Chris Young: Chief Executive Martin Bain has a plan to get Sunderland back to being an engaging football club

If this purgatory persists for another two or three games, then next season won't arrive soon enough.

Tuesday, 25th October 2016, 3:23 pm
Updated Wednesday, 26th October 2016, 3:10 pm
Sunderland's chief executive Martin Bain

It was like this in both 2003 and 2006. The drop was realistically signed and sealed before Christmas, and a turgid, mundane second half of the campaign followed where everyone merely wanted to begin the process of building a team capable of getting back to the Premier League.

That’s the depths of the mess Sunderland are in as a team and a club. It’s no fun.

Apathy and resignation are peeking from around the corner.

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But while Sunderland are in an even darker place than usual at this stage of the season, perhaps there are some very distant lights at the end of a long, long tunnel.

In the short-term that is little consolation when David Moyes’ side continue to provide an almighty boot to the teeth by conceding last-gasp goals. There is no confidence among supporters at this team, let alone in the minds of the players themselves.

Yet the assessment from chief executive Martin Bain last week, four months after taking the reins at the Stadium of Light, was a welcome change to the narrative.

Unusually at Sunderland, here was a member of the club’s hierarchy publicly identifying several of the underlying problems at the Stadium of Light which have been allowed to fester for years, and pledging to address them.

Now, clearly Bain has been unable to alter two main issues in the narrative - the constant changes of management and the pattern of awful recruitment.

After all, it was the former Rangers chief executive who signed off on all of Moyes’ summer signings, none of which can be classed as successful buys.

But Bain realises that those characteristics which define Sunderland as a club - primarily its supporters - have been neglected.

Other than discussions with a minority of fans, there has been such a dispiritingly scant interaction with the public since Niall Quinn’s exit.

For one, when was the last of Sunderland’s suits to do an interview outside of club media?

Ellis Short’s brief chat with Sky Sports prior to the League Cup final? That’s more than TWO years ago.

Sunderland need to be going out into the bars and pubs of the North East, telling supporters the direction and strategy to move the club forward, and listen to their concerns and grievances.

That gets more people coming into the turnstiles and buying shirts.

Marketing gimmicks in South Korea, Africa and America don’t do that, and Bain seems to have grasped that shortcoming.

“It’s probably lost its identity at times trying to be a club it’s not,” he said.

“We want to get back to basics.

“The football club has to be synonymous with its North East identity.

“I want to get out to the fanbase with David – let’s talk to them in a way they’ll relate to

“We’re not one of the super-clubs in the world, the most commercially prominent, so let’s not go down that route.

“Let’s get back to the basics and talk football.”

Identifying the problems and doing something about them are quite difference, of course.

It may take years for Sunderland to put a strategy in place so they can field a ‘proper’ team consistently again.

Just look at how far Leicester and Southampton had to fall before beginning the journey which has seen them thrive so effectively in the top half of the Premier League table.

It would perhaps have benefited Sunderland to be relegated two or three years ago and rebuild, yet the financial benefits of Premier League football made it so overwhelmingly important to remain in the top flight.

Sunderland have not grasped the olive branch of staying up though.

They’ve snapped it off again and again, and begun climbing the tree from the bottom.

Perhaps - as Phil Bardsley intriguingly mentioned to the BBC over the weekend - Sunderland need a fresh start with the man ultimately calling the shots at the Stadium of Light too.

Although as a succession of clubs could testify, there is no guarantee of new owners bringing success.

It’s not always like Niall Quinn and Drumaville from a decade ago.

Neither will there be a queue of millionaires lining up to take Sunderland off Short’s hands.

But regardless of who ultimately signs the cheques, at least Bain - the man in charge of day-to-day running - has a plan to get Sunderland back to being an engaging football club.

Whether in the Premier League or Championship, that’s what is so desperately needed.