These are the short and long-term issues Jim Rodwell must address in his crucial new Sunderland role
Sunderland announced the appointment of Jim Rodwell as the club’s CEO on Wednesday morning.
He arrives at a critical juncture for both Sunderland and the wider game.
Here are the short and long-term issues he will be tasked with addressing….
Navigating the COVID-19 crisis in the short-term
Rodwell will join at a time when the future of the current campaign remains uncertain.
The majority of League One clubs are still minded to play the season to a conclusion when safe to do so, and it seems almost certain that this will be behind-closed-doors.
Peterborough United Chairman Darragh MacAnthony, one of the most vocal advocates in playing to a finish, said earlier this week that Sunderland had contacted him to offer their support for his stance.
A number of League One and League Two clubs have also grouped together to propose that amongst other measures, EFL Chairman Rick Parry implements a proper wage-control system for next season.
This is something Sunderland are believed to be in favour of.
Rodwell, who formerly sat on the EFL board of directors, is likely to be an important figure in the coming weeks as Sunderland lobby for their preferred outcomes.
Preparing Sunderand for the long-term repercussions
Sunderland have furloughed a number of staff from both the playing and non-playing sections of the club.
In an open letter to supporters, Chairman Stewart Donald said that there were no plans at this stage to ask players for wage deferrals or cuts.
There is nevertheless an acceptance that this is a fast-moving and uncertain situation and Rodwell’s task, alongside the rest of the board, will therefore be two-fold.
One, to assess and mitigate against the implications of a lay-off beyond the summer months in which the EFL still hopes to complete the campaign.
Secondly, to assess and mitigate the financial impact of playing behind-closed-doors for a significant period.
The knock-on effect in terms of sponsorships and the like will be significant and there could yet be big decisions to be made on season-ticket payments, an absolutely central part of the club’s current revenue stream.
Clearly, the fate of this current campaign and how it concludes is going to have a major impact on the vast number of critical contract decisions that Sunderland have to make.
Phil Parkinson has already said that many will be determined by what division the Black Cats find themselves in next season.
His proposal was that Sunderland plan budgets for both scenarios and so are ready to move quickly when they know.
The COVID-19 crisis only adds another layer of uncertainty but Sunderland’s preparation for this current campaign has been shown to have been inadequate, and the same cannot happen again, no matter what comes of this current season.
It is not unusual for clubs at this level to have a number of players heading towards the end of their deals, and after two seasons in League One, an element of turnover is certain.
The key is in preparation and being able to move quickly.
The next few weeks and months will be crucial in that regard.
Sunderland, it is worth remembering, currently have 12 players due to leave the club on June 30th.
Major decisions will also have to be made throughout the academy age groups. Significant recruitment is going to be required given that the majority of the U18 squad have been told that they will not be retained.
A number of U23 players also seem likely to leave and some have indeed already found new clubs.
Academy Director Paul Reid is now off furlough leave and this will be a key area to address alongside Rodwell.
Sunderland’s recruitment since their relegation to League One (and long before that) has been mixed, to say the least.
Former manager Jack Ross regularly called for an improvement to the club’s structures and the recent series of Sunderland ‘Til I Die highlighted that the approach has too often seemed muddled and a touch scattergun.
Sunderland’s recruitment strategy has not seemed co-ordinated or coherent.
There have been some notable successed, with the excellent performances of Jordan Willis and Luke O’Nien showing that there are bargains to be had, players with a big resale value who can also improve with the club.
Non-executive director David Jones has been taking a keen interest in this department since his arrival and has lobbied for greater investment over and above the expansion of Tony Coton’s recruitment network earlier this season.
As CEO, this will be a central part of Rodwell’s remit and his success or otherwise in this department will be one of the key areas in which he will be judged.
What next for Sunderland Ladies?
Sunderland Ladies saw their season come to a premature end, with all results from their remarkable campaign expunged.
While a statement from the FA suggested that there would be no promotion from tier three, the reality is that the game is entering a period of severe uncertainty.
No one knows how clubs are going to come through the current crisis and until the FA confirm the licences for next season’s Championship campaign, it is impossible to say what will come next.
Sunderland had started the application process for promotion and it is currently unclear how that has progressed.
If the licence application is opened up at some stage over the summer, then the outstanding squad and staff so dominant this season deserve the full backing of the club to give them the opportunity to progress.
The continuously strong Sunderland presence in the England squad serves as a constant reminder of the talent in the city and region, and the emergence of a number of exciting young players in Melanie Reay’s squad simply underlines it.
Second-tier football is a must, if the opportunity presents itself.
The change in ownership at the end of the 2018/19 season marked a transformation in the club’s communications.
The new regime spoke directly to fans and with an at times eye-watering candidness on many matters behind the scenes.
The direct and regular approach to communications peaked in the aggressive campaign that saw a record attendance for the Boxing Day victory over Bradford City.
This season has been an altogether different story, with a sparing and often frustrating approach taken.
Fans have regularly been left confused as to the club’s strategy, summed up most neatly in the ongoing uncertainty over the process to sell the club.
Only recently, Charlie Methven said that he expected the club to be in new hands by the end of May.
Stewart Donald then said that the COVID-19 outbreak had slowed the process, and also that he hoped to retain a small stake in the club and would even stay in situ if fans said that was their preference.
Rodwell’s appointment in itself is surely a tacit recognition that even if the club remains for sale in the medium-term, a swift change is not on the cards.
Communication is one area where it has been clear that a CEO based on Wearside could make a significant difference and that extends to the leadership of club staff, who would surely benefit from a hands-on presence to offer guidance and support on a day-to-day basis.