Opinion: After one year as Sunderland CEO, has Martin Bain been a success or a disaster?

July 1st marks a year since Martin Bain officially assumed his duties as Chief Executive at Sunderland AFC, replacing the disgraced Margret Byrne. Has Bain been a good, strong and stable puppeteer? Or, like his predecessor, has Bain reduced Sunderland to a circus with weak and wobbly leadership?

In reality, Bain had already begun to make his presence known at the club in the weeks leading up to his ‘official’ appointment – with the Scot having a hand in brokering a couple of Sunderland’s outgoing transfers. Deals which in hindsight seem disastrous.

Bain adopted a relatively low profile upon his move to Wearside; initially remaining silent, choosing not to release a statement to the Mackem public.

The Scot was confronted with a less than smooth transition from his former role at Maccabi Tel Aviv, quickly finding himself unable to persuade Sam Allardyce to remain at the Stadium of Light. Sam’s move to England was unavoidable and rendered Bain powerless, a problem he could do little to rectify considering Sam was always nailed on to leave for England once the Football Association had registered their interest.

Bain’s first month was spent haggling over compensation with the FA before eventually reaching a fee of around £3m which allowed Allardyce the chance to leave the club – around £1m more than the FA had initially been willing to pay. A decent deal, which Bain deserves a modicum of credit for brokering.
England Training Session
The Allardyce fiasco was handled relatively well by Martin Bain. – Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images

 

Chairman, Ellis Short, instructed the Scot with the task of cutting Sunderland’s debt whilst simultaneously improving relations with supporters and the media. A task in which the elusive Margaret Byrne had proved an enormous disappointment.

Encouragingly, the former Rangers man managed to instil a sense fan engagement and interaction between club and local community during his time at Maccabi Tel Aviv where supporters were encouraged to “buy into the badge”.

The same can not be said about his time in the North-East.

In February, whilst survival in the Premier League very much a possibility, Bain announced redundancies amongst staff at the club in order to cut costs. Large numbers of staff were generously offered the option to take voluntary redundancies via email – not exactly an astute move on Bain’s part.

The announcing of staff redundancies came in the same week as Bain sent Sunderland’s players off on a all expenses paid trip to New York. This undoubtedly cost a club in financial peril a fair wack whilst eventually doing nothing to improve Sunderland’s on-field performances. Another unwise move.

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Bain fostered ill-feeling and a defeatist attitude with the timing of the redundancy announcement. And while the club has a deep rooted connection with its fans; instead of utilising and nurturing this relationship, it certainly feels as though there has been a complete disregard for it, leaving many hardcore fans feeling increasingly isolated.

So much for the mantra of improving fan relations. What makes the trip even worse is the fact that Sunderland managed only one Premier League win following the ill-fated jolly over the Atlantic.

Furthermore, Sunderland’s Chief Executive also deserves criticism for sticking with an unbearably pervious managerial custodian. David Moyes was reportedly persuaded to stay by Bain on several occasions when in reality he was doing absolutely nothing to better the club.

Farcical, especially when considering the way in which Moyes’ side did everything in their power in order to achieve relegation to the Championship. Even more frustrating when Moyes was allowed to resign following the season’s end.

If Bain had acted decisively and ditched the under-performing Moyes mid-season – when it was evident to every footballing mind on the planet that he wasn’t up for the job – then the club would have undoubtedly had a better chance of survival.

Rotherham United v Sunderland - Pre-Season Friendly
Two down, one perhaps to go in the coming weeks? 
Photo by Lynne Cameron/Getty Images

To be fair, Bain managed to negotiate decent profits when the likes of Jordan Pickford and Patrick Van Aanholt were moved on; however, this skill is the least Sunderland should expect from a Chief Executive. But how much credit can we actually afford Bain, though? Especially given the fact that Pickford is widely acknowledged as a future star, and PVA is a Dutch international. Even Bain’s positive dealings are fraught with an undertone of mediocrity.

Take into account the fact that Bain was also recently unable to woo Derek McInnes to Sunderland. The failure to secure a manager, before the appointment of Simon Grayson, was in part down to the speculation regarding new ownership; however, the fact that Bain was unable to appoint a manager who had displayed limited success at Aberdeen is a worrying sign.

Although I am fully supportive of Simon Grayson – who must be given a chance – his appointment can hardly be deemed as a coup. Bain has appeared unimaginative in his quest for fresh management at the Stadium of Light. Historians of the club are no doubt unaware that Sunderland AFC was founded in 1879 by a Scot, James Allan. Martin Bain seemingly wished to take the Scottish connection to new levels after appointing Walter Smith to assist him in his search for a new gaffer.

Smith hasn’t worked in football management for six years since leaving Rangers. Redundancies and relegation are still very raw amongst fans, so having a footballing dinosaur as Bain’s “unofficial adviser” will do little to reassure anyone connected with the club. It is very difficult to see Smith’s appointment as anything other than “jobs for the boys” and blatant cronyism.

Such shortsightedness has the potential to further harm the club in an irrecoverable manner.

40th Anniversary Memorial of Ibrox Disaster Held In Glasgow
Walter Smith (front left) and Martin Bain (front, second from right). – PHoto by Martin Shields – pool/Getty Images

Yes – Bain is acting on Short’s orders. And yes – Bain has managed to negotiate a smattering of decent transfers. However, the way in which Bain has mercilessly and culled ground level Sunderland staff without remorse has left a massive stain on his tenure thus far.

Add to this the unwavering support of Moyes, his hesitancy over the appointment of a new manager in addition to the continuous stream of PR disasters, and you will find that many fans will be praying Bain does not reach his second year anniversary.

I, for one, had sincerely hoped that if the reported German consortium managed to complete their takeover, that Martin Bain would be one of the first out of the door. But that hope appears to be lost. The club cannot afford to repeat mistakes made in recent years, and it’s fair to say that Martin Bain has been guilty of making multiple mistakes of his own.

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