With the news of an impending structural change in the hierarchy at SAFC and the apparent move to a sporting director model, we look at the role in more detail and find out the potential benefits, and pitfalls, ahead.
Director of Football, Sporting director, technical director. All descriptions for what is essentially the same job. A member of the senior management team, the sporting director is responsible for a variety of roles, which can differ from club to club.
Usually working alongside a head coach, rather than a manager, the sporting director is the conduit between the board and the playing side and is responsible for scouting, facility development, player recruitment and the long-term strategy of the football club.
Taking on the above roles, in theory, allows the head coach to concentrate on the playing side and focus all their attention on developing the team and producing winning results.
An agreed remit of most sporting directors is transfers. The ideal model would see the sporting director unearthing hidden gems from across the footballing world who feed seamlessly into an agreed and practiced playing style already in place at the club.
It goes without saying that there needs to be a huge amount of trust and communication between the sporting director and the coach and the established systems in place throughout a club are more important than ever with this model.
Sunderland have been here before. It didn’t end well. The introduction of Roberto De Fanti as Director of football raised a few eyebrows amongst the fan base. The eyebrow raising reached new levels after a summer of questionable acquisitions and obscure signings. This left us floundering around under the tutelage of Paolo Di Canio who swiftly lost his job after a run of poor results. Next up was Lee Congerton, a man with a big reputation when he arrived from his previous position as technical director at Hamburg. We could look in detail at this appointment and the levels of success he brought to the position with the astute capturing of Jermaine Defoe. Or, we could just remember he was responsible for signing Jack Rodwell and leave it there.
With two failed sporting directors in our recent history, is this the right route for us to be going down again? It is hard to comment on this without knowing the inner workings of the football club and any proposed changes that are soon to be made at board level. However, can it be any worse than it is now? It is clear for all to see that the club has at best, lacked any real direction under the Madrox project.
The lack of cohesion between the first team and the U23’s, the releasing and selling of our best young talent and the haphazard approach to player acquisition shows that the current model is not working. Add this to the poor performances on the pitch, the ill treatment of fans and current/former employees alike and the general apathy around the SOL that has taken hold needs to be lifted.
The rumoured appointment of Kristjaan Speakman is, on paper, an exciting development in the saga. Having spent a number of years at Birmingham City as academy manager his specialist leadership qualities and technical and administrative knowledge are what’s needed to make the roll a success. He has been credited with playing a large part in the development of Jude Bellingham, now of Borussia Dortmund, and his policy of having 5 academy products in the first team matchday squad shows his ambition to have a club-wide strategy. This also highlights his commitment to developing youth potential within the club.
This has been something that has been sadly lacking at SAFC in recent years and would be a welcome development. The majority of the SAFC fanbase would welcome an injection of youthful energy into the current first team squad and it’s clear that Speakman is an advocate of promoting from within.
The key factor in the success of this model is the relationship between sporting director and coach. Without a positive and constructive working relationship this will be doomed to failure and be added to the long list of new horizons we have been promised over the years.
So, who is the right man? The fan base was teased with the return of Poyet and talk of getting on the Gus bus ignited memories of the cup run and the great escape of 2014. Poyet was never happy with the Sporting director model in his previous reign at the club, so could he work under that model again? We will never know as news broke that a return wasn’t on the cards.
The frontrunners appear to be the Cowley’s and Lee Johnson, alongside rumoured names such as Nigel Pearson and Paul Cook. The question remains whether any of the names mentioned would work well under a Sporting Director in League One.
While the possible candidates mentioned have experience of this league, are they prepared to relinquish control over transfers and work with what they are given? Would the temptation to be involved in returning SAFC back to the big time convince them to change their working practices? As with everything in football, and particularly SAFC, things can change very quickly so analysis and second guessing is hard.
But, change does appear to be on the horizon and with it a new wave of optimism for the times ahead. Is this finally the regime and model that lifts us from the lower reaches of the football league? Let’s hope we get more success this time around.