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Black Cats Analects: Ellis $hort (Part II)

Simon Fenton breaks down Sunderland's financial situation and the reign of Chairman Ellis Short - you can read part one here if you missed it last week. But, for now, here is part two.

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". . . for that amount of money spent, we should be better than we are and no one knows that more than me . . . has 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 . . ."

Let’s debunk some doubters out there.  See, there’s a common quarrel that is heard a lot these days.  You know the one; that Sunderland AFC Chairman, Ellis Short, utterly refutes any notion of ambition to invest in this grand old club, like some antagonistic skinflint.  How dare him! And so on.

Swansea City made the top ten? We must have no ambition! West Bromwich Albion is mid table? We have no ambition! Stoke City has how many club-record points? We have no ambition! We have no ambition! Ellis Short won’t invest! We have no ambition! We have no–

So, when Sunderland pays £80 million more in transfer fees since 2009 than any of the three aforementioned clubs – and achieved less – that must mean we have no ambition.  When Leicester City gets promoted, stays up and wins the league title on £67 million – £20 million less than Steve Bruce was handed to finish tenth! that must mean Ellis Short won’t invest.  Aye.  Aye . . .

Oh, but it’s all about net spending! That’s the backup argument.  Because, if you take all the expenditure and sales profits from every one of the thirty-two clubs that have competed in the Premier League since 2009, and you crunch those numbers, you will see – without question – that Sunderland do not invest compared to other clubs in the Premi–

Yeah, we rank seventh.  £119,800,000 thereabouts, but we’re still seventh.

That’s more net spending than Aston Villa; Queens Park Rangers, Fulham, Norwich City, Newcastle United, Crystal Palace, Stoke City, Swansea City, West Bromwich Albion, Southampton, Everton, Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur.  Those last five clubs’ net spending is less than us combined!

Don’t believe that? Break it down: our net spending was the third highest in 09/10; the twelfth highest in 11/12 (despite selling £15.3 million Jordan Henderson); seventh highest in 12/13; fourth highest last season!; and this season we rank tenth – on par with the god damn reigning god damn league god damn champions.

That! is sky-high spending. That, in at least two seasons, has bordered on the extravagance of UEFA Champions League chasing expenditure. That! is money that should support a regular top half club. That! is a scale of money so enormous and so frequently spent to keep us in this league, that now, when a supporter is so used to it that they ask "why aren’t we investing?", I don’t know what the f**k they’re talking about!

Yes, that is money the Chairman, Ellis Short, is investing.  Not because he wants to, not because he likes to, but quite frankly, it is because he needs to.  That £119 million makes up 51% of our clubs total expenditure on transfer fees since Short began bankrolling this club.  And Sunderland has only grown more and more dependent on him since.

From 2012, only 32% of total club expenditure has been recovered from players sold; since 2014, that figure has dropped to 21%.  Hell, last season alone, 85% of the £56.1 million spent by Dick Advocaat and Sam Allardyce came direct from Ellis Short’s pocket.  This season, the club recouped just 23% of spending from the summer transfer window, getting back £6.4 million from £27.1 million spent.  Again, money spent direct from the source – from the Chairman.

And if you think that all clubs spent on that ratio – think again.  Crystal Palace: 84% of £50.5 million expenditure recovered from player sales; AFC Bournemouth: 53% of £33.7 million recovered from player sales; Watford: 43% of £57.3 million; West Bromwich Albion: 39%; Tottenham Hotspur: 58%; Leicester City: 63%; while Southampton, Everton and Swansea City each got over 100% of their money back from players sold.

You get the picture.  Ellis Short is financially, word for word, line for line, verbatim, accurately, rigorously, literally the difference between Sunderland being Sunderland and Sunderland being Portsmouth!


Now . . . has there been a sense of ‘under-funding’ in all that investment, at any time? Absolutely.

Back in 2013, Cardiff City and Hull City both burnt money to the sum of over £25 million, and made our own £9.8 million look uninspiring by comparison.  Queens Park Rangers once lost the plot with £38.9 million in 2012 and – on paper – made us look less ambitious.  We looked like a club with no money.

But, therein is a pattern very common with newly promoted clubs.  And fortunately these are the clubs that don’t last in this league.  See, it is paramount that any football club not listed amongst the ‘elite brass’ achieves immediate success.  Failure to do so turns a club into Sunderland AFC.

And because a club like Sunderland or like Hull City or Watford does not receive the financially-colossal preferential marketing or merchandising treatment that a brand club like Manchester United receives, the only means of gaining immediate success in the EPL is to disburse big money from the get-go.  Long-term; advancing up the league table – and the financial gain that comes with it – will allow a club to recoup its expenditure.  That’s the general idea, anyway.

That is, again, the reason why Sunderland was the third highest net spender in 2009/2010: because it was supposed to be the foundation for building a top ten club.

It is also why Stoke City went four years of considerable investment until 2013 when, for two seasons under Mark Hughes, the Potters recruited mostly free agents and loan deals, with net spending at a lowly £4.2 million.  West Bromwich Albion, between 2010 and 2013, made a profit in net spending of £3.8 million, largely due to similar work conducted by Sporting Director, Dan Ashworth.  Crystal Palace, right now, follows this trend, by selling valuable assets.  In their four seasons in the EPL, their net spend has dropped from £27.5 million to only £7.9 million this campaign.  Clubs like these cannot financially compete long term if there’s no immediate success.

That is the great conundrum our Chairman needs to work out now – how do we recover from these consequences of not succeeding back between 2009 and 2012?

And boy, what Ellis Short wouldn’t give to see his club be like Swansea City and Southampton; two excellent examples of how to operate and achieve as a football club.  Their secret has been to embrace the ‘selling club’ stigma and make it advantageous.  Both clubs underwent high net expenditure – like Sunderland – but instead received monstrous player sale profits over consecutive later seasons.

Long term, these two clubs could boast to have the savvy transfer expenditures of Everton and Tottenham Hotspur; two clubs that have accomplished incredible league feats on relatively minor net spending; Everton have spent quarter the amount Sunderland have since 2009, and Tottenham Hotspur even less.  Both remain competitive.

However, if the secret of balancing club finances, player sales and expenditure, and ascent up the league table is to embrace the moniker of being a selling club, then it is an unwanted secret to admit.  As mentioned in part one, the Premier League is the most profitable division in football and Sunderland currently holds the twenty-fifth highest revenue in the world.  No club in this league should be a selling club.

Also, for Sunderland supporters, the idea of selling one of our better players gives rise to bitter reminders.  There isn’t a fan of this club who wanted to see Darren Bent sold.  Selling him is still perceived by some as the beginning of the end for our early promise under Ellis Short; likewise, Jordan Henderson and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Simon Mignolet.

Because to sell our best players gives the impression that we are below the glass ceiling of a monopolised league structure.  It indicates that lack of ambition – we just can’t hold onto our best players.

By the way, how much did we sell Lamine Koné for again?

Then there’s the pessimistic point of view that, yeah, we don’t sell our better players much anymore, but only because nobody wants them.  And that is a hell of a point.  Indeed, as much as there is evidence to defend Ellis Short for financing our club out of relegation every year; that same evidence is reflective of poor recruitment and next-to-no sell-on value in our squad.

It’s barely an inability – it’s a disability.  This club is broken at recruitment so much so that we can no longer sell players for high value.  Instead, we have a squad that – until very, very recently – is entirely undesirable to other clubs’ scouting systems.

That is a ramification that utterly falls to the error of the Chairman.  Ellis Short’s misplaced trust in temporary managers to recruit players that ultimately outlast them began to create a disorganised, spasmodic squad as far back as 2013.

That is three solid years of permanent players for interim managers.  The inmates have ran the asylum here, as the saying goes.  That cannot happen.  £12.9 million Steven Fletcher was Martin O’Neill’s centre forward, not Gus Poyet’s.  £6.38 million Emmanuele Giaccherini – a real worker – was surplus to every manager he played for here.  These are utterly amateurish consequences of bad decisions that come from the very top.

This is a negative and regressive system that has damaged the development of promising younger players, such as Charis Mavrias; and turned good players into average ones; and the average into poor, until eventually they become stagnant, profitless and are released from their contracts on zero value.

That is what the club has got seriously wrong.  That is what Ellis Short – with extremely misplaced credence and intent – has got seriously wrong.

But if the answer to finding the balance is to embrace the selling club model, rather than persist until all value is lost, then why hasn’t Ellis Short learned to do this in his seven years at the helm?

Well, he did.  It was called the Udinese Model.  And that will be explored in part three.

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