David Preece: Why Stewart Donald’s cull must continue to the very heart of Sunderland

Stewart Donald
Stewart Donald
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To illustrate how quickly last week’s proceedings moved, Stewart Donald was still making phone calls the day before the game to get tickets for Sunderland’s match at Craven Cottage last Friday.

By Sunday, agreements had been made, a manager had been culled and millions of pounds of debt, in principle at least, had been cleared.

That’s a lot of work done in such a short space of time.

You’d think someone on the cusp of such a huge takeover would have had access to as many tickets as they needed to watch a club that potentially would be theirs within days, but that wasn’t the case. Saturday must have been a busy day for a few people.

Whether the tickets were for himself or not, perhaps the fact he didn’t just commandeer them through more official channels says more about Donald the man, showing him in a positive light, than anything else.

It goes along with the opinion that whilst a very wealthy and ambitiously-driven individual, he is also unassuming, very personable and popular among those who have worked with him.

Those ambitions included giving Eastleigh the finances which should have taken them closer to the Football League than they have reached, and investing in Oxford United, a club where I was under the impression his long-term plans lay.

The Eastleigh part of that story is an interesting one. After early successes of promotion into the National League and a play-off place in their first season at that level, the club stagnated.

Some might say they consolidated in a league they were still new to, but with experienced players recruited and the League 1 salaries they were paying, particularly in those first couple of seasons, expectations could quite rightly be raised beyond just staying in that division.

The quality on the pitch and the finances afforded to build the squad weren’t capitalised on by those in the dugout though and couldn’t be converted in to a genuine promotion challenge.

Eastleigh have had a wealth of league experience on the pitch and off it. Richard Hill, Ronnie Moore, Martin Allen and Andy Hessenthaler have all attempted to bring the success their chairman’s backing deserved. That’s an all-too-familiar tale for Sunderland fans and perhaps the first cause to worry beyond the initial elation from the takeover news.

Aided by the next parachute payment from the Premier League, a debt-free Sunderland is an attractive proposition for anyone, but more than anything gives the new owners the best chance of bouncing back at the first attempt as you are going to get. With that, though, comes huge pressure to make their first managerial appointment the right one.

Of course, there is pressure on every appointment to be the right one but certainly after relieving Chris Coleman, a man who had wholeheartedly given himself to the club, of his duties, that decision must be proved right even more so.

Even days before the news came through, the messages surrounding a new manager began filtering through.

“A deal to bring Jaap Stam in has already been done, with negotiations for a Director of Football, possibly Paul Ince, ongoing ... Paul Cook is coming in with Peter Reid ... Puel is leaving Leicester at the end of the season and Michael Appleton is coming in at Sunderland ... Chris Wilder is looking to get out of Sheffield United.”

Whoever it is that comes in, once the EFL review has been concluded, they need to know that this has to be a totally new Sunderland. New owners, new management team, new players.

We’ve already been through the ‘on paper, this team should be good enough to stay up/go up in this division’ stage. It hasn’t and won’t be.

This is the chance to rid ourselves of the recent past and put us on the right path. No pussyfooting about.

Devise a clear plan and direction for the club to follow, allow the players who want to leave to go, weed out those who have continually failed, and put someone in charge who has the experience of leading sides out of this division. Which puts Cook and Wilder at the top of the list.

Not only will they bring the promotion know-how, but also the type of character needed at this moment in time. And more than anything, it’s character and personality that has been lacking at Sunderland for far too long.

Perennial survival was only ever a cloak that disguised an ineptitude that led us to where we are now. If this takeover is the answer to the problems that will end the decay, the cull can’t end at Coleman.