IT didn’t take long for the question to be asked, but it took Simon Grayson quite a while to come up with his answer. A month-or-so ago, with his side careering towards the position they currently inhabit in the Championship relegation zone, Grayson was asked directly whether managing Sunderland was an “impossible job”.

Puffing out his cheeks, a man with four promotions and more than 650 matches on his managerial CV rocked back in his chair to consider his answer. “I don’t think any job can be described as impossible,” he eventually concluded. One wonders if he still holds to that judgement now.

If managing Sunderland at the moment is not impossible, it is proving exceptionally difficult to come up with the man who is capable of solving one of football’s most intractable riddles. And in classic Sunderland fashion, when they finally had someone in position who appeared to have got his head around the multiple issues holding the club back, they lost him to the lure of managing England. Mind you, if the stories of the time are to be believed, he was on the brink of chucking the towel in anyway.

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Statistics only tell half the story of Sunderland’s miserable decline in the last decade or so, but the fact the club are now searching for their ninth manager in the space of the last six years speaks volumes. Even in as volatile a business as football, that is a rate of turnover that suggests endemic problems exist.

Many of those problems have been raked over endlessly, and it hardly needs repeating that Sunderland are paying a hugely heavy price for a succession of past failings. Money squandered at a staggering rate, to the point where it is harder to know what is the most ridiculous situation – that the Black Cats paid £10m for a player they never actually owned in Ricky Alvarez, or that they are continuing to pay around £70,000-a-week to Jack Rodwell, a player who cannot even get in their squad even though they have only recorded one league win all season.

Senior executives have been promoted way above their station and made one bad move after another. Roberto de Fanti, Margaret Byrne, Lee Congerton – all woefully out of their depth; all key contributors to the ongoing malaise. Managers have come and gone at a staggering rate, each arriving with their own ideas, each bequeathing their own mess. A conveyor belt of players has passed through, leaching money from the Stadium of Light coffers while giving little or nothing in terms of commitment and professionalism in return.

The club’s prevailing philosophy has blown from one direction to the other like the wind. A director of football presiding over a head coach one minute, an ‘old-fashioned manager’ with complete control of transfer business the next. One transfer window the priority was a small number of high-price additions, by the next the stance had shifted to signing as many players as possible to flesh out the squad. The upshot was a complete lack of strategy or long-term planning. Little wonder that prior to this summer, Sunderland had only recorded a profit from three players out of almost 50.

Ellis Short has presided over this mess, and while the Black Cats owner can point to a financial investment of around £250m and justifiably ask what might have happened had he not been so generous in the early years of his reign, his appointments have left Sunderland in their current sorry state.

He has to assume overall responsibility for the possibility of League One football next season, and it is hardly a surprise that Sunderland supporters have been calling for his head for more than two years. The club’s biggest problem now, though, is that he wants to walk away.

Having relocated to the United States to support his son’s blossoming junior tennis career, Short would no doubt like to slam the door at the Stadium of Light and forget that the stadium and all its memories ever existed. His London mansion is on the market for £45m – as things stand, it probably wouldn’t take much more than that to buy his football club too.

There were talks with a German consortium in the summer, and it is understood that the group had at least one of their representatives at Tuesday’s game to witness Grayson’s demise. That suggests a degree of interest still exists, although there have not yet been any formal moves to relaunch the negotiating process that collapsed before the start of the season.

As things stand, Short remains in control – an absentee landlord, unwilling to throw more good money after bad in order to protect his investment. Assuming the status quo endures until the end of the year, it is fanciful to imagine there will be money to spend in the January transfer window. Grayson got £1.25m to invest in ten players during the summer. His replacement might be lucky to end up with that.

Which begs the question, ‘Who on earth would want to take on the manager’s role?’ Bain had to scroll a long way down his wanted list before he settled on Grayson’s name five months ago – how relieved must Derek McInnes be feeling at the moment after opting to remain with Aberdeen – so you can only imagine his task being even more difficult this time around.

Any aspiring manager with ambitions of carving out a long-term future in the game would surely run a mile from Wearside at the moment. And even if they didn’t, the deep-rooted problems they would have to address are hardly conducive to throwing in an inexperienced boss assiduously working his way up the coaching ladder.

The atmosphere around Sunderland at the moment is toxic, and with the financial position unlikely to change markedly, shifting the prevailing narrative has to be the number one priority. The Sunderland fans that haven’t given up on their club are understandably demoralised, but a new boss has to get them onside and generate a different atmosphere at the Stadium of Light in particular. The boos and moans aren’t the reason why Sunderland have failed to win a home game since last December, but even the most embittered supporter would have to concede they are now part of the problem.

Hence the clamour for the likes of Peter Reid and Kevin Phillips, figures with a strong emotional attachment to Wearside. Both would arrive with major question marks hanging over them – Reid because of the length of time he has spent out of English football and the fact his spell at Leeds was a disaster, Phillips because of his lack of managerial experience – but either would provide a jolt of energy and excitement that is badly required.

The likes of Roy Keane and Sam Allardyce are not coming back, and it is hard to imagine an Aitor Karanka or Nigel Pearson inspiring the kind of mood shift that could make the difference in what is now almost certain to be a season-long battle against the drop.

Grayson thought he could change the direction of travel, but left on Tuesday night as the latest in a long line of managers to have seen their reputation shredded during their time at the Stadium of Light. Is the Sunderland job unattractive? Sadly, the answer has to be yes. Is the club unmanageable? Only time will tell.