We Need Direction

Well. We are where we are. Would I like to have a group of billionaire owners? Yes, I can’t deny it. But, in some respects, nothing changes with or without them. Bill Gates buying us wouldn’t have seen us magically move to the top of the Championships with a new squad, elite manager and shiny happy fans.

We’re in League One. And we haven’t got a manager. With new owners we’d have still been there and I don’t think money would have been thrown at the project.

We’ve been told we’ve plenty of money to get us to through this season. And our fans are awesome. And we’re actually only one point off automatic promotion. And Luke O’Nien is still being all Luke O’Nieny. There’s lots to be positive about, if you look hard enough. So, I’ve decided to be positive and look forwards and not back.

If the target is to be attractive to an investor, we need to make ourselves more attractive. The only way that can happen is to improve the football side of the club. And I don’t subscribe to the idea that a new manager will suddenly make everything all Bill Withers, there’s a whole mess behind the scenes with the academy, player contracts, player conditions and environment, scouting, youth teams, U23s to be harmonised. And, at the moment, that appears to be a shambles.

My wife and many friends where I live are Northampton Town fans so I have learned a lot about their club legend, Richard Hill. He’s a nice bloke, a more than adequate League One centre half and a reasonable coach towards the bottom of the professional pyramid but his CV for the job he currently has shouldn’t have got him on to a long list. He is, at the end of the day, Stewart Donald’s mate and that’s about all.

We should thank him for his efforts (and let’s not forget that he arrived when we had no players and helped get enough in to get us close to promotion) and say goodbye. If Jack Ross doesn’t stay after a promising start, neither does Richard Hill.

Of course, he hasn’t been helped by the scouting set up at the club (or is that lack of set up?). We haven’t signed anyone in two years who you’d list as a ‘find’. The situation with the left back sums this up beautifully. The sum total of our scouting seems to be to google a position, flick through a Rothmans year book and then make a phone call. There’s no strategy. No logic being applied. I have no idea if Tony Coton is up to the job. Perhaps he’s not being led correctly. Perhaps he needs more support or guidance. But he needs something. And we need a change.

I don’t think Ross would have worked with a Director of Football. He was too much his own man and valued his own autonomy but his departure gives us the opportunity to look at appointing a Director of Football to take all the responsibility off the shoulders of the first team manager and, ideally, be involved in appointing that manager as the second piece (after his own appointment) in the overall football club jigsaw.

Charlie Methven and Tony Davison can do all the work in the world to wow sponsors and improve the corporate side of the club, but it’s wasted if the football side is falling apart. It’s like selling out Glastonbury but then having Mrs McKenna’s year five recorder group headlining the pyramid stage.

We need a Director of Football. A detail man. Someone who sees and appreciates the need for the little things to be right. Someone who gets football, gets footballers and also gets Sunderland.

I’ve got three suggestions. Two are Sunderland fans and one loves the club. I’ve tried to work on the basis we can’t afford a huge amount but, equally, we can’t afford to keep driving without a driver as the costs will be far greater.

Roy Keane

Throughout his career, Keane has been a detail man. He is a man who expects the best for his players and expects standards to be met. The times he’s had trouble in his career it’s been over a point when he’s been right – goalposts and pitch standards at the World Cup, players not caring at Manchester United, telling Short he knew nothing about football. To me, he is the ideal candidate. His signings when he arrived at Sunderland showed an insight into what was needed with an appreciation of budget and an approach that was appreciated by (most) footballers. His changes to training facilities and the tunnel were obvious, once he did it, but no one else though to do it.

Mick Harford

A Sunderland fan, Harford also played for us briefly but, more importantly has a huge amount of experience of lower league football and has worked in scouting, coaching and as a Director Of Football in a number of clubs. The structure and recruitment at Luton over the last three years has been exceptional and, without him, I doubt they’d be where they are. Perhaps he might decide it’s time for a new challenge. If we’re looking for someone shorter term to get this started and get us to the next stage, he might be a good choice.

Brian Marwood

He’s been there and done it. Manchester City’s ‘Football Admin Officer’ is a Seaham boy and, at 59, might be wondering if there’s much more he can help achieve at City after ten years that, I think we can say, have been relatively successful. Would he enjoy the chance to come home, rebuild a club in desperate need of rebuilding and perhaps use the lessons learned at City when it comes to the football management of a football club, from youth to first team, physios to scouts, contracts to conditioning? I know he wouldn’t take the job as a promotion, even I’m not that stupid, but he might see it as an opportunity for his last role in football to be to save his childhood club.

To be honest, there are many other names I could make a case for but I’ve no idea if they’d be interested or, more importantly, whether the club would be interested in bringing in that sort of person but, for me, I think it’s essential. No matter who the owners are, no matter who the first team managers are, I firmly believe that the next piece of the jigsaw, and a piece we have to get right, is the Director of Football. And if we don’t get that foundation stone, everything else risks falling apart and then we’ll never get investment.