There was a lot of debate as to the qualities of “the right candidate” when it came to the potential suitors of Sunderland AFC in the last six months.
Saudi oil baron? Russian oligarch?
Texan billionaire? Irish entrepreneur? I think we can all agree the first two seemed like the choicest pick there, but as the dust settles on the seemingly-silent auction held by Ellis Short we (almost) have our new owner: Stewart Donald.
So what does this mean for the future? A cursory glance at the recent history of his business dealings tells us he has some experience in the realm of club ownership, having come into Eastleigh FC as a director when his company Bridle Insurance purchased the majority share in February 2012. Whether or not that led to any kind of tangible success for the club is a question to be put directly to their fans, and Roker Report will be bringing that to you presently, but it would be generous if we said that the magnitude of Sunderland AFC is comparable to a club like Eastleigh, with a record attendance on par with our travelling support alone. But there are backers involved with this group that haven’t yet been revealed, and it was noted in Donald’s statement:
Our group have all been involved in building – or re-building – football clubs to reach their potential...
It’s easy to get carried away with the idea that Sunderland AFC may have finally turned a corner, but it’s important to nurture caution.
We should be very happy, yes, and we should be excited, but only really because of that word: potential. We know very little about the people now at the helm, though the immediate sacking of Chris Coleman would imply they have a plan firmly in place and a name in mind to replace him. For the most part though, we’re blind to anything but the possibilities of any new direction; any galvanisation of the flagging spirit of the club is like water to a city dying of thirst.
It remains to be seen who will oversee the final match against Wolverhampton Wanderers next Sunday and I personally wouldn’t be surprised to see Stockdale in the dugout, but the big issue now is that we’re sitting here with much the same amount of information we’ve had for most of the season, which is to say very little. We have the caveat of hope that this new unknown brings, but we are still effectively rendered powerless until more information comes out. We can only speculate as to the effectiveness of this new group and with that comes more than a little anxiety.
Ellis Short made repeated efforts to clarify that he would only entertain suitors that had both the financial capacity and footballing acumen to do this club justice, and while I’m sure a lot of that hinged on his desire to garner various immediate and future payments for his trouble, you can’t help but wonder exactly what made this group the “right” group. Was it solely the above: that Short desired some generous terms and conditions in the sale and this was the group prepared to give them to him? Or were his intentions as noble as he would have us believe? That’s just something else to put on the pile of stuff we may never know, but in the little hole that should be filled with knowledge, doubt is allowed to form.
This raises more questions: if this group was willing and able to meet Shorts reportedly substantial demands and take on a task as massive as this, just how well-funded are they? What can we expect now in the months to come? I’m sure I speak for most of us when I say we were resigned to a few years more of destitution, safe in the knowledge that Martin Bain was pursuing Bosmans playing in League One. Now where do we stand? Is it too naive to think that the cash is going to be splashed on a forward charge for promotion? Is it safer to assume that this group believes they have a comfortable grasp on stabilising/establishing teams in the lower divisions, and that they intend to embark on as painfully slow a rebuild as was forecast under Short? What does this mean for the contract negotiations of the likes of Asoro, Gooch, Maja? Reportedly they’ve all been offered new deals but there’s no denying that players and their agents don’t appreciate the sort of sustained instability that a club in this situation demonstrates.
As I say, we’re left with more questions than answers and until those are answers are forthcoming and the true scope and intentions of this consortium are unveiled to us in the coming days, we can only sit on our hands and pray for the best.
But it is important to keep a hold of our wild imaginations and temper our expectations in the months to come because we’ve been done over many times before, and like a kicked dog it’s easy for us to bark and bite at the first sign of trouble. It’s crucial that we maintain a level of support that the new owners have likely never received from a fan-base, so that we’re prepared for whatever lies in store. That target of Bosmans in League One may still not be far from the mark, but with the news that we’re apparently ‘debt-free’ it’s easy to hope for the odd six-digit price tags here and there.
We may or may not be flush with cash, but one thing is for certain: for the first time in a long time Sunderland fans can take a breath and consider a future that wouldn’t fit perfectly into a comparison with a Dickensian poor house, and I think I just heard Wearside let loose a sigh of relief.