TL;DR - Ellis Short and Sunderland are open to relegation.
Another calamitous start to the season sees us sitting bottom of the league table after the opening eight fixtures with a measly two points to our name. Once more we find ourselves as the butt of the joke, the subject of derision, the black sheep of the Premier League family, lurching from crisis to crisis while others look on wiping their proverbial brows in relief that they aren’t that club.
A disrupted pre-season culminated in the resignation of Sam Allardyce, who skipped off on his merry way after steering the club to another skin-of-the-teeth seventeenth-place finish. In came David Moyes, and an eager sense of optimism began to sweep through the old faithful. Moyes had transformed Everton from perennial Premier League scrappers into a real force, so steering Sunderland away from the foot of the table shouldn’t be too much of a strenuous task considering how well the squad had played towards the end of last season.
Alas, things haven’t quite panned out how we had expected them to, and so here we sit languishing at the foot of the table looking bereft of quality, confidence and depth. The signs are all there: this season is going to be a struggle.
David Moyes forewarned us early into his tenure that this year would be a scrap. When pressed about our chances of avoiding relegation he was very blunt in his response, stating:
Why would it suddenly change? I think we will be in a relegation fight… People will be flat because they'll be hoping something can dramatically change, but it can't dramatically change.
I remember thinking to myself that his words were rather negative; to me his tone wasn’t that of frank realism, but instead it came across as foreboding. It was as though Moyes seemed to know something we didn’t. Had he not watched us play at the tail end of the last campaign? We were unbeaten in our final six games, with impressive victories against Norwich, Chelsea and Everton to secure survival. Had he not seen that between March 1st and May 15th we had only been beaten once - by the eventual league champions? Why was there so much cause for concern?
Then, by chance, I stumbled back across an article analysing our financial reports for the previous year. The more I read, the more the rusty old cogs buried deep inside my mind began to piece together a disturbing picture.
A loss before tax of over £25m coupled alongside a growing debt of over £139m painted a bleak picture. Factor into the equation that 76% of our diminishing turnover is swallowed by player wages and it’s plain to see: we’re slowly edging closer and closer to financial ruin. Whilst Ellis Short has ploughed somewhere north of £150m into the club - with a lot of that money only returnable upon completion of a sale - the issue remains that Sunderland are frantically paddling in an attempt at keeping their heads above water.
Short himself has acknowledged the gargantuan sum of money he has thrown at the club:
The amount that I fund, every season, exceeds the collective total amount funded by every owner the club has ever had since the club was formed in 1879. I have done this willingly because I want us to be more than a club that simply exists in the top flight.
Yet throwing money at the issue hasn’t really helped heal our financial ailments. Short has been incredibly ignorant in his financial strategy, something he is also very aware of:
The bad news is, for that amount of money spent, we should be better than we are and no-one knows that more than me. Has the money been spent effectively? No – that much is clear and ultimately that is my fault, but it is not a result of a lack of ambition or commitment.
These strong words edged with a sharp humility were more than enough to placate many fans; yet still, something about this season left me feeling uneasy.
After some soul searching I have come to a cynical, and somewhat conspiratorial conclusion: Ellis Short is ready for Sunderland to be relegated.
Before you exit the page and type the obligatory ‘shi*e’ comment on Facebook, please hear me out.
As many of you are more than aware this season was a landmark one in terms of television money being offered to each club. It was imperative that Sunderland survive into this season in order to cash in on the huge sums of money being offered. How huge? Well the bottom placed team will earn somewhere around £100m according to various sources on the tinterweb - enough to wipe out around 77% of our entire debt in one fell swoop.
"Aha!" I hear you shout, "But staying in the Premier League would be better in the long-run regardless!" Yes, quite correct, and I would imagine survival is a best case scenario, but ultimately it doesn’t give the club the opportunity to overhaul their wage structure through relegation clauses and sales. Relegation is a roll of the dice that could potentially help to restructure the club financially, or plunge us into the abyss. However, surely after so many years of struggle Ellis Short must be looking at options other than scraping by year after year whilst struggling to stave off financial ruin?
Furthermore, the parachute payment scheme has also recently been restructured; offering relegated clubs further security upon relegation. Originally clubs were granted around £65m over four years, but now they will receive around £75m over three years - a boost that would further enhance our ability to clear the debts whilst allowing money for investment in the playing squad.
So the question now arises: has David Moyes taken the Sunderland job knowing relegation is something that could well be anticipated, or even favoured? Potentially yes. Comments from August suggested that Moyes was more than aware of financial restrictions when taking over the club:
I've got full faith in the owner (Ellis Short). But there's no doubt that our budget is not at the level of many other clubs you see buying players at the moment.
I'm confident we'll get a few in before September 1 but the quality of the players that Sunderland can get at the moment is probably not what I've had in the Premier League. Not even close.
You look at our competitors and what they're spending and we're having to deal differently.
Those comments suggest that Moyes was aware there would be a series of financial restrictions imposed on his dealings - something that would have surely been discussed before he agreed to take over of the reins. Moyes’ stark pragmatism told me a very clear message. We have no money, and I’m here in an attempt at securing survival, but if we don’t stay up then don’t be surprised because I’ve told you from the beginning that it was going to be an uphill struggle.
It would take something very special after recent viewings for Sunderland to avoid the drop. The lack of depth, identity and organization is really hurting our chances; couple those shortcomings with the crippling effects of our financial predicament and you’ll see that we appear to be up the creek without a paddle. Relegation seems to offer Sunderland a way out of our pecuniary nightmare, but at the risk of fading into obscurity.
Would Ellis Short be willing to speculate on such a risky move? Considering his track record of pulling the trigger in times of adversity, then perhaps yes? Would you be willing to drop down a division if it meant removing the rotten core of our club? I think I would.
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