When Sunderland fans look back over Ellis Short’s tenure as owner, the final two years will be most prominent.
Finally installing David Moyes at the helm; an aspiration of the American’s that was meant to have a much happier ending after a long-term chase, bringing an end to the club’s decade-long stay in the Premier League, and, of course, most recently, enduring the drop into the third tier of English football for only the second time in the club’s 139-year history.
In truth, the 57-year-old’s legacy will always be tainted in the eyes of the supporters. No matter the number of pleas, well-wishes or statements; the overriding feeling of mistrust and disconnect from those who have regularly grimed and bared the both depleted and defeated Stadium of Light cannot be repaired. Time is said to heal all wounds; however, on Wearside, that may not be the case where Short is concerned.
The Bad Times
Of course, it is not just the 24 months prior to Sunday where ill-advised decision-making has been atop of the agenda regarding the Black Cats; most notably being the handling of former chief executive Margaret Byrne.
“I sincerely regret that this error has impacted on the victim, the club, its supporters and all those affected in such a devastating manner,” were the board member’s words after her knowledge of Adam Johnson’s actions became clear.
Over a year following her resignation, it was revealed the disgraced hierarchy sitter received a £750,000 payout in a ‘confidentially agreement’ from the club; a fee sanctioned by the owner shortly before the winger was sentenced to six years in prison. Fast-forward to today, and somehow Byrne continues to play a role in the circus which Sunderland has become; with the 37-year-old representing Academy of Light product George Honeyman – whose contract, including agent fees, was renewed last summer.
And Short’s misjudgement of character did not stop with the former CEO. Lee Congerton and Roberto Di Fanti were just two calamitous appointments following the conclusion of the Drumaville Consortium era, with Martin Bain; a man heavily blamed for his part in the demise of Glasgow Rangers previously, the latest name etched onto the list of executive catastrophes.
Closer to the pitch, things were not much better. Spells under the stewardship of Paolo Di Canio, Ricky Sbragia, Dick Advocaat, Moyes and Simon Grayson all ended in the same way; worsening the club’s rather eye-watering debt; either by payoff or subsidence of income. And even though the Jack Rodwell debacle cannot solely be placed at Short’s door, hiring personnel of Congerton’s ilk; who believed the lack of a wage reduction clause ahead of joining a constantly relegation-threatened club would have no repercussions, speaks volumes.
The Good Times?
But amid the overshadowing negativity, are there any positives to be found? Simply put, yes. Although Short’s decision-making has effectively led to the worst years of the club’s history, there were also needles in haystacks-worth of correct choices along the way. Had Roy Hodgson’s England not been humiliated by Iceland in the 2016 European Championships, for example, Wearside could well be hosting Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool next season, rather than Accrington Stanley, Doncaster Rovers or AFC Wimbledon.
The appointment of Sam Allardyce was a shrewd move, both in terms of business and nostalgia; with the former Roker Park favourite remembered fondly for his one-year spell at the club in the 1980s as well as known for extracting efficiency from the touchline without breaking the bank. And the blame for his departure does not belong to the American.
2014 and Gus Poyet was another. Although the Uruguayan is not remembered positively by some, his spell brought about the club’s most exciting season in recent history, and gave memories that will last a lot longer. Despite not lifting the Capital One Cup, witnessing the hoards of red and white take over Covent Garden, and Wembley Stadium a day later, will always provide comfort and hope that ‘things can only get better’.
A Look Ahead
No one really knows what lies in store for Sunderland under the impending ownership of the Stewart Donald-led consortium. How deep the pockets are of his fellow buyers will be a significant factor, and is one which is yet uncovered. According to Short, this group were the ones to fit the bill; in the American’s words, “higher offers from less qualified buyers were rejected.”
Whether or not that instils confidence remains to be seen – given his decision-making track-record. However, the opportunity to start again; to reset debt-free, as James Hunter said, ‘must be seized with both hands.’
Although, scepticism and caution are no bad thing. Michael Gray’s recent comments, whether yet proven or not, certainly offer questions, and the decision from the soon to be owners to sack Chris Coleman without an assured replacement is a little unnerving.
Short’s reign will not be remembered with fondness, and nor should it be. But the small glimmers of relative success that came along the way should also not be forgotten. The American may have been negligent, but he was not, as some believed, out to purposefully dismantle a once proud football club for his amusement; with the financial state he is leaving it in proof of that.
And it is now up to the new owners to make sure the dark days of the American’s reign are indeed placed into the history books, never to be returned to again. But until they are given the opportunity, Sunderland will be left in a different kind of darkness.
Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t?