Everything we know about the major changes heading for Sunderland and the key questions still unanswered

Sunderland supporters have been eagerly awaiting news on the future of their club, with a takeover believed to be close and a vacancy in the dugout still to be filled.

Thursday, 3rd December 2020, 4:00 pm

Thursday brought news of one of the pieces of the puzzle that is perhaps falling into place.

Here's everything we know so far...

Who is Kristjaan Speakman and what have we learned?

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Sunderland are searching for a replacement for Phil Parkinson

Speakman is the frontrunner to be installed as the club's new technical director.

It's likely to be one of the first steps in a series of key appointments to reset the club's footballing operations.

It's well known that the club is currently operating without a chair of the board, recruitment chief, academy manager and U18s manager.

Speakman is one of the figures expected to step in to fill some of the void.

He has been at Birmingham City since 2006, and has been Academy Manager since 2010.

In recent times he has also seen his responsibilities rise, including offering technical advice to the board. The arrival of Aitor Karanka in the summer seems to have lessened his brief slightly, perhaps suggesting why he is open to a new opportunity, particularly at a Category One academy.

His time at Birmingham has seen a number of future internationals rise through the ranks before bringing in major fees, such as Jack Butland, Demarai Gray, Nathan Redmond and Jude Bellingham.

What does the role of technical director actually entail?

The scope of a technical director, or a director of football, can vary significantly from club to club.

In some instances it can simply mean a role in player recruitment at senior level. In others, it can encompass everything from the academy, recruitment, to loan management.

Speakman's likely appointment at Sunderland reflects the work and reputaiton he has built in both talent development and talent retention at St Andrews.

Both have been critical issues at the club since its descent into League One and are thought to be pressing priorities moving forward.

The U23 side, so poor last season, has seen some investment this summer and the results have been encouraging, but there is a vast amount of work still to be done.

Speakman's exact remit, should his appointment be confirmed, will be easier to define when it is placed into the context of any other changes.

For example, the role of Academy Manager remains unfilled, while the recruitment department is in need of significant strengthening.

Speakman is almost certain to have a role in a revamped recruitment set-up, though just how significant a figure he is in that department remains to be seen.

Is this all linked to the impending takeover?

The proposed change of majority ownership, set to pass to a consortium led by Juan Sartori and Kyril Louis-Dreyfus, was believed to be a factor in the decision to part company with Phil Parkinson.

The upcoming changes to the footballing structure, then, are clearly connected with this.

It is not yet known exactly how the shareholding will break down and exactly who will be in charge of day-to-day decision making, or when a takeover will be concluded.

After an acrimonious and damaging 18 months both on and off the pitch, supporters will be keen to see any change implemented before making any judgement, particularly when the future of the current shareholders is not yet clear.

So what does this mean when it comes to the search for Phil Parkinson's replacement?

The Black Cats are thought to be looking to appoint a 'head coach' as Parkinson's replacement.

This, of course, does not rule out someone who has operated as a manager in the past.

What it means is that any candidate will be expected to have a strong coaching reputation, and be comfortable placing an emphasis on player development.

When Jack Ross left the club in 2019, senior sources quickly indicated that his successor would be a candidate with significant League One experience.

The emphasis was on someone who 'knew the level' and could quickly push the team towards the top two.

That will clearly still be part of the remit for the next appointment.

The early indications, though, suggest that the net is being cast far wider this time around and that there will be far more long-term metrics considered than immediate results.

Does this rule out any of the main contenders with the bookmakers at the moment?

Not necessarily.

None of the three current favourites, Danny Cowley, Lee Johnson and Paul Cook, operated with a technical director in their previous posts.

Johnson, though, has a very strong reputation when it comes to progressing talented youngsters.

The Barnsley squad he managed rose to the Championship under Paul Heckingbottom, and many of them went on to establish themselves in the top-two tiers (most notably former Black Cats Conor Hourihane).

At Bristol City he was a key player in the development of players such as Adam Webster and Josh Brownhill, who moved to Premier League clubs for huge fees.

Player trading was a massive part of the Robins' model and so it is far from inconceivable that he could fit into the 'head coach' mould.

As reported previously by The Echo, the bigger question is whether Johnson sees this as the right opportunity to get back into management, or whether he waits for a second-tier job or one closer to home.

Cowley has admirers on the Sunderland board, a reflection of the remarkable work he did at Lincoln City and the player progression that took place there.

Though his departure from Huddersfield Town was in part due to a significant change in the structure behind the scenes there, with Carlos Corberan installed as head coach, that doesn't necessarily mean he wouldn't fit in Sunderland's vision.

The key will be whether he is happy with the parameters set by Sunderland, and where he fits into that vision. And whether the Black Cats feel he is the best person to implement it.

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