'He wants to be challenged' - David Jones on working with Stewart Donald, his Sunderland role and what fans can expect

After his appointment as non-executive director, David Jones speaks to the Echo about his new role and determination to help Sunderland turn things around

Thursday, 19th December 2019, 3:57 pm

One of the first conversations David Jones had yesterday was with his Dad.

He was, not surprisingly, one of many keen to spell out to Sunderland’s new non-executive director just what had gone wrong.

Jones has lived and breathed Sunderland for over 35 years and it explains why, at its lowest ebb, he has answered the call to try and do something about it.

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Sunderland AFC executive director David Jones

It’s a tall order, a club in need of significant attention in the short term and a more coherent strategy in the long term.

His role will be limited, balanced against his significant commitments in his role as a Sky Sports presenter.

On Wearside to begin assessing the situation, he is keen to stress that he has no magic wand, no instant cure.

His role will be to challenge, to ask questions, and to ensure the club is making the right decisions for now and for the future.

Sunderland AFC executive director David Jones

The exact scope is not yet defined, but it’s a role he executed successfully at Oxford United, working closely with then-chairman Darryl Eales.

“It’s all happened very quickly,” he explains.

“Stewart and I had a sort of very occasional dialogue over the time that he has been here. I’d met him a few times while I was at director at Oxford.

“When he took over the club I was hugely surprised and did reach out to say that I’d be delighted to help if I could.

Sunderland AFC executive director David Jones

“I was just leaving Oxford and so it seemed like a natural fit in that sense.

“He had his own way of doing things and wanted to go with his own team, which has obviously changed in recent weeks, and I think that he felt there were some gaps that needed filling.

“I won’t be here on a day-to-day basis, that’s the honest answer,” he adds.

“I have a job with Sky and Stewart is very aware that is my priority. I’m a non-executive, which means I have in essence a part-time role here, I don’t want people to have false sense of what I’m doing.

“I’m not coming in on a white horse, to be here 24/7.

“I will help in any area that I can but it’s fair to say that my priority will be on the sporting side, and others will take care of the commercial and business side.

“We’ve spoken about structures around the first team, the academy, recruitment, and I think they probably all need addressing.

“It’s something we did at Oxford and I think I’m in a good position to help in that sense.

“We desperately need to create an environment where, players, managers and coaches can be successful.

“It’s not been that way for such a long time, I’ve sat on the outside like any other fan and thought, something needs to be addressed here.

“I’m in a position to do that now and hopefully I can.”

His arrival is a significant boost for Donald at a time when his ownership has been criticised more heavily than at any time during his tenure.

A wretched run of form on the pitch has coincided with growing concerns about its trajectory off it.

It’s a fraught time for Jones to arrive and he is putting his reputation on the line.

To that end, he is clear.

Discussions with Donald have left him confident and assured that his voice will be heard and that the response to his ideas will be receptive.

He insists he ‘won’t be here very long’ if that proves not to be the case.

“At this stage, it’s the only club I would have done it for,” he says.

“I’ve got a great job which I’m very passionate about, a family that I love spending time with.

“So to pull me away for any length of time, it was going to take something pretty big, and there’s no other club that would have done that.

“Plus, I think I can help, I think I can have an impact. If I can’t, I won’t be here for very long.

“Stewart is aware of that and to his credit, I think that is why he got me in,” he adds.

“I think he’s the kind of guy who likes to be challenged, and he will know that there’s an awful lot at stake for me personally. This is the football club I’ve supported for over 35 years, I’m not coming into this lightly because I don’t want to spoil that relationship that I have with the club and the fans.

“But it’s very clear to me and I’m sure that it’s clear to Stewart as well, if I don’t have the impact that I want to have, I won’t be here very long.

“This is not a vanity project for me, I’m coming in to try and help.

“If I don’t feel I can, I won’t be here very long.”

An upcoming January window presents neat summation of where Jones will try to have an impact.

Jones will meet with Head of Recruitment Tony Coton and manager Phil Parkinson this afternoon [Thursday] to discuss the plans for a crucial window.

Beyond that, he will work to ensure there is a long-term strategy to recruitment.

Coton operated with threadbare resources for his first year in the job but recently saw his scouting network expanded.

Jones will take a keen interest in that, his goal to try and bring ‘best practice’ to the club’s sporting operations.

“I’m under no illusions as to why I’m here now, because the club are 12th in League One,” he says.

“If we were in the Championship, I wouldn’t have got the call.

“We’re ten days or so before the opening of the transfer window and we need to make sure we’re not making mistakes.

“The first team needs bodies and it needs strengthening, but it has to be done in a structured way, which is hopefully the first thing that I can help with.

“In the longer term, as part of the club’s fall down the leagues, a lot has been stripped away and people know that, and we need to put building blocks in place to make sure that Sunderland is that at the top of people’s list.

“I’ll meet Tony Coton at the Academy today.

“I’ve spent time on the phone with Phil and after training today we’ll sit down and talk about that strategy.

“I want to bring best practice to our football club in every single area.

“The academy, the recruitment team, the scouting network.

“All that then feeds into having a first team that fans can be proud of.

“Hopefully we came inroads slowly but surely, while knowing that team is not on our side.

“I don’t have a magic wand, as much I’d love one, but I have their best interests and the football club’s best interests at heart with every single decision that I make.”

The response from supporters has been a reflection of the esteem in which he has held and as he gets to work there are both nerves and excitement.

“I didn’t expect that.

“I know what this football club means, I’ve lived and breathed it for all this time and I just hope “I can help bring smiles back to the fans faces, because they are the biggest asset this club has.

“What I’d like to do is help change the narrative.

“This club and the fans have been like a kicking ball in the media and in football for far too long.

“They’re the biggest asset and if we can get things driving forward, I’ve seen what the momentum can do here.

“It doesn’t much to get that snowball rolling and once it does, there won’t be much stopping it.”