RR: Many people point to the Darren Bent situation as the start of our downfall. Plenty has been said about it, Darren denies wanting to leave and claims he was forced to hand in a transfer request. From your perspective, what is the truth of the reasons Darren Bent left?
NQ: The situation is very easy to explain. We were at pre-season training in Portugal and his agent turned up and said “we’ve made a deal with a team in Turkey and we want Darren to go”. That was in the summer during pre-season.
Of course we said “don’t be silly, Darren is going nowhere” and they said “okay, well offer him what the Turkish club are offering him” - but to give him the money they were offering at the time was just... impossible. It would have blown the whole thing apart.
Darren is a good lad, he had got himself into the England squad, but these are the problems clubs have, you don’t just have problems when the club is doing poorly, you have them when they are doing well too. Anyway, we managed to fight this off and we pressed ahead with the plan for the season, he carried on with the old wage, he didn’t sign a new contract and come Christmas time, Steve Bruce came in and asked “if we get good money, can I spend it?” and I said “I don’t know who’ll give us good money” and he told me Aston Villa were interested and desperate.
Aston Villa offered us a huge amount of money for it to happen and we took the decision. We took that decision because we felt that Darren was playing and wishing he was on more money than he was, but for Darren to say we kicked him out is actually not true at all.
Nothing would have given us more pleasure than to renew his contract with a pay-rise, but not at the levels other clubs were prepared to go to. Rather than having an unhappy player, we just felt it was the right thing to do.
Looking back at the money the club spent, even in the years after I left - should we have kept him? It would have just guaranteed that all the other players would have came in asking for crazy money. So sometimes you have to do what is right for the balance sheet.
RR: I spoke to Asamoah Gyan a year or so ago and he had a very similar story to Darren’s...
NQ: Asamoah Gyan was the exact same.
Whatever players say, I’ll tell you what the agents say and I’ll tell you what goes on behind the scenes.
With Asamoah, he came to us - via his agent - who said “I have had a huge offer in the Middle East and I must go” to which we told him “look, we can’t do that”.
We waited a six month period to see if he would come back into line, we gave him a new contract too - although it did pale in comparison to what was on the table from Al-Ain and also he was being pressured by them to make the move.
We were hoping he’d go there for three months and hate it and want to come back...
RR: And he didn’t...
NQ: No, he didn’t. The fact of the matter is they were probably offering him five times the amount he was on with us and we were told there was no tax on it, so in theory he was on ten times the amount he was on here.
If we were right up the top of the league, fighting for a Champions League spot then you have more ability to keep hold of players the way top four clubs do, but we were Sunderland trying really hard to keep everything working.
If we were to give one of those players the money they were wanting - well, I wasn’t going to sanction that because it puts the club in a terrible position.
We weren’t taking in any more income, we had hit the level of what we could spend considering Ellis Short gave us a lot of money, another level would have blown the club into another level.
It was the financial facts of life we have to abide by. Asamoah went, Jordan (Henderson) went - those deals alone brought us in £50m to £60m. You have to do a bit of book balancing as well, because Ellis had funded a lot of moves. I remember when (Lee) Cattermole had became available late in the window and we managed to get him and beat off other clubs because Ellis offered to pay the fee up front - he allowed us to do that. There’s a lot of things like that people don’t know about Ellis and it’s things like that, where he showed his mettle and it wasn’t the only time.
But when you do that, you have to balance up the books. You saw it this year with Josh Maja. It was terrible that his development here was stunted by what happened.
I understand exactly what the board was going through as that was developing. You can have big problems unless you’re competing in the top six of the big league. Agents can just go to other clubs and say “look at how well my player is doing at Sunderland in the bottom half of the league, imagine what he can do for you” etc etc.
He’ll then up the ante with the player, tell him he can get more money, put pressure on the club to sell and we made the decision to sell because we were in danger of putting the club in financial danger, so I made those decisions on the players you just mentioned.
What you hope is that you can get a player just as good on half as much, but that is very hard to do and for us it didn’t happen.
Check back tomorrow for Part Three of our interview as Niall talks honestly about the circumstances surrounding his departure from the club, and how involved he was with a potential takeover of the club when Ellis Short was looking to sell in 2018...