There are still a lot of unknowns regarding Sunderland’s potential new investors, while each day a few more details come to the fore. Until all is completed, and the dust has settled; exactly how the club will change, how ambitious the outlook is likely to be, who will own what, and what positions everyone will then occupy will be purely speculation.
If previous regimes at the football club have taught the Black Cats fans anything it is not to look too far forward. Going back to the Drumaville Consortium, led by club legend Niall Quinn, there was plenty of excitement on and off the pitch with a flurry of signings over two extraordinary seasons. In the appointment of Roy Keane there was a sense, on Keane’s express recommendation, that the club should remember its heritage and form an identity.
Looking back, the very quiet takeover by Ellis Short and subsequent summer spends that followed appeared just as exciting as the Drumaville years. But then, Sunderland fans know what followed, with club identity and accountability lost in the years of struggle.
Fast forward to last summer and the arrival of Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven following a second relegation in two years, the club arguably in the worst financial position in the Football League and an eye-watering player wage bill, with the club were in the doldrums. Short had struggled to get rid of Sunderland for over a year, and when the current owners arrived, they were greeted as saviours.
That enthusiasm in recent weeks in some quarters might have turned a little sour, with question marks over a lack of investment in the transfer market like Drumaville’s or Short’s initial years brought.
But in a decade the football landscape has changed, not just in ‘investment’ but mainly by the introduction of the Financial Fair Play and using its regulations throughout the Football League.
The Championship is filled with teams gambling large amounts of money to break into the coal seam wealth of the Premier League. Clubs like Wolves and most recently Aston Villa have gambled their futures on the prospect of promotion. In comparison, their local rivals Birmingham City have not fared so well with the recent points deduction as a result of exceeding their income. The new financial rules and regulations don’t just consider transfer fees, but all expenditure. There are strict rules for spending as a percentage of turnover in League’s One and Two also.
While Sunderland may have the biggest turnover outside the Championship now, it is not exempted from these spending regulations or its withstraints.
That includes that club’s wage bill, and we all know in that department Sunderland had one of the highest collective wage bills in the Premier League before relegation. While despite the freefall over two years those wages are still not in line with the rest of League One. No matter what division, the problem of high wages as well as the Fair Play rules have stifled Sunderland’s ability to invest the kind of fees the fans would wish to see.
It’s expected one or two high earners may leave to reduce that burden and make Sunderland’s expenditure even brighter on paper and allow far more reinvestment over the coming years. That would be welcome news for a rather tetchy club fan base currently. Older fans recoil with the transfer figures and complain that football is just a business these days.
The hard to ignore fact is that if Sunderland AFC hadn’t been a well-run business over the last 12 months there would be far more uncertainty after missing out on an instant return to the Championship.
Not only that, but there would have been a lot less interest to invest in the club.
While fans can talk about hypothetical millions, like they are building a dream team, the margins for error could have put Sunderland in fear of a transfer embargo, the kind imposed on Chelsea. This is the reason why potential owners or investors, their plans and intentions for a football club are scrutinised beforehand, and it’s also why we hear the term ‘due diligence’ with such frequency.
There is a long way to go - the road to the promised land isn’t smooth or guaranteed. However, there are few clubs better placed than the now ‘debt-free’ Sunderland. No football club is impervious to mistakes, but the difference between the clubs that build dynasties and the ordinary clubs is their ability to learn from and make fewer mistakes going forward.
We were promised, ‘the p*** taking party is over’, so hopefully over the coming months the real enjoyment can begin again for this rejuvenating the red and whites who are financially back in the black.