Originally Posted by Daily MAil
Text this morning from a Mackem fan. 'Any idea what's going on at the Stadium of Light?'
Reply: 'Not a bleeding clue mate.'
Even before Niall Quinn’s new role was announced, these were strange and tense times at Sunderland. His departure, although not absolute, will leave a huge void and inevitably raises questions about Steve Bruce's future.
Quinn had always said he would be chairman of Sunderland for five to six years, and that he would know when it was time to step down. August was the fifth anniversary of the Irish takeover of the club, and Quinn’s brief stint as manager at Bury, and he has been planning this exit for months.
Three's a crowd: Sunderland owner Ellis Short, with Niall Quinn and Steve Bruce
But it is still a shock. And the timing is unfortunate, with Bruce under pressure from unhappy supporters, Quinn’s other former club Manchester City without a chief executive, and rumours of tensions in the Sunderland boardroom. All of those have been denied by the club over recent weeks. Everything is hunky-dory we're told, and have been since the derby defeat.
And then Quinn moves into the international development department, which seems top heavy with people like local politician David Milliband, and the uncertainty returns.
The smoke signals from the club indicate there is peace and harmony within the Wearside corridors of power and that manager Bruce maintains the trust and support of owner and now chairman Ellis Short.
He just needs to start winning a few football matches to keep it that way.
When Bruce was recovering from the debacle that was the 2-1 defeat at Carrow Road, it was Short who approached him with a supportive arm round his shoulder. Their relationship will grow even closer over the coming weeks, and will no doubt be tested before, during and after the next two games at Arsenal and Bolton.
But when you have worked with Birmingham’s former owners, building a bond with a determined and ambitious American businessman must seem much more straightforward for Bruce.
Short will not hesitate to act or react if there is not an improvement in the next month, especially if supporters continue to turn away in large numbers, and then directly start to question Short’s day-to-day running of their football club.
Although the insistence from the club is that nothing really changes by the shifting chairs in the boardroom, of course it does.
Short’s hands-on day-to-day involvement, and the loss of Quinn’s sensible approach, is certain to change the dynamic of Sunderland, who could well be in the football wilderness if Quinn had not answered the emergency call and grabbed the reins from Bob Murray five years ago.
Sunderland may well be enduring a sticky period in what is now their fifth successive Premier League season – in itself an achievement – but supporters only have to look down the road at Middlesbrough, and the woeful attendances for a third year of Championship football, to understand where they might be now if Quinn had not taken control.
It hardly bares thinking about. No Keane, no Bruce, no Bent, no Gyan, no Angeleri (well, you can’t have everything).
It hasn’t all been straight forward of course. Bent’s departure, although they tried to play it down, was a major blow to Sunderland’s ambitions, and their standing within the Premier League, just as Jordan Henderson leaving, and Gyan packing his bags, were not transfers the club really wanted to go through with this summer.
Unity: Sunderland showed plenty of spirit in the their last match against West Brom
But they have attracted former Manchester United and Arsenal players, and big earners with eye-watering salaries which could keep the majority of Wearside factories running for a year.
The profile of the club has changed immensely with such wages under Quinn’s watch. And he must have pondered many times the 'if only scenarios' of running the club now, compared to when he was a player.
Can you imagine, for example, how the club could have truly advanced if Peter Reid had been handed the sort of riches Keane and Bruce have endured with Quinn at the helm?
Two top seven finishes Reid achieved, while he battled for cash from the boardroom to take the club to 'the next level'. The names he missed out on during that period is scary and Quinn knows it.
Hero or Villain: Darren Bent's transfer was the most controversial of the year
Or what if Mick McCarthy had been given just a fraction of the funds? How he was expected to survive in the top flight with the resources, and the squad he had defies belief now, as it did then when he was unfairly dismissed.
Funnily enough, when Quinn took over as chairman, and before he took a gamble with Keane, McCarthy would have been the best choice to take over as manager. Just a shame it could never have happened.
Not that Keane wasn’t a bad choice. Some of the publicity he generated was mad but he raised the profile to new levels, brought in some decent players and of course took them from bottom to top of the Championship over a season. It didn’ t take a genius to work out that the relationship would end eventually and bitterly, but it was fun while it lasted.
Bruce was Quinn’s next choice, after he had secured Short as the new owner, and overseen the transitional period of the Irish backers’ departure and the American businessman’s arrival.
The time, which must stretch into days if not weeks, that Quinn has subsequently spent educating Short in football and running a football club will be put to the test now.
Like Steve Gibson down the road, Quinn wanted to be known as a chairman who is prepared to back his manager through thick and thin, and there have been a few thin days.
But they are two football men, once opponents who would have enjoyed a good scrap, but with a sincere belief in how a club should be run properly.
Opportunity knocks: Peter Reid worked wonders on significantly less resources
With Bruce in charge, Sunderland have undertaken major changes in staff throughout. Only the Academy has remained untouched – which is the same story at Middlesbrough intriguingly – but Bruce has brought in staff in virtually every department, so it really has become his football club, as well as his team. If he goes, so do an awful lot of other people, which would make no sense for Short whatsoever at this difficult stage.
And if there is uncertainty, and Quinn has been removed from the day-to-day running, could he really attract a manager of the calibre of Martin O’Neill, who has once again been cast as the No 1 obsession for a growing number of Sunderland supporters.
Quinn joins the growing group of individuals in Sunderland’s international development department. This is apparently one of Short’s other ambitions, to raise the brand and the profile abroad. There would be critics who might tell him to concentrate on matters closer to home – such as putting a winning team out on the pitch and attracting audiences closer to last season’s 40,000 average – but he sees a bigger, worldwide picture.
Whether Bruce remains part of it will depend on performances on the pitch and results.
And the Sunderland manager doesn’t need me, 34,000 unhappy Mackems, or his owner/chairman, or the club’s new international development director (Niall Quinn) to tell him that.
Over to you Brucie (oh and your players too)