Mere days before Sunderland’s players and staff return for the first day of pre-season we’re still sat wondering what on earth is going on with regards to our club’s ownership situation.
Granted, such dealings and the information about them aren’t generally made public knowledge, but it’s clear - to me at least - that the ongoing and unresolved takeover from Mark Campbell’s group of investors is holding up Sunderland in their ability to act upon their plans on and off the field for the new season.
Sunderland are one of six League One clubs who are yet to make a signing.
The others - Bolton, Rochdale, Wycombe, Bury and Lincoln - are not expected to be competing at the top end of the division in the coming season. The clubs that are - Peterborough, Ipswich, Portsmouth and Rotherham - have made decent progress already in strengthening their squads as early as they possibly can.
So should we be concerned?
A few of the other Roker Report lads covered this off in great detail on the site yesterday, an excellent article which you can read here, but speaking for myself right now I have to admit that I am very worried that we’re not going to be as prepared as we were led to believe we might be when Stewart Donald spoke about the upcoming pre-season many months ago.
Several club figures - Donald, Charlie Methven and Jack Ross to name but a few - have admitted publicly that last summer we were not as prepared as we would have liked because of the turmoil and fallout that came with the change in ownership back then.
Jack Ross had a handful of players turn up on the first day of pre-season, and the coaching staff had to fill in and make up the numbers in training games - a situation we aren’t going to see this time around, of course, but we are more than likely to have a far weaker squad on the first day of training than we did on the last day of the season at Wembley.
That aside, we also cannot avoid the fact that we’ve announced just three pre-season games so far, two of which take place during our training camp in Portugal, and one is against relatively minuscule opposition in South Shields FC.
And, to me, that’s not really good enough. It’s not the end of the world but it’s disappointing that we seem so unprepared having been told that this wouldn’t be the case.
Potential investment is moving along albeit either way we are able to move club forward at the present time. It will not stop any signings from progressing and we are working on targets. I am sure there will be news soon on players we know we need to keep improving the squad— stewart donald (@stewartdonald3) June 11, 2019
Stewart’s reassuring tweet certainly indicated that the club’s transfer business wouldn’t be impacted by the ownership situation. But, with the silence around potential additions deafening a fortnight on, I can’t help but worry that his words were said half expecting that the takeover deal would have been agreed and signed by now, with the new men in the door and making progress in the transfer market to give our club the best possible start ahead of the new season.
What we do know is that the new investors will place former Celtic chief scout John Park in charge of the club’s transfer dealings once they’re officially through the door, and that Park has been working on lining up deals ahead of this happening for some time. That much has been confirmed through various reports online, particularly in the Sunderland Echo where it’s clear they’re being given updates from figures involved as the days progress.
Until this deal is done, how can we possibly crack on with signing players? Until Park knows one hundred percent that he’s being brought on board, how can he work on behalf of the club to offer contracts to players and get them through the door?
Whilst the club still expect a deal to be done, it has to be of concern that we’re behind in terms of where we all wanted and expected to be at this stage.
Peterborough (8) and Coventry (9) lead the way in League One with signings made, and whilst that’s not particularly indicative of anything to do with Sunderland it shows that other clubs who expect to be competing with us at the top end next season are ahead in their preparations.
I’m naturally impatient and I’m struggling to bide my time as we wait for our ownership situation to be resolved, frustrated having been promised like every other fan that we would not find ourselves in a similar situation to the one we endured last pre-season again.
I was told that, in the football world, the best free agents tend to hang on until around this point in June before taking up their best contract offers. As the rest of today and tomorrow unfolds it’ll be interesting to see who signs where, and whether Sunderland are in the mix.
Who knows, we could just be playing our cards close to our chest and the openness the fanbase experienced last year with regards to transfer dealings could be a thing of the past. Ultimately, though, the passionate fan inside of me can’t help but worry that Sunderland could fall behind largely due to reasons beyond the control of the fans and even the manager - an unfortunate and disappointing position as we head into a season where nobody, not least Jack Ross, can afford an early setback in our preparations.