What any new owner could learn from Niall Quinn, whose Sunderland departure fans still mourn

Ten paragraphs was all it took to bring some hope to Wearside.

Tuesday, 27th March 2018, 7:00 am
Niall Quinn celebrates scoring against Spurs in 1999

A report from the national media suggesting that Niall Quinn was dusting off the famous magic carpet once more.

Even the very mention of the name was enough to take minds off the utter woe that has been following Sunderland this season, to think of a better and more optimistic future.

That’s Niall for you. Extraordinarily charismatic, a figurehead who inspires belief at every turn.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The excitement Sunderland fans felt on Monday morning was not based purely on a nostalgic glow, but in the knowledge that Quinn is a man who can bring direction and belief, to move the club forward from an acrimonious time.

Of course, memories of the protracted takeover saga from last summer, and indeed the saga just up the road, serve as an obvious reminder that these negotiations are complex and bring a myriad of twist and turns.

What we can say with some certainty is that Quinn has been a sounding board for potential investors in Sunderland, but that no deal has come or is close to coming to fruition. We can also say that there is little prospect of him returning to the frontline, in anything like the capacity of his 2006 arrival.

He has only recent launched his latest business venture, the fanzfirst app, and news of his potential role in a consortium came as a great surprise to those inside the Stadium of Light. There is interest in the club but no party associated with Quinn is thought to be in the queue.

Whoever does take over the club from Ellis Short, whenever that may be, would be well advised to seek Quinn’s counsel.

It is worth remembering the words of Martin O’Neill shortly after Quinn left the club in 2012.

“Niall has been a truly iconic figure at Sunderland, both as a player and in his time leading the club from the top,” he said.

“His vision and drive, alongside that of Ellis, played a significant part in me coming here.

“Like everyone, I couldn’t be more disappointed that he has decided to step down, but of course I respect and understand his decision. He has been the heartbeat of the football club for so long and his legacy is immeasurable. To me, he is ‘Mr Sunderland’ – and always will be.”

Reading those words back now brings a certain sadness, given the isolation O’Neill found himself in towards the end of his disappointing tenure.

O’Neill sensed a footballing vacuum had opened up in Quinn’s absence and he was right.

It was filled with charlatans, the wreckage caused still casting a cloud over the Stadium of Light.

Quinn was not a perfect Chairman. Recruitment was sometimes good and sometimes not, while many of his off-the-field appointments have come in time to look seriously misguided.

But what he achieved was to put the club back at the heart of the city, to make it feel relevant and important. To give the supporters belief and make them feel valued. Under his charge Sunderland had direction and identity.

Whoever inherits it next will find many valuable lessons in Quinn’s story. Who knows whether that has one last chapter. Most will proceed with scepticism and that is the right path to take.

What we can say for certain is that whether or not it comes to anything, Quinn will never stop selling Sunderland. Its people, its club, its DNA. To anyone who will listen.

The love is mutual and will forever be so.