It has been a week of recriminations on Wearside, and absolutely rightly so. The manner of Sunderland’s defeat against Norwich was worthy of inquest, and little at the club has been able to avoid the spotlight since.
That’s understandable, really. Watching the shambles on the pitch last week was a hugely uncomfortable experience.
In fact, it was a disgrace.
However, hearing the headline-grabbing chants directed at Ellis Short in response to the on-pitch ineptitude was, for me, even more uncomfortable.
Let’s be clear here. There is, of course, a degree of accountability from the top. If you were to ask me if Short has made mistakes at Sunderland since assuming the chairmanship from Niall Quinn in 2011, then I’d not be lacking in suggestions.
In fact, if you asked Short himself the same question, he’d likely say the same as well as citing a few I’d missed too. There is also, to my knowledge, not a queue of billionaires at the Stadium of Light doors pleading for the opportunity to prop up a Premier League football club.
“Are you watching Ellis Short?” was the question from the stands against Norwich and, yes, I’m quite sure he was watching, just like we all were.
Watching people paid millions to be athletes yet refusing to commit to any especially notable physical exertion; watching players recklessly neglect their defensive responsibilities before jogging back shaking their head; watching professional footballers who lack the simple courage to attack space, preferring instead to surrender it with endless sideways and backwards ‘safe’ options.
I expect he watched it all and felt as cheated as the rest of us. How could he not?
This is someone who is the biggest benefactor in the club’s history by far and who personally funds a shortfall in the club’s accounts every single season. He is someone who has, contrary to silly internet rumours surrounding the new TV deal, never taken a single penny out of the club.
It’s easy to look at his personal worth and call for more backing, but with Financial Fair Play rules in place – Premier League ones that can result in a points deduction, not the UEFA ones that are more commonly referenced – a club who already rely on his investment just to break even, and money already tied-up in previous deals, just how freely Short is able to spend is unlikely to be as clear-cut an answer as has been suggested.
And I accept the argument that much of the existing investment in previous deals is down to mistakes made on his watch. I get that. I’m just more interested in practical solutions and question where spending more money we don’t have really fits into that.
Frankly, it’s the players who must bear the brunt of the responsibility, and I find it quite remarkable that they are almost being excused on the grounds of “not being good enough”.
Could the Sunderland squad benefit from an injection of added quality? Absolutely. Show me a squad that couldn’t.
However, are people really trying to tell me they saw the Norwich City or Leicester City teams on paper and instantly thought they blew their Sunderland counterparts out of the water, quality-wise? How many would get pulses racing if they were linked with a move to Wearside tomorrow?
This Sunderland squad is hardly a bunch of talentless no-hopers. True, they are going to find dominating opposition beyond them at this level, but are perfectly capable of competing. Or at least they should be.
When Lee Cattermole is openly admitting that “at the moment we are not fighting for each other” and Yann M’Vila is imploring his team-mates “get going and work hard for each other”, the debate about quality becomes secondary.
It’s still there, and it’s still a big 10 days or so ahead in the transfer market without question, but there are far more pressing issues to be concerned about than the owner.
He’s not the one refusing to close down the opposition, or defend, or sprint, or take responsibility in possession, or commit to displaying any discernible signs at all of being willing to fight for this football club.
I don’t know what is preventing these current players from at least competing on a football pitch right now, but it’s definitely not Ellis Short.