Martin Bain starts summer signing drive and discusses club’s persistent recruitment failures

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Sunderland is a club that knows its problems, yet feels unable to solve them.

Long-serving midfielder Lee Cattermole has spoken of it regularly, the churn of turning over 16/17 players every pre-season and the effect that has on morale and chemistry.

Martin Bain and assistant boss Kit Symons survey the scene at the Stadium of Light. Picture by Frank Reid

Martin Bain and assistant boss Kit Symons survey the scene at the Stadium of Light. Picture by Frank Reid

Manager Chris Coleman has spoken of not having a squad robust enough for the challenge of a full season. David Moyes did the same last term.

Chief executive Martin Bain, too, has spoken regularly of his frustrations at being unable to end Sunderland’s woeful recruitment record.

Too often they are left dependent on short-team deals and the vision has been questionable at best.

It is one of the main criticisms that has been laid at Bain’s door.

In particular, there’s the decision to sell Vito Mannone last summer, compounded by the failures of the three goalkeepers brought in to replace him.

Bain defended that by hinting at the Italian’s desire to leave the club following relegation from the top flight, and also insisting that it was the only way to provide Simon Grayson with the bodies he needed for his Championship squad.

With another 14 or 15 players needed this summer, that will have alarm bells ringing with regards to what comes next should Ellis Short not to be able to sell the club.

The chief executive insists that the failures are an issue of money.

“I totally understand it. I sense the frustrations and I share them,” he said, when asked about the supporters’ anguish and anger.

“What we’ve been doing is buying and loaning players that we can afford, as opposed to buying players that we can invest in to take the club forward.

“Fundamentally, that’s a problem.

“So you have little money and a number of positions that needs filling. So you need bodies.

“I know that sounds very basic, but it is where we are at.

“This club should not be in a situation where it has seven loan players.”

Bain inherited a mess of a football club, pointing out that one of his first actions was to find £9million to pay for Ricky Alvarez, following the fiasco over the Argentinian.

This season, he has had to pay an exorbitant wage to a player who does not want to be here and is not part of the first-team picture.

But should Sunderland be better at finding players in the lower leagues, or other areas of the British Isles?

After all, most of the Black Cats’ recent promotion sides have been built on that type of spine – and the likes of Cardiff, Millwall and Brentford have shown that it is not all about cash alone.

“I do ask myself that question a lot,” Bain said.

“I look back to the time we were in the Premier League and we were struggling to find a central defender.

“I couldn’t understand why, for example, you couldn’t look to Bundesliga II where there is a decent quality of player and you think you’d be able to get them in a little bit cheaper, but it just didn’t seem to be the case.

“With regards to the lower leagues, I do think we’ve got a reach, a network.

“Is it perfect? No.

“Have we been distracted by some of the other issues we’ve had to contend with? Yes, to be frank.

“In terms of the knowledge base with the people we have here now, it is there.”

So how can Sunderland prevent another summer of failure?

Bain admits that for now, all depends on whether he can help convince one of the various interested parties to take over the club.

In the meantime, he and Coleman are essentially operating on the basis that Short will still be in charge and the budget will be severely limited.

The first free agents have been sounded out.

“We haven’t been standing still in recent weeks and months when it comes to recruitment, even if we don’t really know what we’re dealing with,” he said.

“We’ve been speaking about players in League One with a view to joining us, whichever league we find ourselves in.

“You wouldn’t believe some of the values being attached, even at that level.

“Whether that is because we’re Sunderland, I don’t know.

“It may change over time with where we’re at now.

“In the past fortnight, I’ve probably spoken to five or six agents about players who are coming out of contract and fit the bill for us.

“At the same time, we’ve identified players who we would like to bring in, who are affordable and could develop money for the club going forward.

“At the moment, they’re just out of our reach, and that makes it difficult.

“We haven’t stood still – we have identified players in numerous positions.

“The big thing for us to get to grips with is getting the right type of players who fit the culture, and we haven’t done that in the past.

“We’re getting to grips with that now.”

After an ill-fated reshuffle saw Simon Wilson arrive and leave the club before Premier League relegation was confirmed, Bain put in place a new structure that included academy director Jimmy Sinclair and saw a promotion to head of recruitment for Neale McDermott.

Manager Coleman and assistant boss Kit Symons will clearly be massively influential both in identifying talent and convincing them to make the switch.

There is little time to waste and no room for failure.

We have been here before.