On the Pitch

David Miliband’s zealous support for Arsenal was legendary when he was Foreign Secretary but he may be about to become a champion of Sunderland.

The Premier League side is reportedly in discussions with the Labour MP and he could become the club’s latest non-executive director.

Both the team and the politician will want to prove that their best days are not behind them.

Sunderland won the FA Cup in 1937 and 1973, and Mr Miliband made heads turn when he took the helm of the Foreign Office at the still-tender age of 41. Today, Sunderland sits in the top half of the table and its devoted fans cram into the Stadium of Light, but this is not one of the glitziest clubs in the country.

In contrast, Mr Miliband is one backbencher among many but he remains cloaked in political stardust.

Hillary Clinton famously admitted to a crush on the well-spoken Foreign Secretary and although he lost last year’s Labour leadership race he was backed by a majority of MPs and MEPs. A marriage between Sunderland and Mr Miliband could be a masterstroke of brand management for both players.

It is understood the role would involve responsibility for international and community work, and the presence of Mr Miliband can only raise the club’s global profile.

Mr Miliband, cruelly caricatured for geekish tendencies and never forgiven for being photographed in public holding a banana, will benefit from association with a hard-working northern team where winning is everything. At 45, he is too young to become an elder statesman and years of working at Cabinet level mean he has too much excess energy to be satisfied solely by going through his South Shields constituency mailbag.

He has been reportedly pitching ideas to the BBC and will soon go back to his old school to do stints as a volunteer politics teacher. It is easy to imagine him carving out a lucrative life of multiple directorships and worthy excursions into the charity sector. Great non-leaders of the parties have played epic roles in national life, as demonstrated by Roy Hattersley, Tony Benn, Denis Healey and Michael Heseltine.

If fact, how many young politicos today would rather achieve a career on a par with these men than endure the thwarting frustrations of party leaders such as James Callaghan or Michael Foot? But there would be a sense of unfulfilled promise and a suspicion of sourness if Mr Miliband quit the political stage. In fact, it would be a mighty own-goal.

He may not have top billing in his party but there is no doubt his talents would be better used at this time on the pitch instead of in the commentator’s box.

A Thursday column