Sunderland closing in on appointment of Blackburn Rovers' Stuart Harvey as new head of recruitment

Lee Johnson says Sunderland's recruitment will be vital to his success moving forward as the club prepare to make a key appointment.

Friday, 2nd April 2021, 9:26 am

The Black Cats are finally moving towards landing a replacement for Tony Coton; understood to be nearing the appointment of Blackburn Rovers' Stuart Harvey as their new Head of Recruitment.

Sunderland have not officially confirmed or commented on that as there remain some details to settle, but Blackburn are currently advertising a replacement.

Johnson therefore did not comment specifically on Harvey's expected arrival but says that the club's recruitment operation will be vital moving forward."Any manager will tell you it's the biggest part," he said.

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Sunderland Head Coach Lee Johnson
Sunderland Head Coach Lee Johnson

"If you get the recruitment right then it's a lot easier to coach and to manage.

"Get it wrong and it becomes very difficult. A manager can probably get 7/8% more out of a squad, some underachieve and that happens but inevitably, it's down to your recruitment.

"You can't get them all right and obviously there's a big blend in level, personality, finance, wages. I always think there should be a sort of justice league for managers in terms of budget.

"I've been at clubs where you have one of the smallest budgets in that league and overperformed.

"Now we are probably one of the bigger budgets, but it is interesting for the guys at the bottom end of the league who are doing great jobs on the budget they have."

The head of recruitment vacancy is one of a number of roles that Sporting Director Kristjaan Speakman has looked to address since his arrival last December.

Speakman has already revamped the club's Academy leadership team and this week appointed James Young as Head of Analysis and Data.

Johnson too has been working behind the scenes to strengthen the club's operations, though his role in some of the appointments is limited.

"In terms of the big picture, my level of involvement will obviously depend on the role," he explained.

"I always want to get to know the person because the culture is so important but obviously it will depend on the department and my level of influence.

"So for example, take opposition analysis, Luke Coles is someone I've brought in effectively personally from Bristol City because the way we work is so key.

"So there are certain positions where it's really important to the Head Coach, take Jamie McAllister for example, and then are some where it's more about the club and the big picture.

"I will of course still be involved but maybe more at the tail end of it. But clearly it's important everyone is aligned.

Blackburn Rovers boss Tony Mowbray all but confirmed the news of Harvey's arrival on Thursday, and encouragingly for Sunderland supporters paid tribute to his work in modernising the recruitment structures and processes at the club.

Mowbray said: "For Stuart it’s a positive for him, he had an offer he probably couldn’t refuse I’d suggest, he was headhunted, and he’s made the decision for his life and his career and I wish him well,” he said.

“For our football club recruitment still remains massively important, the processes that Stuart put in place are very much still there, he doesn’t take that with him, this club have invested a lot of money on different systems, data-driven systems that cost quite a lot of money that spill out the names of the footballers who spit out the names of the players we want to play.

“All of the structure he’s put in place is going to be there and the person who comes in will have all of that. They will need to be data-driven, need to know how to work all the systems, but that will continue and we thank Stuart for the amazing work he’s done and we wish him well in his time going forward.”

Speakman and Johnson inherited a threadbare recruitment department last year and speaking last December, the Sporting Director outlined the importance of the role the new head of recruitment would have in rebuilding those structures.

It will be the new appointment's role to build a database of players from which Johnson will then begin to assess for signings.

"Ultimately the first team playing squad can't contain any players in there that are not of the preference of the head coach," Speakman said.

"It's newsworthy because it creates conflict and conflict provides something to discuss, you see these football clubs where somebody somewhere has this player brought in that the head coach doesn't want, and therefore someone is sold that the head coach doesn't want.

"You have to create something collaborative. It's a slightly different context at the minute because we're starting this project off, so that might be slightly different to in the future.

"The future will look like having a head of recruitment to manage the recruitment process, around capturing the information and football intelligence within the market place, and then moving all the way through to a select engage phase where the head coach would come in.

"Now, he will have to - with the football club at the minute - help us to create the profiles of the positions linked to the football philosophy. We don't, at the minute, have those in any great depth how we'd like them.

"The head coach is going to identify the areas which he feels are a weakness and the areas he thinks we can improve in, and that ultimately has to be his judgement call because he's responsible for that short-term Saturday-Tuesday."