Martin Bain searches for a new owner as Sunderland searches for its identity

Brian Clough in Sunderland's colours in 1961.
Brian Clough in Sunderland's colours in 1961.
0
Have your say

Nigel Clough may not have his father’s natural charisma, but there are still moments when you can’t fail to see Old Big ’Ead looking back at you.

Anyone who has had the pleasure of visiting the Pirelli Stadium will know from his touchline demeanour that the same abrasiveness with his players has been passed down a generation.

Clearly, a little of the old magic has also been inherited. If Clough sees the Brewers over the line for a second consecutive season, keeping Burton Albion in the Championship for a third straight year, it will be a truly extraordinary feat.

While Darren Bent took the headlines in Saturday’s win to send Sunderland down, there was a certain irony in the son of one of Sunderland’s finest pushing them towards the drop.

It was moving, too.

Clough spoke with striking sincerity and affection afterwards.

On his father Brian, he said: “He never said ‘I want to manage Man United, Liverpool, Arsenal’ or anything like that – but he talked about this one.”

There, at Sunderland’s absolute lowest ebb, was a reminder of what they once were, what they could be.

The grandeur and the passion, just waiting to be unlocked, rediscovered.

Clough’s name evokes the best of Sunderland and its heritage, at stark odds with what we have now.

Sunderland currently is a club without identity or direction, now punching embarrassingly below its weight.

In the aftermath of this second relegation, chief executive Martin Bain admitted that he had arrived with a vision for the club but it had quickly been consumed by the need to make ends meet.

Bain’s arrival coincided with owner Ellis Short’s decision to drastically scale back his investment and it has been ‘make do and mend’ ever since.

Short has essentially put the club through a period of shock therapy and it has been far too much, far too soon.

The consequences can be seen in a woefully lopsided squad, full of short-term contracts that mean continuity and a common goal is impossible to establish.

By his own admission, Bain’s work in the recruitment department has not been good enough and, two years after his appointment, he is no closer to finding the answers.

There have been few, if any, transfer successes since he took the helm.

Like most on Wearside, he has put his hopes for the club’s future in a takeover and now admits that facilitating a deal is his ultimate priority.

It has fallen to him to push any interested parties over the line, to try to encourage them to look past the bloated wage bill, the falling revenues and the underperforming squad – to eee that this was a club once fit for a Clough and perhaps could one day be again.

If a new owner arrives, they will have two enormous tasks.

One, to sort out a dressing room that is in desperate need of an overhaul.

As Clough once said: “It just needs one bad ’un to affect the rest.” During Short’s failed tenure there have been plenty.

Two, to bring the supporters back closer to their club, to sell them a vision that they can believe in.

That one will be the easier.

As Sunderland boss Chris Coleman said following his first win all the way back in November: “They want to come back, but they’re waiting for us. We have to get them back.”

The supporters’ loyalty is immense and there is no doubt they are desperate to hold onto something.

Bain knows that passing the club into new hands is the best way to do that.

If that doesn’t happen, he and Coleman hope to convince Short to re-engage, even if only on a modest scale.

Then, to bring in players who, like Coleman, see playing for this club as a once in a lifetme opportunity.

Perhaps then something of an identity will emerge, a team that supporters can identify with more easily.

It will not be easy, however. No simpler than it has been at any point in the last two years.

Memories of Clough and golden ages seem more distant than ever.