We will all probably be aware of yesterday’s events by now; if you’re not, Ross has been sacked and the takeover may or may not be on or off. What struck many of us as slightly odd was the timeline of the events. At around lunchtime the club released the pre-match press conference from Jack Ross which spoke about the future, referring to the EFL Trophy game against Grimsby he said that it was a game which allowed him the chance to give players some minutes but it was separate from the Lincoln game “and what follows after”. There was never a hint of how his afternoon would progress from there.
A couple of hours later The Sun released a story declaring the takeover as being off. The reasons cited being a mismatch in valuations, specifically naming the assets at the Academy of Light, and intransigence on behalf of the current owners to recognise that mismatch in the asking price. The level of detail was enough to warrant more than an eyebrow being raised. Social media exploded in a fit of disbelief and rage and local newspapers began to pick up on the story.
Stewart Donald himself reappeared on Twitter after a brief hiatus. Earlier Twitter appearances from over a week ago had been to quell rumours circulating on Sunday from, yes you guessed it, The Sun that the takeover was on the brink of collapse. Donald was his customary dogged self on social media; quick to refute but not exactly inspiring confidence in the deal being completed. He promised an update on Friday and so we wait with baited breath.
An hour later Jack Ross was saying his goodbyes to the players and staff at Sunderland, farewells that we now know brought tears and sadness behind the scenes. Jack Ross was well liked and rightly so. I always found him to be a very approachable man with a real passion for getting things right both on and off the pitch. In the name calling on Twitter fans forgot about Jack Ross visiting fans at their homes who were too ill to get to the match and forgot about how much he appreciated the spirit of the city. What was perhaps also forgotten was the fact that he presided over a period in the clubs history which was probably the most extreme example of change; starting the job with barely a first XI, working through issues with wantaway players, stopping the slide of the iceberg that Sunderland had become from continuing its downward trajectory.
The Lincoln defeat certainly felt like the final nail in his coffin in a similar way to the Villa defeat at the Stadium of Light when Gus Poyet took a look around the stadium before heading down the tunnel for the final time. The pressure from fans was directed at one man and that man was Jack Ross. The frustration at hearing about clean sheets and failing to keep them spilling out during an abject loss. The 1-1 running jokes replaced by serious concern and rightly so. The fact of the matter is that Sunderland cannot afford to be in League 1 for another year; plain and simple. The timing of the decision was bizarre though. Yes, as we go into an international break it would make sense to pull the trigger, but hours before a match? Hours after the man you have sacked has had his pre match preview published? Perhaps that’s just the Sunderland way.
A couple of hours later Stewart Donald was on BBC Newcastle’s Total Sport show. During the build up to the interview Nick Barnes seemed to drop some heavy hints that all was not well in the Sunderland camp as he told us Jack Ross never blamed the players and he kept difficulties he was having with players behind closed doors. Barnes referred several times to the challenges faced by Ross behind the scenes. Stewart Donald spoke highly of Jack Ross and seemed very reluctant to hang him out to dry. When questioned whether Jack Ross had the unfair burden of being tagged with the “big spender” tag at Sunderland given the quality of the signings and the free transfers Donald was defensive and cited Power, Grigg, Dobson and O’Nien of examples of when we have spent money. He pointed to free transfers like Willis who was being sought after by Championship clubs and said this was an illustration of their quality. He said we are the most professional club in the league and in a bizarre statement reminiscent of a Trumpian brag he pointed out that we have the best travel arrangements in the league. He was asked about Stendel being a candidate. He responded with a statement which mirrors our experience of the takeover to date. Starting off with certainty tapering into possibility. “I’m sure he will be someone we could potentially look at.”
Talk turned to the takeover and Donald insisted the story was nonsense, illustrating this by pointing out that if it was off he could say that it was off, but he can’t talk about it so that is a clear indicator that it is still alive. This of course ignores the fact he had been providing fairly clear assertions that the deal was still alive on Twitter just hours before going so far as to say that Academy players had never even been valued. He then talked about still looking for an investor or groups of investors which perhaps was indicative of the fact that the Americans are getting twitchy to the point that only a fragment of thread holds the deal together at the moment. When asked about the timing of both the news and Ross’ departure Donald insisted there was no link; they had just decided to make a fresh start and get on with their plans. Further indication that the deal was far from certain.
A madcap day was rounded off with a meaningless game against Grimsby, we won. The long term injury of Watmore was surprisingly eradicated as he started the game and scored. We won thanks to a last minute Grigg goal. In terms of weird days, yesterday was way up there.