At the end of last term my ten year old son went on a school trip to a museum. I gave him £10 and, unbeknown to me, he’d also taken £10 from his birthday money. He got off the coach that evening looking like Bez from the Happy Mondays.
‘Did you have a nice day?’
‘Yes’ he said, eyes focussed on something only he could see.
He hadn’t spent the whole £20 on Haribo. He’d also managed to buy two cans of full fat Coke. I was proud of him. Kids should go mad in sweet shops. It’s part of growing up. If he came home with a book on renaissance art I’d have been quite worried.
But wanting a new football a week later and realising that you’ve wasted all your money on sweets is also part of growing up.
And as a football club, we need to grow up.
Everyone is excited about the opportunities the new owners present and it’s tempting to demand that they immediately get their wallets out and tell Jack Ross to go wild in the aisles. But the club doesn’t need quick fixes and big money signings. It needs rebuilding.
That isn’t to say the current owners haven’t done well with the rebuilding. They’ve done the hard graft of clearing the decks and tidying up the mess but they don’t have the money for the next stage.
We’ve seen before that if a club isn’t run well, no amount of money thrown at it will make it successful. But for the generosity of Ellis Short, all publicly available figures suggest the club could have gone under after managers and chief execs spent without building anything solid.
Apart from the fact it’d be plain daft to spend carelessly, these days there are also rules that we need to consider.
The Financial Fair Play rules are notably different in the Championship and League One. To be as straightforward as possible, in League One, a club’s income is multiplied by 0.6 and that’s how much you can spend on wages. In the Championship you can do what you like on wages as long as the club’s loss is no more than £13m a year (£5m if the owners aren’t going to pay in to cover those losses).
Now, here’s where the weird bit comes in, the income of a club for the League One test includes money paid into the club (not lent to the club) by the owners. The Championship test doesn’t.
What this means is that, if the new owners decide to solve the defensive frailties and lack of goals by signing Maguire, van Dyke, Ronaldo and Messi and they put the money in to pay them all, we’d be fine in League One… but we’d have to get rid by the end of June if they got us promoted.
It would be a very Sunderland thing to do. But we need to stop doing very Sunderland things.
The club’s current squad is, generally, very good for this division. I’d have liked to see a couple of players come in last week but not massive money signings and certainly not wholesale changes. Throwing money at it isn’t the answer.
First of all, how do we know they’d do well in League One? I can think of a few journeyman centre halves in this division who’d be quite happy to break a multi-millionaire footballer on their debut.
Secondly, the balance of the squad and spirit within it would not respond well to one or two superstars coming in.
Thirdly, look at what’s happened when we’ve signed players for big money previously. Actually, don’t look. Be glad we’ve moved on from those days.
When we get to January, I expect us to strengthen. I expect we’ll sign players who can do a job to get us over the line and then help us become a settled Championship side. The next step will be to get to the top part of the Championship and then on and on. But I don’t expect back to back promotions. I think the risks of going for that outweigh the benefits of a settled, well run club. Risking money is not something that our new investors are known for.
I’m not suggesting there won’t be an injection of money. I just suspect it’ll be on rather more sensible things than flash players and Haribo.
To boost the income of the club long term we can’t reply on the owners directly. We also can’t expect much more from the fans. The increased turnover has to come from sponsorship, facilities and corporate. Twenty years ago, I first went into a suite at the Stadium of Light and I was blown away. Everything said quality from floor to ceiling - the carpets, the TVs, the polished wood surfaces, the toilet facilities, everything. Last season I walked in and it reminded me of the lounge room in a working men’s club. As a club we can’t hope to woo business people and sponsors with a room more suited to WI bingo that 6 star dining. That is where I’d like to see money spent immediately.
The Academy and Stadium need that TLC that all buildings need at this age. Not a quick tidy up, a full-on refurbishment.
I’d also like to think that, if money is to be spent on wages, it will be to bring in more football experience to the club’s hierarchy. I have written previously about the football side of the club and that, while I’m confident in the abilities of Reid and Ross, I worry about who helps them and who they can turn to for guidance. Also, in the new set up, who takes overall responsibility for that side of the club? Charlie and Stewart both talk a good game of football, but I doubt very much our manager or Academy Director have ever asked them for their input and nor should they.
The new investors don’t have a history in the game either so can’t expect to lead those parts of the club. Hopefully, if signings are to be made, they will be in those positions to avoid the haphazard structural approaches of the past. Building a plan, putting round pegs in round holes and bringing recruitment, juniors, youth, U23s, reserves, first team, coaching, styles of play, medical and training all on to one desk.
I’m not trying to put a dampener on the exciting moment we get bought by some of the richest people ever to be involved in European football, I just hope our fans are prepared for what I think is likely to happen. I think they’ll spend wisely, not quickly and a lot of the spending is likely to be behind the scenes. It’s important that we’re ready for that and, in the long term interests of the club, we should support that and not pressure them to shower us with Haribo.