How Stewart Donald can use Wolves as a blueprint for League One success at Sunderland
For Wolves, the 3-0 defeat at the Stadium of Light was an irrelevant footnote to a spectacular season.
They have swept away all before them (apart from Sunderland, bizarrely), playing some of the best football the second tier has ever seen.
A progressive manager, some quite sensational talent in their ranks, a fanbase who can barely believe their luck.
A club united. A club on the up.
It has not always been that way, and for the Molineux faithful this title will be all the sweeter for the pain that has gone before it.
They were, of course, the last team to drop though the Premier League and the Championship in consecutive seasons. Until now, that is.
That dubious honour is now Sunderland’s and like Wolves did five years ago, they will enter a painful period of purgatory.
Eye-watering investment from Chinese ownership and super-agent links have powered their success this season but none if it would have been possible without the speed and competence with which they adapted to the more modest surroundings of League One.
After their title was sealed, a blog in local paper the Express and Star paid tribute to the ‘unsung heroes’ of the club’s rise, primarily that of the man who started the journey, Kenny Jackett.
Jackett was not a glamorous appointment after the chaos of consecutive relegations but he proved to be the right one.
He knew the third tier well and quickly shifted those who did not have the stomach for it to the sidelines.
A big emphasis was placed on the club’s young talent, while recruitment was limited in scope but precise in its nature. Wolves set a points record in League One and the following year came within touching distance of the play-offs.
It is a path that is highly unlikely to be unknown to Sunderland’s prospective new ownership.
While the exact details and make-up of Stewart Donald’s consortium will not become clear until EFL approval is being granted, it will be Donald driving the club from a financial and football perspective.
While his wealth is substantial, it is modest by footballing standards.
There will be investment in the club and the wiping of the debts will make a big difference, but he cannot power Sunderland back to the top through the power of cash alone.
As he has himself already put it, he hopes to give Sunderland a ‘competitive budget’.
It is an important point, because Sunderland’s current wage bill is running at least three times higher than those who have coasted to promotion in the third tier this year.
In terms of transfer fees, Blackburn Rovers paid £750,000 for Bradley Dack but otherwise padded out their squad with small investments and free agents. They have looked a class above for much of the campaign.
Even if Donald’s reserves are far smaller than Short’s, in the short-term at least there should be no excuses for being competitive at that level.
Certainly, the new manager, whoever that may be, is likely to be under no illusions that promotion is the absolute minimum next season.
Where Sunderland need to get it right is in savvy recruitment, both in terms of a manager and the players that follow.
Jackett’s Wolves success is relevant because it is the route the new regime are likely to go down.
At this stage, a manager who has successfully navigated the third tier in the past is favoured. It is not a league for the faint-hearted and Sunderland’s financial woes mean it is unlikely to the time for gambling.
Of course, the two main names in the fame would bring a touch of extra prestige to the dug-out, at this level at least.
Chris Wilder has impressed this season and is forging a reputation as a serial winner at any level.
Michael Appleton does not boast the same record when it comes to promotions but did well when given time at Oxford United and has also spent a lot of time at the cutting edge of coaching in the Premier League.
Both would have a strong and immediate knowledge of the market in terms of players and would help the Black Cats quickly capitalise on the club’s obvious prestige.
In a summer where Martin Bain has already said that 14 players are likely to be need, the benefits there are clear.
Incomings, though, are only a tiny part of the bigger picture.
One of Jackett’s earliest and boldest moves was to place four expensive, wantaway senior players on the transfer list and move them away from the main squad.
They became known as the ‘bomb squad’.
They continued to be a continuing drain on the club’s resources, going through loan moves before finally moving off the books for good.
It is here where Donald’s pockets could be hit hardest.
Many players may well want to move on this summer but that does not mean they will simply leave for any offer.
Ultimately, it took a number of windows for Wolves to get back on an even keel.
If Fosun, the group who have powered Nuno’s team this year, saw the club as a perfect opportunity for growth and investment then that owed much to what happened at the very bottom of the curve.
It is there that Donald and his backers will hope to emulate that League One success.
Many of the roots are in place.
There is some sparkling young talent, a passionate fanbase that will turn out in numbers.
Without the burden of debt, there is a fighting chance to put the club on an even keel financially.
What is needed is the right managerial appointment and a modest investment in players who can offer experience and guile in the third and second tiers.
Wolves may have been thumped at the Stadium of Light on Sunday, but that already seemed a distant memory as supporters lined the streets less than 24 hours later.
It was the culmination of a long and at times painful (before this season’s success there were two campaigns of painful stagnation) journey.
Sunderland are about to set out on that long road. Supporters will hope that it is their own bright new dawn.