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William Storey

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Bad owners all over the EFL highlight the importance of finding a good one in KLD

As the Championship continues to be filled with owners of questionable status and with questionable sources of funding, Sunderland have been lucky to avoid a similar fate, writes Jonny Hawley

What could have been...
| Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images

First and foremost, I’m sorry for making you look at the beardy fellow above, because I think we all had quite enough of him in 2020!

However, he represents the classic EFL club owner of our day perfectly: plenty of bluster, big talk of ‘clearing the debts’ and investing heavily, but little in the way of cold, hard cash to back it up.

Owners such as William Storey are ten a penny.

Dai Yongge, the man he wants to replace at Reading, has overseen relegation to League One, points deductions, unpaid taxes to HMRC, late payments to players and name it, they probably haven’t paid it.

Reading v Bolton Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Photo by David Horton - CameraSport via Getty Images

Mel Morris also had Derby relegated with twenty one points’ worth of deductions, and his successor David Clowes summed it up like this:

I honestly believe that if we hadn’t done the deal on July 1, the club would’ve gone in another five days.

There was no money left to pay the wages. It was the end of the road, as simple as that.

The list of clubs who’ve gone into administration recently feels endless. Among others are Bolton, Wigan and Bury, and we all know what happened to the latter.

Why can’t the EFL do more to protect these clubs? It seems like whatever proof of funds they demand isn’t enough, and the amount of unpaid tax throughout the Football League would make Jimmy Carr or Gary Barlow blush!

The examples above show where financial mismanagement and shallow pockets will take a club, so all you need is a rich owner, right? On the other hand, ask Hull, Cardiff, or Sheffield Wednesday fans whether a rich owner is always a good thing.

Hull City v Everton: The Emirates FA Cup Third Round Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Assem Allam, Vincent Tan, and Dejphon Chansiri all had plenty in the bank, but I wouldn’t fancy them rocking up here, because the truth is that being a billionaire doesn’t mean that you care about the club by default.

Money can’t connect you with footballing identity or spirit. You have to live it. From trying to change Hull’s name to ‘Hull Tigers’ to changing Cardiff’s colours from blue to red, these are the acts of men who simply don’t get it.

What’s the point of having a fat wallet when you’re trying to ruin a club’s soul?

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Cardiff City v Southampton - Cardiff City Stadium
How to win friends and influence people
Photo by Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty Images

Chansiri is the latest example of an owner achieving the impossible feat of uniting an entire fanbase behind one opinion: hating him.

His infamous ‘club statement’, in which he demanded the fans be nicer to him while simultaneously pulling £2 million in monthly funding to actually run the club, encapsulates the problem perfectly.

Owners don’t have to want their club to prosper, and at any time and for any reason, they can decide to sabotage it in any number of ways.

How can you account for that in a ‘fit and proper’ test? Maybe a checkbox for ‘I promise not to turn into a spiteful berk and bankrupt the club if the fans are mean’ somewhere on the form? Maybe they could call it the anti-Oyston pledge.

Thankfully, Sunderland and Kyril Louis-Dreyfus are unlikely to face the same problems.

The Sunderland Echo has estimated his net worth at about £2 billion, while ‘Fortune’ has the Louis-Dreyfus company 228th in their ‘Global 500’ list, with over $1 billion of profit in the last financial year.

Not bad for someone who’s been able to buy a pint for less than ten years, is it? And the evidence of his stewardship so far hints at none of the insanity some owners are prone to.

He’s proved that he’s got our best interests at heart and he clearly wants to see us develop into a top flight club before too long. The reimagining of our entire footballing ethos, from overhauling the academy and transfer policy to appointing Tony Mowbray, shows an ownership actively driving the club in a unified direction.

Sunderland v Luton Town: Sky Bet Championship Play-Off Semi-Final First Leg Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images

Luckily for us, but unluckily for everyone else, that’s often the exception rather than the rule.

Luck is a key word here, too, as there are only so many multi-billionaires who fancy running a club outside of the glitzy Premier League. However, we’ve got the stadium, fanbase, and history to entice one of the few that do into taking a punt on us.

Were it not for Dreyfus and his sizeable pockets, though, we’d be at the mercy of the vultures, just like everyone else. We got a ‘good ‘un’ this time, but you don’t have to think too far back to remember where Madrox took us: haemorrhaging millions and languishing in the third tier.

It’s true that we don’t know where we’d be if they’d sold us to Michael Dell in 2019, but it does speak volumes that every English club MSD Capital went on to invest in (Burnley, Derby, and Southampton) were eventually relegated.

Therefore, providing Dreyfus retains his sanity, we should be safe and capable of thriving for the foreseeable future, which is more than most clubs at our level can say!

This problem isn’t confined to the EFL, either.

Everton FC v AFC Bournemouth - Premier League Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

You only need to glance at the Premier League- where Everton are the latest club on the verge of falling into the hands of American venture capitalists- to realise that no club is really safe from the relentless onslaught of owners who fancy turning a cultural institution into a glorified advert.

Turn up at the ground on a Saturday, watch your side get pumped, and buy some insurance at half time. You might get relegated, but think of the profits for 777 Partners! That’s what football’s really about!

It’s definitely worth remembering that one day, Dreyfus will sell up.

It’s inevitable, because no owner stays forever, and with the state of football ownership at the minute, we’d all do well to analyse any prospective buyer with a serious dose of scepticism.

If we let just any old Tom, Dick, or Harry with a chequebook waltz in without question, we might end up featuring in an article just like this one.


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