Wednesday 26 June 2019

Who is to blame for Sunderland's spectacular demise?

Ellis Short takes ultimate responsibility for Sunderland's demise. (PA)
Ellis Short takes ultimate responsibility for Sunderland's demise. (PA)

Luke Edwards

If Sunderland drop points at home to Burton Albion on Saturday they could be relegated to English football's third tier for only the second time in their history. They are six points adrift with three games to play.

But who is to blame for their catastrophic fall? There are five main culprits.

Owner: Ellis Short

Ellis Short takes ultimate responsibility for Sunderland's demise. All of the various mistakes made over the past decade can be traced back to him, from failing to instil sufficient football expertise at boardroom level, to falling out with managers such as Roy Keane, Steve Bruce and Martin O'Neill.

The mitigating circumstances are that Short has bankrolled the club, covering losses of around £25 million a year. "Ellis Short is a popular target, but you cannot forget how much money he has put in," said Sunderland's former captain Gary Bennett. "The supporters want him to invest again, but why should he? He has wasted a fortune. His problem has been the people he appointed to run the club were not up to it.

"You can trace it all back to the summer of 2013, when 14 players were signed (by former director of football Roberto De Fanti). They were hopeless, but it took years to be paid off. That was a shocking waste."

Short is hugely unpopular with most supporters, but Michael Graham of fanzine Roker Report has more sympathy.

"Do I see him as a faceless monster who is wilfully running the club into the ground? Absolutely not. Ultimately, though, the mistakes have been his."

Chief executive: Martin Bain

Since Martin Bain was appointed in 2016, Sunderland have been relegated from the Premier League and are now on the brink of dropping into the third tier.

However, Bain has been putting out fires started long before he arrived. He was ordered to cut costs to prevent financial meltdown. In the process, the football side of the business has been plunged into turmoil.

Bain appointed David Moyes and refused to sack him, even when the club were staring at relegation, only for his fellow Scot to refuse to stay on in the Championship.

He appointed Simon Grayson last summer and then sacked him in November after just two league wins. He then appointed Chris Coleman, who has not overseen any sort of upturn in results.

"Everything he has touched has turned to disaster," said Graham. "Perhaps in years to come, we'll look back and think of Bain as the man who took the difficult decisions that helped the club stand tall again. Right now, though, he is accountable for an awful lot of the misery."

Former chief executive: Margaret Byrne

In terms of lumbering Sunderland with inadequate players on vastly inflated wages, Margaret Byrne is largely to blame. Under her watch, Sunderland's wage bill rose to become one of the 10 highest in the Premier League, yet Sunderland achieved just one top-10 finish during their decade in the top flight.

A prime example of Byrne's inability to get value for money is Jack Rodwell.

She negotiated a five-year contract, paying Manchester City £10 million to sign him, without a relegation clause that would reduce his wages. Rodwell, who earns around £70,000 a week but has not played since September, is the poster boy for a shocking recruitment policy.

While various managers and a poor scouting network are also responsible, Byrne - now working as a football agent - signed off too many of those deals.

"For years, Byrne was seen as the problem and we were assured that, when she left, the problems would leave with her," Graham said. "They didn't, so she wasn't. She left a club with Sam Allardyce at the helm, and heading for much better things."

Former manager: David Moyes

Moyes cannot escape the fact that he took Sunderland down. He arrived too late in the summer of 2016, after pre-season had already started under Sam Allardyce, to recruit properly and made a series of panic buys. Ultimately he got considerably less out of the players he inherited than Allardyce did.

"David Moyes is the manager who took Sunderland down, said Bennett. "But you have to look at the wider picture. He's not the only manager who struggled and Sunderland have had half-a-dozen managers who have done good jobs elsewhere and failed here. The problems at this football club are bigger than the manager.

"Should he have stayed after relegation? Maybe, but he realised Sunderland didn't have saleable assets. They sold Jordan Pickford for £30 million, but that money was needed to keep the club running. He saw what was coming."

Graham is less kind: "As far as I'm concerned, that man attempted to absolutely gut my club of its very soul. He demeaned it at every opportunity, talked it down, and seemed to write it off from day one.

"He did nothing but chip away at the fabric of the club until what was left was barely recognisable."

Current boss: Chris Coleman

Most people were pleasantly surprised when Chris Coleman was appointed, given the excellent job he had done with Wales. He has, though, a far less impressive record in club management.

The 47-year-old has spoken passionately and persuasively. There are those who merely feel he was doomed to fail because of the squad he inherited and the financial restrictions in place. That seems a little kind. Coleman has been at Sunderland since mid-November, was allowed to sign players in January and has won just five out of 28 games.

"Like every manager, Coleman looked in from the outside and thought what a fantastic club," Bennett added. "He saw the wonderful stadium, the training ground and the fan base, and thought he could keep them up and then build towards promotion.

"But once he got here, he saw the problems, the lack of quality and the finances and now he's just another manager struggling."

Graham added: "There needs to be a cultural change. All that is going to take strength and stones, and Coleman looks like he has enough of both to have half a chance of pulling it off." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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