CHRIS YOUNG: Sunderland finally on track to be a proper football club again

Two-and-a-half years ago, Gus Poyet presented Sunderland's hierarchy with a list of recommendations.

Wednesday, 21st December 2016, 1:00 pm
Updated Thursday, 29th December 2016, 2:02 pm
Martin Bain

Fresh from somehow keeping Sunderland in the Premier League, Poyet wanted to ensure that he - or his successors - would be presiding over a club that had erased some of the factors contributing towards an annual relegation struggle.

Even by that stage, the pattern had gone on for too long.

Some ideas were accepted; Kevin Ball’s knee surgery was hastened and he left his post in charge of the Under-21s, a Spanish-speaking player liaison officer was employed.

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But by and large, Poyet’s proposals were ignored and buried in the furthest reaches of a filing cabinet.

Whether the Uruguayan was right or wrong, Sunderland’s big-wigs continued to stick their heads in the sand and think everything was all right, as long as the club remained in the Premier League.

Not even the pace of the managerial merry-go-round, continued inability to shake the tag of relegation strugglers or £20million-odd annual deficit saw the penny drop.

When articles were written calling for change or greater communication with supporters over the club’s plan, nothing changed either.

Margaret Byrne did ONE on-the-record interview with the Echo. One.

By the end of her tenure, she wasn’t even doing a column in the club programme.

So on a whistle-stop return to Blighty last week, it was mightily refreshing to stop off in Wearside, read Martin Bain’s words about Sunderland’s strategy (and deep-lying issues) and learn about the pace of the changes being introduced by the chief executive.

Bain is clearly having to act with ruthless pace - although no successful businessman can afford to be without a ruthless streak. Ellis Short has shown that himself with his willingness to fire managers.

The Scot’s tenure has been less than six months at the Stadium of Light, yet the club’s commercial director, academy director and assistant academy director have already gone or handed in their notice.

A huge overhaul is clearly under way.

Due to Sunderland’s financial situation, there will inevitably have to be more unsavoury departures from Sunderland’s behind-the-scenes team.

But that is the cost of changing the club’s make-up. The alternative of doing nothing ... well, it isn’t much of an alternative.

Laying bare Sunderland’s huge debt, the continued annual transfer instalments for players no longer even at the club and bloated wage bill was a risk from Bain.

If Sunderland’s position had worsened by failing to beat Watford last weekend, and then they were unable to spend a penny in January, there would have been accusations of surrender floating in the club’s direction.

It might not have quite been a 14 or 19-point season, but there would have been that whiff of falling into the Championship at a whimper.

Thankfully, Bain’s communication corresponded with David Moyes’ men producing an ugly, crucial victory against the Hornets to once more leapfrog Swansea and Hull - who look far worse bets for survival than the Black Cats.

But it’s far better for Bain to make clear how far into the red Sunderland are, rather than letting expectations gather for the arrival of January saviours.

That’s immediately been nipped in the bud.

Unless Sunderland make a notable sale next month - a Jordan Pickford, Lamine Kone or probably more likely Wahbi Khazri, there will be no incomings.

And by going public, it may well create a spirit of unity among players, manager, fans and boardroom.

An ‘us against the world’ mentality can develop, or in this case, us against those previously in charge of the purse strings.

Now everyone is on the same page. Now everyone knows the odds that Moyes is battling against to keep Sunderland in the Premier League.

It’s already evident. The performances over the last two months have been typical of a team looking to prove something.

An honest and frank engagement with supporters produced a similarly cohesive mood at Newcastle during the summer. By speaking repeatedly about the club’s mistakes, hopes and strategy, the stench of relegation was swiftly erased by Rafa Benitez and co.

Hopefully, Bain’s actions will achieve a similarly positive outcome. Even if Sunderland are ultimately relegated, at least the club now has a plan to be financially sustainable and genuinely connect with the local community.

Whatever the consequences of this season, the club is beginning to become a football club again.

This manager’s recommendations, at least, will not fall on deaf ears.