The Daily Star raised the cyclical ‘Sunderland for sale’ story again this week - one that supporters in the north east have become wearily accustomed to as they patiently await the day that Ellis Short finally packs up his digs on Wearside and heads back to Missouri.
Not that the Sunderland owner has been seen at the Stadium of Light since the start of the season - and no doubt the billionaire’s face will not be amongst the dwindling crowd of hardy souls watching his dying club labour through 90 minutes against Queens Park Rangers tomorrow.
The newspaper report claimed Ellis Short’s asking price for Sunderland has been slashed and the club can now be picked up for roughly the same value as the house he’s currently selling in West London - a cool £57m but roughly half what he was supposedly after last year.
That figure is no doubt on the cheap side for Short’s true valuation of Sunderland AFC, but it makes for a neat enough headline and illustrates the damage that even a quarter of a season in the lower reaches of the Championship can have on a football club owner’s wallet. That £57m is of course quoted without the club’s debt added on top, and is likely at least £20m - £30m light of what Short is really asking.
Last year that debt figure was a whopping £110m, but Martin Bain has performed the role he was appointed to do with vigour and that overall liability has likely fallen to somewhere in the region of £80m to £90m now as more than 12 months of the chief executive’s austerity measures have washed Sunderland AFC cleaner than it was.
And whilst Sunderland aren’t what they were - a Premier League outfit - they remain one of the biggest clubs operating in the EFL and come with history and a large - if fed up - fan base.
And for an investor picking the club up on the cheap there is always the prospect that this historic relic with a big modern stadium and excellent facilities could bring a decent return with the right management and a fair wind behind it. Someone will do it one day - won’t they?
Surely that will entice a bona fide bidder before long. And whilst leaner clubs without the basket-case reputation of Sunderland can be picked up from League One or the lower reaches of the Championship to make a bid for the riches of the Premier League on the cheap, the discerning rich man or woman with a relish for prestige would still opt for a Black Cat over a Barnsley - no matter the Billy Beane saga ongoing in South Yorkshire - wouldn’t they?
And there are whispers that Ellis Short is pursuing that angle as we speak and schmoozing his fellow billionaire elite whilst dangling his football club in front of them - available for ‘mate’s rates’ - go on have a bash and if you get it right, you can turn yourself a tidy profit.
Certainly it appears that the strategy of seeking bidders through a glossy prospectus and third-party brokers has been abandoned. Previously Short had appointed Inner Circle Sports - the investment bank with a specialism in the sports industry - and Dr Keith Harris, a football takeover specialist, to orchestrate a sale.
And ditching the middlemen makes sense after June’s aborted takeover talks with a German consortium and the group behind Fulwell73, both of whom appear to have lacked the wherewithal to back up their bidding with funds to keep Sunderland AFC afloat for long. Perhaps those sheeny brochures only served to attract the fur-coat-and-no-knickers brigade.
An American individual or organisation with funds to sink into this comatose former sleeping giant appear to be the most likely to rise to Ellis Short’s bait. The nationality of the bidder matters not of course, but those are the circles in which the Sunderland owner mixes.
Sunderland may be at a low ebb, with a league position out of kilter to its resources, wage bill and playing staff and with attendances alarmingly low relative to the past twenty years, but for a certain ilk of financier and investor that’s exactly the type of gamble that will appeal with the promise of a tidy return.