One of the key criticisms of Sunderland’s recent transfer business which was addressed by chief executive Martin Bain in his press interviews this week was the raft of summer loan exits from the club of previous big-money purchases.
With a minuscule transfer kitty awarded to Simon Grayson, the fact that Sunderland were unable to secure fees for Fabio Borini, Wahbi Khazri, Jeremain Lens and Papy Djilobodji rankled with fans.
That quartet of want-away former ‘marquee signings’ cost the Black Cats the best part of £35m during the period from 2015 onwards and represent a lesson in how not to go about transfer business.
All arrived on Wearside with some degree of pedigree, yet all failed to ignite for any sustained period and all will likely go on to have decent careers at other clubs. The ‘Sunderland effect’ if you like.
Bain’s justification in his monologues with the Sunderland Echo and Evening Chronicle, for negotiating season-long deals for all of the above, was that with the player’s wages paid in full by host clubs, it allowed some scope for reinvestment in the Championship squad:
The wages of all of the players who have gone on loan are being paid in full by the clubs they have joined.
And the loan deals for Borini and Lens contain appearance clauses set at a level which will see them converted to permanent moves.
So whilst the permanent transfers of Fabio Borini to AC Milan and Jeremain Lens to Besiktas are probable formalities, the arrangements for Wahbi Khazri and Papy Djilobodji are not. Two out of four ain’t bad though eh?
Certainly reports in France upon the unveiling of Khazri at Stade Rennes and Djilobodji at Dijon specifically identified that neither contained options to buy. So, all things being equal, both players could return to the Stadium of Light next summer for pre-season training - much like Jeremain Lens did this year.
What of these unwanted, costly want-aways then?
It is worth noting that Borini was dropped to the bench for Milan’s most recent Serie A game for ‘tactical reasons’ after making 3 appearances so far this season and observers reckon he’s most likely to return as a winger in a 3-5-2 line-up - and all on Wearside will recall the player’s strengths and weaknesses in that position.
Jeremain Lens has been in and out of the Besiktas side, amid claims he simply isn’t fit - as this unfortunate snap taken by a fan at a training session neatly appears to confirm.
Meanwhile, after Wahbi Khazri’s explosive start to life at Rennes, scoring within two minutes in his first outing, the Tunisian was deployed as a striker last weekend in a second appearance with little success and was hauled off after 60 minutes. Elsewhere, Djilobodji has played ninety minutes in two Dijon defeats.
Bain further claimed that allowing these four players to depart in this manner enabled the club to reinvest some of the loan fees received and the wages freed up:
Letting players leave, initially on loan, who weren’t part of the plans moving forward also allowed us to generate funds for a certain transfer spend ourselves, by removing them from the wage bill.
It remains difficult to reconcile the boast that generating funds enabled Simon Grayson a ‘certain transfer spend’ - when simply set against the sub-£1.5m figure that Sunderland lashed out on ten new faces; though creating room in the wage bill has certainly been a must and off-loading the salaries of those four for a year can only be a good thing.
There are also suggestions the buying clubs preferred the deals structured this way due to budget and FFP constraints, but that’s hard to pursue as an argument when put against AC Milan’s summer spend of £175m compared with Sunderland’s asking price of £5m for Borini.
The Bain Empire
None of these players wanted to stay anyway of course. Sunderland meant not a jot to the mercenary jobbers who have returned whence they came. But there remains a nagging doubt that with Bain seemingly now positioned as the club’s sole negotiator, that better deals should still have been sought.
Pre-Bain, Sunderland AFC had boasted various incarnations of football administrators, contracting staff and negotiators. A couple of Directors of Football and their assistants came and went; then after those positions failed, subsequent lesser-titled versions performed similar functions but all did the same thing - negotiating deals with buyers and sellers and implementing contracts.
Those staff and most of the associated positions have all now gone as austerity measures have bitten and backroom cuts have been implemented - so too this summer did ‘Chief Football Officer’ Simon Wilson in a mysteriously unexplained exit.
So, in the present, Sunderland AFC is essentially Martin Bain. The chief executive sits on a slimmed down board with a largely absent chairman in Ellis Short, accompanied only by finance director Angela Lowes and a spectre installed to ensure the interests of the American financier are maintained by long-time Short-associate, Per Magnus Andersson.
Bain now also appears - from the outside - to single-handedly oversee the administrative and diplomatic functions of corporate SAFC aided by club secretary Brett Baker, a Bolton Uni graduate who has previously held administrative positions with Birmingham City and the Football League.
Essentially, if Martin Bain gets it wrong, Sunderland AFC get it wrong. And if Martin Bain assures you that he got it right, you have either to trust his word - or not.
What we seem to be seeing from the embattled CEO this week is a sustained onslaught being repeated through multiple media channels to suggest he’s getting it right. Few have yet paused for breath to consider if he really is.
And we really must stop to consider if he really is. Because like most things in life, if someone asserts something for long enough without challenge, the assertion becomes an accepted truth.