Methven On Maja, Money & More
Another ALS Exclusive
This season has been a consistent whirlwind and it would have been foolish to suspect the lack of a game of football this weekend would bring about an interlude. Sure enough, Josh Maja’s departure was (finally) confirmed on Saturday morning, the 16-goal striker departing the pristine shores of Roker and Seaburn for wine-sipping and, well, more beach views in Bordeaux.
Maja’s exit was inevitable, but its eventual announcement was no less disappointing for that fact. What did come as a surprise was the announcement that the club would receive nothing up front in exchange for losing their top scorer, with the amounts owed by the French club simply netting against outstanding payments Sunderland owed them for Tunisian buffet reviewer Wahbi Khazri.
As it turns out, that isn’t strictly true. Maja has of course moved on, for a fee of £1.5m that could rise to in excess of £3m, but likely won’t. Much of that fee has been eaten up (stop sniggering) by the Khazri deal, but, according to the club, not all of it. Per the club, £1.2m was still owed for the man signed three years ago, leaving £300k to be utilised as the club sees fit. That translates to roughly one Luke O’Nien and, cheerily, it seems that the money will indeed be used to strengthen a squad that has experienced more outgoings than incomings in the last four weeks.
Charlie Methven also confirmed to ALS what Juan Sartori told us earlier this week, when we met up with him in Uruguay. A meeting between Methven, Donald and Sartori prior to the visit to Charlton earlier this month had seen unanimous agreement that money would need to be spent in the current transfer window to strengthen for promotion. “We had to weigh up the financial value of promotion,” Methven said. “And we decided investing now made for a valid business case.”
Given that Jack Ross has gone on record stating that he wants three new players through the door, and Donald has tweeted that’s what the club are working towards, onlookers should ready themselves for plenty of activity in the coming days. It is no exaggeration to say that the club’s season will hinge on how the next week plays out.
As for who will be brought in to replace Maja, Will Grigg has been the name on everyone’s lips. Grigg’s current manager Paul Cook took the opportunity this week to advise that no fewer than four bids have been turned down for the Northern Irishman, including one original offer that had plenty Sunderland fans questioning just how much money the new owners have to play with. When asked about Grigg and the concerns surrounding perceived lowballing from the club, Methven stressed, “The ‘piss-taking party’ that we spoke about included Sunderland paying whatever other clubs wanted for their players without any negotiation. The point of a negotiation is to meet in the middle.” Plainly to him, a deal that results in instant agreement isn’t a particularly good one for one of the involved parties and having pledged to run the club properly in comparison to recent years it does give a believable reason as to why the initial offer for Grigg was so low.
Methven went on to discuss the upcoming Checkatrade Trophy semi-final at Bristol Rovers. The match has been scheduled for March 5 and is to be shown live on Sky Sports, a situation which rightly disgruntled those who’d bought tickets and arranged travel for the trip to Accrington Stanley that was due to take place then. The club will receive £20k by virtue of having the TV cameras present but Methven advised it was out of Sunderland’s hands. He and the rest of the club had been told the fixture would take place six or seven days prior and only yesterday did the EFL confirm that the game was to be moved to the March 5 with neither club given recourse to contest it. “In an ideal world,” Methven said, “the game would be played the week earlier.”
More widely, Methven was keen to (re-)stress some of the financial realities surrounding the club. Reports have proliferated that the club expects to reduce its operating losses to £5m this season, but he pointed out that is instead the ‘annualised’ loss position they expect to find themselves in at the end of this season. In layman’s terms, they expect to get monthly operating losses (i.e. before player trading) down to around £400k, which will then translate to an annual loss of £5m. As for this term, Methven said losses were likely to be “at least £10-12m, excluding exceptional items.” Those exceptional items would include, amongst other things, the further liability that may arise from the ongoing Ricky Alvarez court case.
If they do succeed in getting the annual deficit down to the level they expect, the new regime will deserve praise for reigning in costs so swiftly. Hearing that the club still had outstanding transfer fees to pay for players signed many moons ago caused consternation for some fans who believed Donald had stated all such fees were paid off in the summer, but Methven was adamant this was not the case. One peril of the transparency Donald and co. offer is the ambiguity that can arise from past statements, where statements that the owner makes in often very vague terms are taken more specifically by listeners. Though there is cause to question the exact details of the matter, the salient fact is that, following the removal of the remaining Khazri costs, £5m of the so-named “legacy payments” are left to be met going forward.
Even allowing for those outgoings, Methven suggested the financial picture should be rather rosier next term. In his words, “A reasonably substantial portion of the [2019/20] parachute payment won’t be going into a financial black hole.” That drew a distinction with this year, whereby the club’s £34m parachute fee has fluttered in one door and out the other with little diversion. Returning to those concerns about the club having sufficient money to propel itself to where it needs to be, Methven said, “We can’t determine what happens on the pitch, but we can determine how the club behaves and whether it is sustainable, whether that be for Stewart or for any future owner(s).”
That is true and praiseworthy but getting things right before January’s end will go a long way to making their future task that bit easier.