Stewart Donald's Sunderland in-tray - six crucial challenges facing new owner

Stewart Donald says the hard work starts Monday - and he has a big to-do list waiting for him.

Saturday, 19th May 2018, 1:30 pm
Updated Saturday, 19th May 2018, 1:36 pm

We examine the key challenges facing the new regime, with appointing a new manager top of the pile once the takeover is officially confirmed early next week.

Managerial appointment & recruitment strategy

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One of the first priorities for the new regime will be to appoint a new manager.

Reports on Friday suggested Chris Wilder could be on the brink of signing a new deal at Bramall Lane, which would likely make Appleton the frontrunner.

The Blades ownership have resolved to secure his future and will offer him a deal running to the summer of 2021.

Appleton is currently assistant to Claude Puel at Leicester City, and knows the new regime at Sunderland well having managed at Oxford United, where Donald had a strong interest, for three years.

Stewart Donald.

He oversaw their promotion for League Two before taking them to the brink of the League One play-offs, as well as two Checkatrade Trophy finals.

Alex Rae became the bookmakers' favourite for the post on Friday but the new regime favour a candidate with a track record of success in the Football League.

They initially had a shortlist of three candidates, two of which were Wilder and Appleton.

They are eager to make an appointment swiftly with a significant amount of work to be done on the squad this summer.

Stewart Donald.

Contract decisions

It would be a surprise if any of the players coming towards the end of their deals are kept on and calls will also have to be made on those under contract.

John O'Shea, who wants to stay, Kazenga LuaLua, Marc Wilson and Billy Jones are all out of contract this summer.

Should Sunderland want to add any free agents of their own to the squad for next season, they will have to move fast if they are to avoid losing out to rival clubs.

Boardroom restructuring

Sunderland’s board under the old regime included owner Ellis Short, chief executive Martin Bain, financial director Angela Lowes and Per-Magnus Andersson, an associate of the owner.

It seems highly likely that Bain will depart once the deal is confirmed, and Andersson’s involvement will almost certainly end too.

After a traumatic period for supporters, greater accountability and clarity at the top will be vital and one hopes that the new group heed a call from supporters group the Red and White

Army for honesty and openness with supporters.

Donald has made that one of the key features of his time at Eastleigh and while Sunderland is a different beast entirely, he has promised on twitter to engage wherever possible.

Clearly, transparency over the other investors and who will be involved in decision making at the club will be absolutely vital.

Jack Rodwell

The new owner could show serious intent by bringing an end to the Jack Rodwell saga.

The costly impasse has cast a major cloud over this season and there seems to be little prospect of a resolution coming about that sees Rodwell moving to another club, particularly after he turned down a deadline day loan move to the Eredivisie.

A settlement will likely have to be reached with regards to the last year of his contract and while it would be a financial hit for the investors, it would be one that truly signalled change on the horizon.

Wage bill

Rodwell is not the only player on a significant wage and the onerous bill is one of the reasons that Short has had to pump money into the club on a monthly basis.

Sunderland will need to cut their costs significantly in preparation for a League One campaign. The wage bill last year was £35million.

That means getting good deals for those signed in the Premier League era whose contract does not include an automatic cut next season and those currently out on loan.

Easier said than done.


In the slightly longer term picture is the club’s expensive but fruitful category one academy.

Under Short and Bain, there were no plans to downgrade that status following relegation, despite the significant costs attached.

The new regime will likely hope for a swift return to the top tiers of the game and thus an increase in revenue streams.

Sunderland’s academy products will surely form the bedrock of a team next year whoever takes a spot in the dug-out.