It was fascinating to read that in the recent revolt, players reportedly had to go to Sunderland's chief executive Margaret Byrne and director of football Roberto De Fanti to air their grievances. Seems there was little choice.
Previously they would have gone to Niall Quinn, when he was chairman or even in his temporary role of international development. Since his sad departure, the whole structure seems to be lacking in what the club is supposed to be about.
The five-member board headed by owner Ellis Short is devoid of any football experience, but is set up purely on business experience. This is particularly noticeable in the current plight to find a new head coach. Who is advising who on the merits of a suitable appointment that is so crucial to the future of Sunderland? Any company in any other sector lacking such expertise in its own trade would surely soon go down the plug-hole.
In the new structure, De Fanti was appointed in June as Director of Football, a nominal title of a senior management figure who is not a member of the board. Though still not that common in the Premier League, the term is used almost exclusively in the UK based on a continental model that divides the responsibility of the traditional manager. It allows a head coach to focus on day-to-day training and match performances and no doubt can have its merits.
One problem usually met is that the exact nature of the role of Director of Football is often unclear and extremely variable. Generally the position is above that of head coach and acts as an intermediary with the board. Obviously it should be an experienced football figure that can offer stability and vision and, as has happened, is capable when necessary to take over as a caretaker manager. But this has not been the case with De Fanti.
From the little information that can be gathered, the post at Sunderland is held by just a former agent, who reportedly is the son of one of Short's colleagues. He does not seem to hold a UEFA pro-licence or have coaching experience, which are pre-requisites to be eligible for FA registration. Maybe he has been given special dispensation and is currently seeking qualifications although it remains far from clear what his job description is.
A director of football is supposed to shape short, medium and long-term strategic planning for the club, have an advisory capacity regarding youth development issues, have role over player research and football staff recruitment as well as managing transfers and contract negotiations. Doubtless De Fanti was deeply involved in the numerous wheelings and dealings during the transfer window, although apparently failed to move out several players no longer required. It is also glaring that no contracts have yet been extended despite several players being in their last year.
Before his official appointment, he was said to have played a leading part in bringing in Paolo Di Canio, although reportedly his first choice was Gianfranco Zola. It is not known what knowledge he has of the game in England, let alone the Premier League. Now it seems he is being relied upon to help find a new head coach and may account for why Gus Poyet being offered the job was first leaked in Italy.
The weakness at Sunderland comes as the club is about to make its seventh managerial appointment since Short took over the reins and with worries about the club's lack of vision and direction. Seems more like the blind is leading the blind with the lack of football experience in the club's hierarchy. It is certainly short-sighted and must be a priority to get sorted, perhaps even before a new head coach is signed and sealed.