With the football season dwindling down, attention across the nation seems to have turned to this summer's transfer window. We all fancy ourselves as experts and we all have plenty of various opinions to share. But no matter who you talk to, no matter who they support, everyone seems to be expecting and demanding owners put their hands in their pockets and splash the cash in the transfer market this summer. Have I missed something?
It appears that the new Financial Fair Play regulations have become football's great elephant in the room. We all know about it and what it means for the immediate future of the game, yet no one seems willing to actually acknowledge it is happening.
Unless there has been a drastic change in policy at Sunderland that includes a desire to flagrantly challenge the new regulations, then we can not and should not expect a repeat of the kind of free-spending and profligacy that defined previous managerial reigns at the Stadium of Light. Like it or not, the days of football's financial quick fix are gone.
There will likely be frustration at that, especially given that in Martin O'Neill you feel the club finally have a manager capable of channelling resources towards a serious assault on the upper echelons of the Premier League and latter stages of cup competitions. But it is, unfortunately, the reality.
When fans do consider Financial Fair Play, most seem to view it with considerable scepticism. Perfectly understandable, of course. Whether or not UEFA have the clout to enforce it remains very much to be seen. But that is a debate for another day. Until a club successfully challenges the regulations, then the rest will be sure to take them very seriously.
At Sunderland, as we discussed in a Captain's Blog last November, the influence of Financial Fair Play can already be seen. It has been an invisible puppeteer lurking in the shadows at the club for some time. High earners of a bygone era at the club such as Anton Ferdinand and Steed Malbranque have been shipped out, and there seems to have been barely the merest hint of even entertaining the possibility of re-signing Craig Gordon to a fresh contract. Meanwhile the club have made clear advances to increase their revenue streams by founding a new events management branch of the club to coincide with the now regular summer Stadium of Light musical extravaganzas and attempting to create commercial links in both Africa and Asia.
The new financial regulations were also reflected in the fact that any signings made last summer were, for the first time in recent memory, funded entirely by player sales, most notably Jordan Henderson. So any fans expecting a sizeable injection of cash this summer from a board so clearly committed to controlling spending are likely to be left very disappointed.
In theory, and considering Sunderland's vastly improved recent financial results, there is room for Short to capitalize a large sum and make it available to spend in the transfer market. Clubs can incur losses of up to around £40m over the next 3 years and still comply with the new rules.
The problem would lie in adding the large increase in wages that level of spending would bring to a wage bill already on the heavy side and render it unsustainable once the concessions on losses expire. Players would need to be offloaded regardless to bring fresh recruits in, and replacing them with a bigger batch of higher-earners would be counter-productive, particularly given the amount of good work that has gone into the job so far of making the club a self-sustaining entity as soon as possible.
That shouldn't necessarily be regarded as bad news, however. Quite the opposite, in fact. Considering the club's very competitive and steadily rising turnover, the stronger footing upon which Sunderland enter into the Financial Fair Play period, the better their prospects will be moving forward. It won't leave them immediately dining at the top table of the English game, but it would provide an advantage over less equipped mid-table rivals and leave the club well positioned to be the beneficiary of any kinks in the established order above them.
Whilst a real spending spree should probably not be expected, there seems little reason to fear the worst either. Ellis Short has proven his willingness to invest what money the club has available into the squad, and this summer should be no different. Asamoah Gyan may be something of a trump card in that regard. The Ghanaian is effectively a fringe player who could be the subject of a bidding war by oil-rich clubs who are free from the financial restrictions now enforced upon their European counterparts. There is also likely to be another cheque arriving from Villa Park soon as the next installment of Darren Bent's transfer fee.
That should provide Martin O'Neill with a reasonably competitive budget at his disposal, even in the British market which the Black Cats manager has tended to favour in his career previously. Just how far he can stretch it will be the pertinent question that fans should be considering this summer - not whether or not Ellis Short should be putting his hand in his pocket once more.