Lee Johnson on the 'three c's' Sunderland need amid ownership uncertainty

Lee Johnson says the vision for the future presented to him by the club's 'ownership group' was crucial in convincing him to make the move to Sunderland.

Monday, 7th December 2020, 10:44 am

Johnson was appointed head coach on Saturday as the club undergoes a period of major change, with Kristjaan Speakman handed a significant brief as sporting director.

The changes are understood to be closely associated with the expected change in majority ownership at the club, which will see Stewart Donald hand over his controlling interest to Kyril Louis-Dreyfus and Juan Sartori.

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Current majority shareholder Stewart Donald

It is believed Donald will retain around a 15 per cent shareholding as part of the ‘ownership group’ and Johnson revealed Donald had held discussion with him prior to his appointment, along with chief executive Jim Rodwell and Speakman.

Both Speakman and Johnson have been assured that there will be significant investment in key areas of the club, such as analytics, the academy and recruitment.

The club has consistently declined to comment on the progress of the takeover, and only Rodwell had discussed it in an in-house interview earlier this season.

Johnson was asked after the 1-0 defeat to Wigan who he had discussions with as part of the process to hire him.

Sporting Director Kristjaan Speakman

The potential new majority shareholders are thought to have been involved, but current members of the board were also part of the process.

“The ownership group had an idea and a vision on their future plans for Sunderland, which was nice by the way, and it was presented to me over the course of a couple of hours," Johnson said.

"Stewart is obviously involved in that, and I’ve had good conversations with Stewart. Jim was obviously also involved, as well as Kristjaan.

"I know that there’s other members in that advisory board group, who I haven’t spoken to yet, and I’m looking forward to speaking to them.

"It becomes about not only me selling the dream in terms of what I can bring, but also the club selling the dream of how they can help me and us achieve that.

"That means three things really, which I call the three c’s. You need competence, so you need quality players and quality staff. You need cash, which is always important.

"And then you need a concept, and that concept has got to be the playing philosophy. Everybody has got to buy in to it, and as a coach, that is the greatest part, when you see your team producing the objectives that you try to put into place in training."

Asked if he had the reassurances he needed about the ownership ahead of taking charge, Johnson said he was comfortable that all parties were 'aligned'.

"It's not so much about the takeover, it's about where the power base is," he said.

"Who is the decision maker, who are the influencers?

"It's not disingenuous but you don't want to waste time articulating your point with people who might have a different view. You've got to make sure you're aligned from top to bottom."

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Johnson is expected to make additions to the backroom staff, given that assistant manager Steve Parkin left at the same time as Phil Parkinson a week ago.

Discussing any potential additions to his staff, Johnson said there was a wider plan to increase 'sparse' staffing levels throughout the club.

That will be especially key in the academy, where Johnson and Speakman have been tasked with improving the pathway to the first team in the coming years.

“The staff are a very important piece in everything you do," Johnson said.

"In certain areas of the club, it seems a little bit sparse, and certainly in terms of the academy set-up, I think that will be bolstered.

"That’s one of the key pillars of success moving forward – we have to use the demographic and the area as a real hotbed of local talent. It’s something I’m personally very keen on – to bring the young players through. They’ve got to be ready – it’s not a charity and we’ve got to win football matches – but at the same time, we have to hold our best players and nurture them the best we possibly can, as early as we possibly can.

"When you see clubs like Birmingham where Kristjaan has come from, and Bristol City where I have come from, they’ve had a very good conveyor belt of young players.

"Sunderland have done that in the past, but probably through expectation and speed of success, and chasing the dream sometimes that side of things can be neglected.”

Johnson was ultimately selected for head coach by Speakman, who will be the most influential figure at the club when it comes to footballing operations.

In a statement confirming his appointment on Friday, Sunderland outlined the scope of the brief he has been given.

"Speakman will lead SAFC’s overall football programme, including player identification, development and acquisitions across the first team and academy," it said.

“Working alongside chief executive officer Jim Rodwell, he will also take primary responsibility for reviewing and implementing new strategies to develop the club’s footballing infrastructure, with an emphasis on data analytics and innovation, and providing a clear pathway from the younger age groups to the first team.”

Johnson said his early interations with Speakman were 'very, very good'.

"I'm quite a student of football so I've managed to get on many case studies abroad and it's a very foreign model if you like and sometimes quite unusual to an English structure," he said.

"I see it as a good thing now, a club of this size to be able to have somebody who is the buffer to the board to help recruit excellent people into the staff and almost act as the glue effectively in what should be a really positive working environment.

"From my early interactions with Kristjaan I've found him very, very good to work with."

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