Mark Douglas: Ellis Short is reaping the rewards

Sunderland chairman has made mistakes, but he's rectified them quickly and ruthlessly, and now Cats are on the right track

Bethany Clarke/Getty Images Chairman of Sunderland AFC, Ellis Short
Chairman of Sunderland AFC, Ellis Short

He stood in the director’s seats, lingering for as long as he possibly could.

The smile was tattooed on Ellis Short’s face as he shook the hands of journalists, supporters and a legion of well-wishers who hung over the box at Old Trafford to congratulate him on Sunderland’s incredible achievement.

Was this the moment a five-year investment which has bought him little more than headaches and strife finally began to reap a glorious dividend?

If it was, you could hardly say Short didn’t deserve it. After facing down the deserved torrent of criticism which followed the rapid rise and fall of Paolo Di Canio in September, the Sunderland owner has barely made a bad call in the last five months.

It all started with a public admission.

Billionaires don’t say sorry very often – most of them don’t need to – but it has been Short’s readiness to remedy his own bad calls which has sown the seeds for Sunderland’s resurgence.

The miscalculation of letting short-term fix Di Canio try to assemble a long-term plan was solved with a ruthless and expensive sacking in September. Short could have demurred or even followed the advice of those who were urging him to cull a supposedly-poisonous dressing room, but he was prepared to embrace the chaos and take the hit to his own reputation.

It was a difficult and traumatic period which encouraged the perception Sunderland were floundering, but it was absolutely necessary.

Chris Brunskill/Getty Images Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio
Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio

This was followed by a public admission of culpability in the club’s match-day programme.

His decision to say sorry bought him time and illustrated a recognition he could – and should – do better.

He made the right appointment, too. Gus Poyet was not the universal choice of his legion of advisers, but after a lengthy process of due diligence – again he was accused of dallying – he decided to go with the Uruguyan, whose own reputation had taken a hit after a damaging departure from Brighton.

Last week’s announcement Roberto De Fanti, never the right appointment for the critical director of football role, was gone effectively brought an end to Short’s great gamble of 2013. Sunderland feel better for it.

Just recently, the club has re-aligned itself with its supporters. The decision, jointly taken with Newcastle United, to oppose Northumbria Police’s attempt to categorise February’s derby as a “bubble game” was fully justified – as was paying for the travel of every Sunderland supporter who made their presence felt at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

None of this made a blind bit of difference on Wednesday, of course. The brio and bravery of Sunderland’s second-half performance at Old Trafford was down to Poyet and his players having the courage of their convictions, along with the alchemy of their manager.

If we were in any doubt before Wednesday, the manner of their victory at Old Trafford confirmed there is something special about Poyet. For anyone pondering his man-management skills, just look at the identity of the Black Cats’ two match-winners.

Vito Mannone was a lightly-heralded reserve goalkeeper when Poyet took over and Phil Bardsley was the humiliated and discarded right-back at odds with the club’s support.

Both of these lost boys have been rehabilitated by the new boss.

Wednesday was an epic, adrenaline-fuelled evening, but scratch deeper and the signs are becoming more positive for the Black Cats.

Poyet has given them an identity, direction and pride – but he has been empowered by Short’s decisiveness.

This journey is still far from run. Sunderland remain in the bottom three and in the thick of a desperate battle to stave of relegation.

Yet finally, for the first time since Short assumed control from Niall Quinn, there is a real reason to believe once more.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer