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The key players linked with Mark Campbell’s alleged Sunderland takeover

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News has emerged in the last several days that Mark Campbell has renewed his interest in Sunderland AFC. But who are the key players linked with the alleged takeover bid?

Followers of the Sunderland Twittersphere will have noticed Wise Men Say Podcast’s recent thread noting that Mark Campbell has again claimed to be close to securing a deal to purchase Sunderland AFC.

After a failed takeover last summer, followed by a further failure in attempting to purchase Scottish side Falkirk, Campbell had been a forgotten figure before recent reports suggested his renewed interest in Sunderland.

The WMS thread also named several figures said to be associated with Campbell’s bid, which has yet been unable to provide proof of funds - instead being reliant on attracting US investors.

Here’s a quick analysis of the key players in the alleged deal.


Mark Campbell

Campbell is said to be the figurehead of the proposed takeover, but truthfully very little is known about the former stockbroker who has had no real involvement in football outside of the aforementioned failed takeovers of Sunderland and Falkirk.

Author and Falkirk fan, Kenny Jamieson, published an interesting article on the saga of Campbell’s failed takeover of the Bairns. In the article, Jamieson notes that:

Campbell was described by the Board as a “low profile but highly successful businessman”, yet fans could find no evidence of business success in the UK. Instead, Companies House recorded over 20 dissolved businesses, several with compulsory strike-off orders. None of his six current UK companies were more than fifteen months old, so none had yet filed accounts. He told fans much of his success had come from real estate and coffee retail in the US, but his New York property business appeared to be a small estate agency with no evidence of properties for sale or rent. No trace could be found of a US coffee retail business. Further enquiries produced a long list of former associates who had nothing positive to say about his character. Despite being warned of a potential ‘Michael Knighton’ situation, the Board/MSG went ahead with plans to unveil him to supporters. Within days fans had provided a dossier of information and the national press had also picked up upon Campbell being sued in the US, by a former employee, for alleged sex discrimination and sexual harassment.

Nevertheless, a full seven weeks later the Board unanimously agreed to progress Campbell’s offer to club shareholders, on the basis that they were satisfied with his answers to all of their questions. The Board now believed that much of Campbell’s wealth had come from an Australian business, and from him personally operating as a real estate broker in New York. Supporters supplied evidence that his Australian company had actually entered administration before being liquidated. They also explained that he was unlikely to have operated as a NY broker, due to the visa requirements, qualifying criteria and timescales involved in gaining a licence. Two weeks later the MSG met with Campbell, who reportedly explained that he had sold his Australian business prior to its demise. Despite already possessing documentary evidence which contradicted this claim, the MSG unanimously agreed to sell their shares. Campbell confirmed to the press that he now had the full backing of both the Board and MSG. Deeply concerned, fans then unearthed evidence that Campbell had been made bankrupt in 2010, contrary to the Board/MSG’s understanding. A Freedom of Information request to the NY Real Estate Licensing Authority also confirmed that Campbell hadn’t held any type of real estate licence in the city. Fans further found that his US property business had actually ceased trading prior to his appointment as preferred bidder.

Campbell’s deal to buy Falkirk ultimately ended in failure, and since then it seems the American has again set his sights on Sunderland once more.

Last summer Campbell had alleged that his consortium:

Had the club [Sunderland] valued and our price that we agreed to buy the club at the very start, when we first made the bid, dramatically changed as time went on. There were certain components of the deal at the end that weren’t going to work for the club. It was irrelevant what we were going to do.

However, after Campbell’s name was mentioned in local media reports this past weekend, Craig Johns did note that a senior member of Sunderland’s backroom staff reached out to express his frustration in the American businessman.


John Park

Before his time at Celtic, Park was the youth academy director at Hibernian. Jose Mourinho was impressed with Park’s work in Edinburgh and offered him the role of youth team coach at Chelsea. Rangers and West Brom also approached Park to work as a chief scout and academy manager respectively.

Park, however, made the move to Glasgow and became a football development manager, which he explained was Celtic, “looking to co-ordinate all the scouting, all the recruitment throughout the club, and they have seen me as the person deemed fit enough to take up the position.”

As such, Park has been credited with unearthing talented players like Moussa Dembele, Ki Sung-Yeung, Victor Wanyama, and Virgil Van Dijk, but to name a few.

These players were subsequently sold on at large profits, though a Roker Report interview with Celtic’s Grand Auld Team Podcast last year offered another view:

There’s absolutely no doubt some of the players brought to Celtic Park during his nine years at the club were smash hits, but we were also notoriously scatter gun in our transfer approach, with a running joke amongst fans being that we never sign a first-team ready player, only ‘projects’.

It must be stressed we signed a lot of bad players during his nine years. Players you’ve never heard of and never will again. The ratio of good to bad signings was definitely not as impressive as supporters would have liked.

By the time he left it was generally acknowledged we’d stagnated severely, become too reliant on specific agents and decidedly unambitious in our quest to sign serious talent. I would argue that Rodgers definitely raised standards above what was in place under John Park.

The expectations of supporters of someone in a recruitment role are probably always unrealistic, so while there’s disappointment we could have possibly been so much more during his time here, I definitely recognise he did a decent job at Celtic.

Soccer - Scottish Premiership - Hearts v Celtic - Tynecastle Stadium Photo by Jeff Holmes/PA Images via Getty Images

Ryland Morgans

A thoroughly interesting character, Ryland Morgans is currently the assistant manager of the Cote d’Ivoire national team according to his Twitter account.

Having worked closely with the likes of Brendan Rodgers at both Swansea and Liverpool where he was the head of performance, and Sam Allardyce at Crystal Palace and Everton as the performance director with tactical and technical responsibilities, Morgans is well respected in the world of football.

Jones recently worked with Luton as a technical coach, and has also worked on an interim basis with other sides.

In April of this year, Morgans was interviewed by SciSports.com where he spoke in great detail about the use of data analytics in football. Morgans is a fan of utilising data in football - something Sunderland have lacked for quite some time:

I think data is a big part of making any decision in football, in fact in any sport in the world these days. The world is data-driven and I think you could turn any conversation into a number and make it a data-driven conversation. I think the eye of a coach or a manager is a huge part in making the decision to buy a player or play a player in a certain position, as their opinion can add context that statistical modules might not be able to provide, but data can also play a huge part. It is not like one is more important than the other, but it think it is the combination of both. Only using your eye to assess a player, or only using data is not the most effective way. I would always use data as a way to back up your opinion.

Morgans worked closely with the Welsh national team during their 2016 run to the Euro quarter finals, and this season has worked with Newport County for a spell where he explained his role to the South Wales Argus:

In terms of the performance side, it’s fairly simple – we want to make the players, as individuals and as a unit, become more efficient and effective at what they do.

We want them to be fit and fresh to perform. It’s no good paying a player x amount of money a week if they’re injured for eight, 10, 12 or 14 of those weeks across the season.

By investing in what we’re trying to do now, we’ll hopefully be able to increase player availability and reduce the risk of injury and illness. Injuries inevitably happen, but it’s my job to return players to fitness as quickly as possible.

Everton Warm Weather Training Camp Photo by Everton FC/Everton FC via Getty Images

Stephen Barbalaco

Director at Fairway Sports Capital - owned by Campbell - since last year, Stephen Barbalaco has been touted as Campbell’s preferred appointment as CEO of Sunderland AFC.

Fairway are the company often highlighted as being the driving force behind Campbell’s failed takeover bid last summer, though little is known about the group and no accounts have been publishes via Companies House.

Barbalaco describes himself on his LinkedIn page - where he and Charlie Methven are listed as connections - as an:

International Executive with 20+ years’ achievement in leadership roles across different business lines throughout Europe, US, Latin America, and Asia/Middle East. Highly effective team leader who brings to a changing regulatory environment first-hand operational experience overseeing risk management and compliance around the globe. Adept at interfacing with stakeholders, aligning people with strategic goals, and building consensus. Fluent in English, Italian, French, and Spanish. Holds MBA from the Thunderbird School of Global Management. YPO member.

A cursory glance at Barbalaco’s job history shows heavy involvement in the world of investment and private banking.