I feel for Sunderland fans, writes Vernon Grant. The manner in which owner Ellis Short has turned that club into one bordering on becoming a laughing stock is a disgrace. The superb supporters deserve better.
They’ve had the nonsense that was Paolo Di Canio. The undermining of the equally temperamental Gus Poyet. No manager since Steve Bruce has lasted a full season.
More recently Dick Advocaat saved the club from relegation last season, before ignoring the advice of his wife and making the mistake of staying on for this season. He did so on the understanding there would be further funds for new players. But Advocaat, who displayed how much he cared when he cried on keeping the club up last May, was being used.
Ellis Short hoped Advocaat would repeat that miracle one more time. Next season every Premier League club will receive huge sums of money courtesy of the new £5.136 billion television deal. That would boost the Sunderland coffers somewhat. The club placed as low as 20th in the Premier League at the end of the 2016/17 season will receive £92 million. But you have to be in it to win it!
At Sunderland today you have the nonsense of a man who wants to leave the club being in charge of recruiting the next team manager.
George Caulkin, North-East football correspondent of The Times newspaper says: “They are in this faintly ridiculous position where Sporting Director Lee Congerton, who has expressed a desire to leave the club, has been told to lead the search for a new manager. It’s total systematic failure. It feels like dysfunction. They’ve been chasing bad decisions for years. Now they have identified Sam Allardyce as their first choice but they have a job to persuade him to take the job.
“Sam is said to be reluctant. Would he work with a sporting director? Would he agree to be part of a system that has clearly failed, repeatedly. They are stuck in a cycle of underachievement. They’ve had a really poor approach to bringing in players.”
On leaving West Ham, Sam Allardyce said he would not even consider another job until the new year, at the earliest. He wanted a Christmas holiday away from football. It’s true Allardyce has a way of working that could keep them up but, as George Caulkin says: “It’s not about the systems you have, it’s the personnel you have and the personnel have been wrong from top to bottom.
“People say Sam can keep Sunderland up, but to what end? Just so they can go through this whole process again. What I want is Sunderland to stand for is something other than this annual struggle, this gruelling football. They haven’t won a single game in the league this season. What do they stand for? They don’t stand for anything. Only failure.”
Sunderland won only four home games last season, and five in the two seasons before that. So this is not a new problem.
George Caulkin says: “Martin O’Neill is the one that should have worked. He fell out with the people above him. Ellis Short decided he wanted someone to take recruitment decisions out of the hands of the manager and he appointed a Director of Football.
“The long term problem is they are not left with saleable assets. The best they can hope for is gradual, minimal improvement. I don’t understand how it gets better for Sunderland.”
Nigel Pearson has been said to have met with the powers that be at Sunderland, writes Vernon Grant. However, if he thinks he is second or third choice, he’ll not be flattered by that. Pearson is a motivator of men, but only those willing to be motivated. The chief problem at Sunderland is a lack of quality on the pitch. There is none.
Sunderland have paid too much for average foreign footballers. In that regard they are far from alone. It’s money they will never be able to recoup. They have signed younger home grown players who have flattered to deceive but are anonymous when the going gets tough. And they’ve signed older players whose careers are past their best before date. They are players who have performed at a higher level and who now give every appearance of not caring what happens between now and retirement. Just so long as they get paid.
Why would any half decent manager want the job? Sunderland look destined for the Championship. Newcastle could yet join them there. The future for football in the North-East of England looks bleak. Who is to blame?
Of Sunderland Chairman Ellis Short, George Caulkin of The Times says: “There’s only been once this season when the fans turned on Ellis Short. The assumption has been that his heart is in the right place but that he’s just made bad decisions.”
But what football correspondent Caulkin is most amazed by is how the owners of the two Premier League clubs in the North-East have operated.
Caulkin concludes: “It’s the same with Mike Ashley at Newcastle, it’s staggering how these incredibly successful, ruthless businessman who would take no messing in their business lives surround themselves with people who aren’t good enough.”
Too true. At clubs up and down the country we’ve seen once great clubs ruined by owners who are clueless when it comes to what is required to build a successful football club. Owners who time and time again appoint the wrong managers or undermine a manager by having acquisition decisions made by someone who has never played professional football. Or owners who don’t care. Or owners who are using the club as a vehicle to launder money.
Too often it’s the manager that gets the blame for a football club failing. In my opinion the blame more often than not belongs upstairs. In the corridors of power.
Running a football club is not the same as running shops, a building company, hotels or a private equity firm.
In 2003 author Tom Bower wrote the award winning book called Broken Dreams. In it he said this: “Football is a shambolically run business, run by greedy and vain people who seem only to act in self-interest. And none of them seem to realise that if they carry on the way they are going, they will destroy the business.”
As true today as it was twelve years ago.