Charlie Methven rides again as the ghosts of the Madrox years continue to haunt Sunderland

Does the emergence of a photograph with Charlie Methven and Juan Sartori at the weekend mean that Madrox have a bigger day to day involvement with Sunderland than fans are willing to accept?

Before the whistle even blew, supporters were already aware of Charlie Methven’s resignation as an executive director.

Sunderland’s dismal away trip to Gillingham in December 2019 saw the Lads concede in the 89th minute and leave Priestfield Stadium depressed and defeated. The result rankled somewhat as defeats always do, but the news of Methven’s departure, which broke the day before, still felt like a coup de grace for Madrox.

That was something worth celebrating. At least there was that.

While it was clear Methven would keep his minority share in the club (something which he retains to this day), giving up an active role in off-field operations was not deemed to be any great loss.

Some may argue he left a gap at the club’s top table. Yet his short time on the Board had seen him become a polarising figure on Wearside. It was a space, which in the short term seemed perhaps better empty. Before we get to the crux of the matter, let’s quickly gallop through some of Methven’s remarks, while in the position of exec director, to remind ourselves why.

Methven’s remarks

If ever there were to be such a thing as a ‘users’ guide’ – a do’s and don’t’s for would-be football club owners – surely calling sections of it’s fanbase ‘parasites’ would be highlighted in bold/italics under the chapter, “Under no circumstances must you utter the phrase…”

Of course this was not an isolated incident. If only it were.

A brouhaha erupted over many of Methven’s statements. Supporters soon became his source of public ire again. Criticism of then majority shareholder Stewart Donald ignited that particular flame. His comments around the mechanics of the club’s FPP loan deal, later debunked, only deepened the contempt with which many held him in.

As someone who claimed to be an expert in the PR sector, it must have surely been a source of both frustration and bewilderment for those who constantly needed to be on hand in order to put out Methven’s metaphorical fires.

Under his stewardship, the club’s ‘Walsall’ ticket farce aligned with the streaming pass/season card pricing structure (during Covid) also appears unfortunate.

Who could also forget his ‘entrepreneurs’ insult which was the “off the cuff riposte’ that he ‘regrets’.

We could all draw a line under this though once Madrox sold the club, right?

For many supporters this was the aspiration. Kyril Louis-Dreyfus certainly suggested as much too. Becoming the majority shareholder he slammed the previous regime upon confirmation of his controlling interest being approved:

“It is a fresh start for the club, it has been many years now where the club had no real long-term vision and also cost cutting at its forefront which basically led to an asset stripping in almost all departments at the club, which requires rebuilding from the start.”

A new broom sweeps clean then? Well, not so fast.

As we sit here today we know Stewart Donald, Juan Sartori and of course Charlie Methven retain minority shares in the club following Louis-Dreyfus becoming the major shareholder in February.

Still, several positive changes followed in the immediate aftermath of the purchase. Not least some of those appointed to the Executive Board under the steer of Louis-Dreyfus. Out went the Madrox contingent with Donald and Sartori ‘stepping down’ and in came Igor Levin and Patrick Treuer having represented the Louis-Dreyfus family business interests with some apparent aplomb.

Shrewdly this seemed to be marginalising the minority shareholders and allowing the new guy room to breathe and make his own mark. Crucially, perhaps this was the optics with which we were allowed to view matters.

A small stream of optimism was beginning to create a wave.

Some three short months the club then announced:

“This is an exciting period for Sunderland AFC and these appointments (as new executive directors) represent the culmination of a detailed and thorough process to identify a board that not only respects SAFC’s rich heritage and core values, but also brings the experience, creativity and dynamism required to bring sustainable and lasting success to the club.”

There are 7.8 billion people on the planet. One can only imagine Louis-Dreyfus’ surprise when the ‘detailed and thorough’ search for new executive directors identified none other than Sartori and Madrox’s lawyer as the ideal candidates for the job. Hardly the exemplars of creativity and dynamism during their previous involvement.

In this light, the apparent new dawn still feels analogous to the last.

‘Asset strippers’ one minute, all friends together the next

So then, here we are in the current day and a narrative from the club intent on needling away at supporters is emerging. The timing seems ill-advised given the spiral with which Lee Johnson’s men find themselves in. Against this backdrop, what then could be better than to see Charlie Methven apparently on club business in Uruguay?

Recently pictured with fellow ‘Madroxer’ Sartori and newly-appointed Head of Player Recruitment Stuart Harvey, it suggests his involvement is still very much ‘hands on’ too.

One can only assume that the visit is perhaps part of some sort of scouting mission or proposed commercial venture.

If this is indeed the case we can argue about the merits of Harvey and Sartori being in attendance. Let’s just hope it bears some fruit for Sunderland.  We could also argue whether this is a stark reminder to all, of Madrox still looming large over the club. Yet, if we were to draw attention to one particular displeasure here it must surely be Charlie Methven’s appearance.

This is man who stood down as an executive director in December 2019. This is someone we assumed to be nowhere near day-to-day operations under the new ownership group.

We cannot escape the fact that Methven is still a minority shareholder. His ‘involvement’ remains and is to be expected to some degree. Perhaps he is not ‘hands on’ and it may later be clarified by the club that this is the case. Yet, taking all of the comments above into account, some would surely then be left to question whether to believe it or not. Is this where we are now?

Yes, if a picture tells a thousand words, this image would suggest rather than the piss-taking party ending in 2018, it may very well still be in full swing.

In fact, for the board, it looks like it’s all back to Charlie’s.