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Root & Branch: Sunderland’s new owners must learn from the fiscal mistakes of their predecessors

Part III - Money. Many mistakes have been made by Sunderland on the financial front in recent years and now we’re being made to pay. What can our potential new owners learn from this messy period?

Sunderland v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Over the last several days I’ve analysed the club’s recent issues and offered brief analysis in what went wrong and how it could potentially be remedied moving forward. Part one discussed the failings of our first team, and Part two analyzed the club’s topsy-turvy approach to coaching and recruitment.

Today is a brief summary of our finances. However, if truth be told, they could really be summed up in no more than a sentence - or perhaps even in a single word - though I’ll leave that to your own imagination...

It’s clear for all to see that the main factor behind our horrific form over the last several years relates back to one key issue: money. But, should we find ourselves under new ownership this summer, what could be done to ensure we don’t repeat the mistakes of our past?

Sunderland v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship
We deserve so much more.
Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Most fans are more than aware of our last set of finances and the bleak picture it painted, so I won’t tread over well-worn ground. Essentially, we’ve been losing money for a number of years due to spending too much money on average or worse players, a revolving door of managerial appointments, and failing to sell players on at a profit/finish high enough in the table to see lucrative returns.

The last set of accounts listed our debt at well over £100 million, whilst we made subsequent losses that would be difficult to remedy overnight. In essence, we looked to be up the creek without a paddle and the transfer budget this season certainly suggests that this was the case.

The new set of full accounts comes out no later than the end of next month, and they will paint a decent picture of last season’s situation. From Moyes’ pathetic campaign, into the summer of Grayson’s ill-fated stint with the club (up to July 31st 2017), fans will be able to analyze the club’s income and expenditure as well as our debts and overall losses.

Middlesbrough v Sunderland - The Emirates FA Cup Third Round Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

But, should the club find itself under new ownership with the debt levelled, or at least reduced significantly, how would we guard against future financial difficulty?

Many of the suggestions are common sense, if truth be told: don’t spend more than you earn, don’t spend huge sums of money on a menagerie of mediocre talent, do ensure that all playing contracts are in the best interests of the club and do look at ways of improving revenue.

It all speaks for itself, but there are several smaller things that may not have been considered in the past that could have a large positive influence on the club.

For example, a fan representative on the club’s board alongside a technical director with solid football acumen would be a great start. Our current board is small to say the least and seems to lack the gumption and power required in order to enact meaningful change.

In order to trust this club again, we will need visible board members intent on an open and transparent relationship with us, the fans. To have fan representation on the board would be amazing, but at least having a footballing brain there would be a bare minimum.

Invest in Africa/AFC Sunderland Event
Who else is on the Sunderland board?
Photo by Bethany Clarke/Getty Images

Furthermore, like it or not, we as fans will have to accept our lowly position for a while. We will have to be tolerant in the knowledge that we won’t be splashing cash on big name deals.

Instead, we will likely have to sell some of our better players moving forward in order to generate the kind of funding the club previously loaned from banking groups like SBC, who currently charge us millions of pounds in interest every year.

We will have to be shrewd in the transfer market and indeed in our approach to signing players. The club simply cannot afford to throw money and attempt a quick-fix. We’ve tried that and it just doesn’t work. Instead, we should look to be self-sufficient.

Sell coveted players with replacements already in mind thanks to an efficient and proactive scouting staff - likely headed up by a technical director working harmoniously with the manager. Encourage the development of youth both internally and also via loaning young talent out in order to enhance their development. Basically, reinvest income wisely in order to encourage more revenue in the future. It’s how business generally works.

Imperatively, however, new ownership needs to understand that this isn’t just a business, this is a proud, passionate football club with a rich culture and impressive history. This is an institution, not a chance to generate cash. New ownership needs to be empathetic and innovative at the same time.

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