Niall Quinn has stepped down as Sunderland chairman, in order to lead the club's international development initiatives.
Under a new remit that could ultimately weaken Steve Bruce's position as manager Ellis Short, the club's owner, will assume Quinn's former duties.
At first glance it appears that, after removing Steve Walton and Lesley Callaghan from Sunderland's board during the summer and replacing them with close allies, Per Magnus Andersson and Mike Farnan, Short is curtailing Quinn's influence. Contradicting such theories, Stadium of Light sources argue that, with Sunderland's domestic revenues limited by their geographical situation in a low-income location, maximising international commercial opportunities has become imperative. Quinn is the ideal man to raise their international profile.
David Miliband, the Labour MP and former foreign secretary who is Sunderland's vice-chairman, offered an unequivocal view of the switch on Twitter, while trying to calm fans' concerns. "SAFC board changes will put Niall Quinn's brain to full/best use. His relationship with Ellis Short bolted into place," Miliband said.
The outgoing chairman certainly seemed happy enough. "This is a great opportunity for us to make the club stronger and I'm delighted Ellis has agreed to support the plan," Quinn said. "He'll be a fantastic chairman and taking this role on speaks volumes about his ambition for the club."
The reclusive Short is expected to maintain an extremely low profile as chairman. In a rare public comment, he said that Uefa's impending financial fair play rules dictated that international development was essential to Sunderland's future on-field prosperity.
"With financial fair play rules coming into effect it is essential for the long-term success of the club that we develop interests on a global scale and there's no one better than Niall to sell the ethos of Sunderland to an international audience," Short said. "He's been keen to drive this change for some time and I agree it's the way forward for us now. Assuming the position of chairman is a great honour and I will treat the role as guardian of this club with the utmost respect."
Margaret Byrne, the Sunderland chief executive, said: "Niall is widely known and hugely respected throughout the world of football. His profile, coupled with his vast knowledge of the game and the business, means he is perfectly placed to bring Sunderland to the forefront internationally."
The former Republic of Ireland and Sunderland centre-forward will be thrust straight into his new brief. After attending this week's Leaders in Football conference in London, Quinn is scheduled to travel to South Korea with Bruce and Farnan, the latter having developed considerable expertise in international marketing in a stint with Manchester United.
Quinn has been linked with the post of chief executive at Manchester City recently vacated by Garry Cook, but according to sources at the Etihad Stadium Quinn – a good friend of the City executive Brian Marwood, a former Arsenal team-mate – has not been under consideration.
Instead the man who persuaded Short to buy out Sunderland's former owners, the Drumaville Consortium, three years ago is said to be fully committed to his new role and eagerly looking forward to trips to Vietnam, India, Abu Dhabi and Africa on the Wearside club's behalf.
Although Bruce's position does not seem to be under any immediate threat, he and Quinn were such close allies that the manager, who is clearly upset by a disappointing start to the season, is unlikely to be heartened by his old chairman's removal from day-to-day football affairs.
Bruce will be well aware that, should results continue to be adverse, a globetrotting Quinn may not always be conveniently placed to fight his corner in front of Short and the American billionaire financier's new boardroom allies.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
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