There are things you need to accept when you write about football. The first is that you will sometimes be wrong, more often than not in my case. The second is that people will disagree with you. Once you are comfortable with those two inescapable facts it all becomes a bit easier. It’s made easier for ALS writers by the fact that we write about Sunderland; a club all of us care deeply about and our writing is read, obsessed Mags apart, by people like us. The other thing is that not every single Sunderland fan reads what we write so the prospect of raising tension is minimalised.
Now imagine if you were a bloke from down south who supported a different team. Imagine if you were in a position where every Sunderland fan, including those who only watch the match on streams or in the pub, was reading what you were saying. Imagine if you had underestimated the sense of ownership that all those fans feel about the club you are in charge of. You can see how the vitriol may intensify. Chuck in some rumours of Thatcherism in an area decimated by her worst ravages and suddenly you have a fairly volatile situation. The “one of our own” chant could never be applied to our current owners despite the efforts they have made to reach out to the community.
Now I have never been one to buy into the blinkered adoration of Stew and Charlie but it’s nothing personal. I wore a leprechaun hat at Villa away amid rumours that Quinn was organising an Irish takeover; a takeover that would eventually see a Texan take the reins of the Sunderland mustang. When Short arrived he bought an FTM badge from ALS and mixed with the fans on a preseason tour of Ireland. Not too dissimilar to the arrival of our Oxfordshire elites. That relationship has fractured and here we are.
So, when Charlie Methven gave his investment interview to The Echo it mirrored a Conservative manifesto; a period of austerity (phase one) followed by growth (investment at phase two). Did you believe it? That’s largely immaterial. As fans we have very little control beyond turning up and roaring the lads on. The head scratching about what the investment meant, (Is this a start of something else? Is it a loan? Do they own a bit of the club? Is the takeover going to happen later?) at this particular time matters not. The broad fact that most Sunderland fans need to be concerned about is that we have had, in League One terms, a huge injection of cash. To be absolutely clear on this, the way the influx of cash has been arranged means that the money is ours. It is not a loan to the club, nor is it a change in shareholding. It's money, for us to spend.
When Stew and Charlie arrived they talked about a Dortmund model and yet we have seen our scouting network reduced and the youngsters have been on a horrendous run of results. The prospect of Uruguayans gracing the Academy is forgotten and now dismissed as little more than excited pillow talk. With this investment Charlie Methven talked about building the academy. Recruiting prospects and developing them not only for the first team but for sell on value. Some might call that a Dortmund model.
In the same interview he said Sartori would be more visible; perhaps aided by an unsuccessful foray into Uruguayan politics for the moment. Perhaps now is the time to set up that link Juan. For whatever reason Stew and Charlie have a vision for the future of the club and it is that sustainable model of building from grass roots. Charlie talked about dismissing previous takeovers because they wanted them out of the club; some will argue that may be no bad thing. I suspect the motivation for wanting to stay at the helm is driven by personal gain but from our perspective that’s good. For them to make a profit we have to be better than we currently are.
The interview had its worrying moments, he referred to Parkinson’s recruitment as a long-term call and he would not be judged “in a short-term way.” Short term and long terms are subjective depending on whether you sit in the Roker End or the Director’s Box. For Sunderland fans the immediate target is to be back in the Championship ASAP. CM remained incredibly supportive of Parkinson, perhaps in light of some erratic results. He moved on to the structure behind the scenes, specifically Coton and Hill, regarding criticism as unfair but understandable. Recruitment has been one of the biggest criticisms under the board’s leadership but there were heavy hints that things were about to change. Helped, no doubt, by a freshly filled wallet. He referred to Hill and Coton being “on their own” and then moved on to talk about a new recruitment set up. “We will be bringing in substantial recruitment staff…” Choose wisely Charlie.
Then there was some talk about Tony Davison’s departure. For me Tony was instrumental in what they were trying to achieve; a neglected commercial side of the business that was an obvious income stream. He was also a man that understood Sunderland and, no doubt, was a wise word in southern ears at appropriate times. Charlie insisted that a Chief Executive role didn’t make sense and hinted that the commercial and footballing sides of the business should remain separate. Too right. Just because you can book the Spice Girls doesn’t mean you can sign Messi. A director of football seems the way forward in Methven’s eyes, “The majority who are really succeeding have a MD type who looks after the commercial side and a director of football type who looks after the football side”. Again, choose wisely. I hope Di Fanti is retired.
One of the final points Methven turned to was Stewart Donald’s absence from the Stadium of Light. He referred to a ‘fringe’ of supporters levelling unreasonable claims at the chairman. His absence was explained by Methven as due to the abuse he received online. I am in two minds on this one. Whilst it is entirely unacceptable to level personal abuse to the level Donald claimed was aimed at him; if you’re in a position like he is perhaps Twitter isn’t the place to be.
That is for more reasons than his own personal sanity, it’s about advertising to the world that an asset that you’re trying to sell has a dark side. That doesn’t seem that clever to me. What seems far more sensible is to attend fans forums and Charlie asked supporters who have genuine concerns to get themselves along to Red and White Army. Have those conversations. That’s not really something I can argue with to be honest. Don’t get me wrong, I have questions, but I am entirely happy in having that discussion face to face with the people of whom I am critical. I think the current owners have made mistakes, both on the football side of things and also in their understanding of and handling of the Sunderland faithful.
As is typical for football writing, there will be many out there insisting I am defending the board, those who know me know very differently. Keep the faith lads, good times are a coming.