they’re doing a great job. I just think the club, and them as individuals, would be better off if they approached it with fewer appearances, fewer interviews and definitely no twitter.

When it’s going well, being mates on twitter is cool. Giving interviews and appearing on phone-in shows adds to the legend. But you set a bar to meet. What happens when players aren’t happy, when results aren’t there or when off field matters hit the news?

Will Stewart be in the away end when we need results to go our way or we face relegation?

Would it not be better to keep a distance? Do the professional job they’re unquestionably doing but take away the pressure and expectation by only speaking to the fans through more formal structures which can be maintained in bad times as well as good?

The club has excellent media staff. Staff trained to deal with whatever crops up under the guidance of a PR guru. If the board want to speak to the fans, they can use them. Use the match programme, the club website or the twitter feed. If stories need to appear ‘unofficially’ in the press, use the journalists and channels they trust.

I’m not saying don’t speak. I think their pre-match presence is perfect – they’re seen, they say hello, they mix with everyone. Fantastic. But then head to the directors’ box. Whatever then happens over 90 minutes, neither they nor an overly opinionated fan will be in a position they live to regret.

I think Quinny got it right. A balance between suited and booted chairman and accessible man of the people. But he didn’t have to prove anything, he wasn’t taking his one chance in life to be a fans favourite, he already had the T-shirt.

The board are very capable and experienced businessmen, and, in business, everyone has their role and knows what’s OK and what’s not OK. The MD doesn’t go the receptionists’ Christmas drinks, the office junior shouldn’t get drunk when entertaining clients, the customers don’t need to know everything.

It is clear that Donald and Methven are learning as they go, and they are learning quickly and admirably. I know they will be looking at the highs and lows of the last month or two and considering how it went for the club and their part in proceedings.

They have all the skills to run the club brilliantly and I’m grateful for everything they’ve achieved to date, but I suspect it might be easier for all concerned if they were a little more McGeouch and a little less Maguire.