NIALL Quinn wrote in his autobiography nine years ago: “I learned my trade at Arsenal, became a footballer at Manchester City, but Sunderland got under my skin. I love Sunderland.”
But how long that love will last now remains to be seen. Quinn’s sidelining from his position as club chairman to a role where he will be heading up Sunderland’s international development brings more questions than answers which will unfold as the season progresses.
With owner Ellis Short now assuming Quinn’s old position, it is assumed that the quiet man sitting on the throne of power will now put himself in the spotlight as the face of Sunderland – a role the media-friendly Quinn took to like a duck to water.
Where this all leaves manager Steve Bruce, only the future will tell us, but given the Black Cats boss has come under fire of late for the club’s poor start to the season, the Orwellian expression that ‘Big Brother is watching you’ strikes a chord with the current situation.
It is evident that while Bruce has not quite lost an ally at boardroom level, he has definitely been put in a place where any intervention on the manager’s behalf may not be heard. Bruce has commented on how fortunate he was to be manager of a club which has a football person in Quinn in charge – who fully comprehends the various facets of the game, will weigh up the factors in assessing how both manager and team are doing and express a considered and expert opinion to others in the boardroom in giving them a full picture as to what is going on at pitch level. Compared with other managers in the United Kingdom who face countless battles in trying to explain to their bosses whose own playing and coaching experience is usually non-existent, Bruce was indeed lucky to have, in Quinn, someone who knew the score. Short, since taking a controlling interest in Sunderland back in 2008, has largely stayed in the background while Quinn has put himself forward as the ‘face’ of the Stadium of Light club as well as serving as the main link between owner and manager.
Now that link has been severed with Bruce now answerable directly to Short with the protection of Quinn moved to one side and one feels the manager may have to take longer than usual in explaining how the realities of what happens on the pitch and training ground relate to league position – something that would, until yesterday, have been Quinn’s remit.
It remains to be seen how hands-on Short will be.
Will he be the man Bruce reports to after a match or will he appoint a new managing director in the mould of what rivals Newcastle United have in Derek Llambias to be his mediator?
Time will tell, but the fears are that Short may be turning the hourglass on Bruce and only a consistent run of results will make him put it away. After all, Short has previous on influencing a managerial change with Roy Keane citing differences with the American as a factor in his resigning as Sunderland boss. The Black Cats’ start to the season has not been impressive with only one win so far – last month’s 4-0 home win against Stoke – and a shock early exit from the Carling Cup at the hands of Championship side Brighton.
Given the amount of money that Short has invested in bringing new players in, he may have made this boardroom reshuffle to see directly for himself as to whether or not his funds have been well spent.
As for where this leaves Quinn is another matter. This will be the third chapter of his time at Sunderland and it remains to be seen whether or not this is the final endgame for the Irishman.
Having enjoyed hero status as a player (pictured below) – one half of a prolific striking partnership with Kevin Phillips which got Sunderland back into the Premier League and achieved two consecutive seventh placed finishes – he hung up his boots in 2003 and returned three years later as the head of the Drumaville consortium of wealthy Irish businessmen which bought out previous owner Bob Murray.
With the appointment of Keane as manager, Sunderland won promotion from the Championship to the Premier League in 2007 where they have remained since.
Sunderland’s increased spending power soon began to make itself known and having persuaded Short to invest in the consortium – which resulted in him becoming the eventual owner – Sunderland began to cast their sights on moving the club in a more upward direction.
While they have at times threatened to do this – the form shown from the start of last season to January of this year had many dreaming of European football on Wearside – progress, even in light of last season’s tenth placed finish has been a case of one step forward and two back.
Off the field Quinn ruffled a few feathers in trying to entice fans to pay their money to watch the team at the Stadium of Light instead of at the pub where a TV feed of the Black Cats match would be broadcast.
While some voiced their objections to his stance, it only caused a minor dent to the good reputation and iconic status he was held in by the fans.
Quinn of course may thrive in the situation of selling and promoting a club close to his heart to new fans in the Far East and securing commercial ties which could well see Sunderland reap in some significant rewards.
But if life in his new title does not give him the job satisfaction he previously enjoyed as chairman, his love of Sunderland, as expressed in his autobiography, could well turn sour.