The nature of the deals Sunderland negotiated for the five players farmed out on loan this season has come under the spotlight again with the revelation that the Black Cats are still paying a portion of Wahbi Khazri and Papy Djilobodji’s wages.
Khazri joined Stade Rennais on a season-long stint with Djilobodji spending the campaign with FCO Dijon. Elsewhere, Fabio Borini is on loan at AC Milan and Jeremain Lens returned to Turkey in the summer to join Besiktas. Club record signing Didier Ndong linked up with Watford last week and was on the bench on Monday night as the Hornets beat Chelsea.
Aside from the Black Cats inability to invest anything above a nominal fee for players in each of the last two transfer windows, the major theme of this campaign has been a tendency to loan out those few individuals left at the club who were signed during the latter years of the Premier League era.
That policy has left many fans scratching their heads at an apparent lost opportunity to rake in a little cash to enable first Simon Grayson and then Chris Coleman to sign some desperately needed quality additions to keep Sunderland out of trouble.
Notwithstanding the fact that neither Lens, Borini, Khazri, Djilobodji or - latterly - Ndong retained any desire to stay at Sunderland, seemingly, there are three good - and probable - reasons why loan deals were agreed. But just how much is due into the club’s coffers on the back of these arrangements?
The ‘English Tax’
Such are the market conditions in the Premier League-boom years, that wage rates for footballers in this country are generally at a rate 20 to 25 percent above those in the rest of Europe.
This ‘English Tax’ creates a problem when trying to shift players back to the continent for whom there is no demand domestically and it is common-place for clubs in England to pay somewhere between 15 and 30 percent of player’s wages who are loaned to leagues elsewhere in Europe.
That explains Sunderland paying just over a fifth of Wahbi Khazri’s pay this season, though there’s little logical explanation for forking out over 60 percent of Papy Djilobodji’s salary.
That’s because only an idiot - or a desperate David Moyes - would have handed a player with zero Premier League experience a contract worth a then-£35,000 a week and ended up being saddled with much of it once he went on loan elsewhere.
The Black Cats probably had literally no chance of moving Djilobodji on in the summer without offering a significant sweetener - such was the battering his reputation took last season. The Senegalese defender signed a four-year contract when he arrived on Wearside in 2016 and the only option was to virtually pay someone to take him - and so Sunderland have done.
A change in policy at the Stadium of Light
Under the pre-Bain regime at the Stadium of Light, it was a broadly unwritten - albeit well accepted - policy that anyone going on loan outside of England would have to have 100-percent of their salary paid by the host club. All responsibility for the player was then passed to the foreign team who held sway over the signing simply by virtue of paying all of his wages.
Should no suitor come forward on those terms, then the player would be sent out to a domestic club - one at which it would be easier to keep an eye on the individual and deal with any issues that arose.
That position changed at some point after Martin Bain’s arrival, particularly as the CEO increasingly delved into transfers, negotiating and contracting - functions which under previous regimes were carried out by the director of football or whichever alternative administrative guise was flavour of the month at Sunderland AFC.
Put simply, the current crop of loan exits - in the form they have taken - of Lens, Khazri, Djilobodji and Borini to clubs in Europe probably wouldn’t have happened a couple of years ago.
Maximising every last drop from the deal
It’s never been entirely clear what payment terms have been arranged with the clubs who have Sunderland players on loan this season - but to many observers, these deals have never looked entirely ‘right’.
Just why would the Black Cats forego the opportunity to raise some cash now and launch a safety push - or optimistically have funded a squad which could have been capable of getting back in to the Premier League at the first attempt?
But it seems there’s nothing untoward at play here, Sunderland have simply attempted to squeeze what they can from shifting these players off the wage bill with incoming cash spread over a period of time - though there is a sting in the tail.
It is our understanding that:
- Sunderland have already received two-thirds of the agreed fee that will see Jeremain Lens become a Besiktas player on a permanent basis. The arrangement with the Turkish champions was spread over a prolonged period to enable the Istanbul club to meet its Financial Fair Play obligations. But there is no windfall coming from Turkey this summer from the sale of the Dutch winger - because the Black Cats have already had most of it;
- Reports in France - and from the president of Stade Rennais himself - may have been misleading, and the Ligue 1 outfit did have an obligation to buy Wahbi Khazri outright - but it remains unclear as to whether the Brittany-based outfit have made the initial payment to Sunderland which would have triggered the plan to make the deal permanent;
- The Borini to AC Milan deal was the hardest to do last summer. The Italian giants are paying 100-percent of the 26-year-old’s wages but the final transfer fee already agreed includes provision for three or four payments - but they only start at the end of this season and are spread throughout next.
- The most difficult player to move on proved to be Papy Djilobodji, whose reputation had taken a battering in his one season at Sunderland. It’s entirely probable no deal exists to make the transfer to Dijon permanent with the Black Cats just happy to move him on last summer.
Essentially, to sum it up - Fabio Borini and Jeremain Lens are gone and will never return to Sunderland; though the installments that remain due on the modest fees to make their exits permanent will have little impact on any future transfer budget Sunderland can muster.
Wahbi Khazri’s permanent transfer to Stade Rennais will probably be confirmed in the summer, though it is impossible at this stage to know whether the Ligue 1 club have made the agreed payment to set this in motion and he may yet return to Wearside in the summer.
Papy Djilobodji will be for sale on the open market at the end of the season and may yet make a return to Sunderland for pre-season training. It’s unlikely FCO Dijon - a relative minnow in Ligue 1 - can afford to buy him or meet his wage demands in full.