As the talks of takeover heat up, we gathered together our regular authors and bloggers to get their thoughts on the current situation in relation to SAFC's potential takeover. This week, Sobs, Michael Conroy and Gary Burrell gave their thoughts on the recent news at the club.
What was your first reaction to the proposed takeover?
Sobs is a bit sceptical of the takeover at first but is willing to see how things play out, "My initial thoughts, on reading what detail was available, were that it’s not really a full takeover, but a shifting of the majority shareholding from Donald to Louis-Dreyfus with Sartori upping his holding as well. I also wondered why Donald and Methven were keeping their shares – for about ten minutes. If I were in their shoes (not that I’ve ever owned a pair of blue suede loafers) I’d be wanting a chance to make a bit of cash, and I guess that’s exactly why they’re holding on to their shares – in the event that things take off, the club will become more saleable and in such a situation their shares would be worth more. I can’t imagine that Donald will want any more to do with the day to day running of the club in the future than he has in the last six months, and Methven will just hang on to see if a profit is in the offing. Don’t get me wrong, I sincerely wish the pair of them would just go away altogether, but I can understand their reasons for keeping a bit in their back pocket. It would appear that Sartori’s South of France connections have at last paid off – delayed by his pursuit of a political career – when we’d imagined something happening fairly quickly after he first became involved. His choice of investor took me a bit by surprise – 22 years old, and with a trust fund of £1-2bn depending on which paper you read, managed by his mam? Oh dear, rich little rich kid… but a little bit of research revealed that Kyril’s dad died when Kyril was 11 or 12, and a trust fund is the normal way of passing money on from an extremely rich parent to their offspring. He also has a business degree from Harvard and plays an active role in the running of the family company, and apparently gans to the match in Marseille. In which case, the Roker Riviera should appeal! Of course there was, and still is, some degree of scepticism – as Ian Hunter sang, 'Once Bitten Twice Shy'. Since Donald has been trying to sell the club, we’ve had the Dell 'investment', which has so far come to nothing we fans can see, and we’ve had Bill Storey the fizzy pop man, so please forgive me if I don’t run down the street shouting 'Louis Dreyfus Red and White Army'. However, there does seem to be a bit more substance about the whole thing this time. A rich kid playing FIFA, but now with a real club to do it with? Yes, but isn’t that exactly what Abramovich has been doing at Chelsea since 2003? And what the owner(s) of every club apart from those owned by Fans Trusts are doing? After taking a deep breath, I decided that the best thing was to let things take their course and see what happens."
Michael Conroy is similarly sceptical, "My first reaction to the takeover was surprise really. Takeovers that happen are generally kept quiet until it's all systems go and the ones where some bloke is talking about it for months and giving loads of information out via social media tend to be a lot of hot air so this one was something to be taken seriously. That said, past experience with the current owners has left me fearing false dawns. I have suspicions based largely on a wedge of distrust that has built in me since Donald, Methven and Sartori came in so I'm looking for the catch. If this is a serious project then I'm not sure Louis Dreyfuss and Sartori have the necessary experience to take huge strides and would be greatly comforted if we were to hear them bringing in someone who knows the English game inside out to support their project, but those details are not going to be available yet. My hope in terms of Donald retaining a share is that he is doing that prospectively, i.e. he has belief that the project will be a success and that he will make money out of his remaining share. If that's the case then I don't really have a problem with that; he's entitled to make his profit out of it I guess and ultimately if he does make a profit we're in a much healthier position than we are now so everybody wins really. If however he is retaining an interest so that he can continue to have an involvement in the running of the club then I would be very concerned. In terms of the Marseille history it's clear that Kyril's father is well thought of by Marseille fans as he turned them round from a real low point (sound familiar?) and Marseille have a very passionate set of fans. Kyril is clearly a football man although his mother didn't share the love for the game. He will have learned a lot from the sidelines but at the age of 22 his experience is limited so there are positives and negatives in his involvement. Of course, it's all entirely out of our control and so we just have to sit and watch from the outside in the hope that it's a good thing."
Gary Burrell didn't take the news reports seriously regarding the takeover, "My first reaction was laughter. Do they think we’re daft? A lengthy ‘period of exclusivity’ culminates with the same three existing owners plus a 22 year old lad with a big trust fund? Ha’way man!"
Do you think it'll go through and what should the first thing the new owners do?
Sobs thinks whoever takes over has a pretty big task on sorting the behind the scenes issues out, "Who knows. There does seem to be a bit more this than other recent moves – if you count Storey as a serious contender, which I don’t – and thus would appear to have more chance of actually happening. However, to repeat myself, 'Once Bitten Twice Shy'. No premature celebrations, but if it does there are a number (a bloody big number, actually) of things they need to do pretty damn quick. Sort out the club structure. We’ve got no chairman, no academy director, and nobody directing the, err, direction of the club, football-wise. Firstly, install a chairman. Secondly, decide what they’re going to do with the academy, and thirdly, and probably most importantly, get somebody who will establish a Sunderland footballing philosophy and set the club up from top to bottom to run with it. This might be the chairman, but probably not. Oh, and get Jim Rodwell on an effective communication course as soon as possible. If they decide to keep him on, that is. I wouldn’t."
Despite his reservations, Michael is willing to give the potential new owners a chance, "I think that largely depends on whether agreement can be reached with the Americans over that £10m loan. If agreement is reached there I would be confident that the takeover is going to complete. From what I'm reading it seems likely that Kyril is keen to run a club, be that Sunderland or Marseille and so I do think we need to take this seriously. If Sartori wants to build football in Uruguay then it makes sense to forge a relationship with an English club so for purely selfish reasons it would seem that both parties would be keen to buy Sunderland. The first three things the owners should do would be to get a Director of Football in. The project they are discussing in terms of Uruguayan prospects requires careful planning and good management. To rebuild the Academy is a huge task and improving the scouting network is equally challenging. A DoF would be able to put those plans in place allowing a manager to concentrate on first team duties, which brings me on to the second thing...sack Parkinson. I have said for years that Sunderland need an identity and a long term plan. Everything under Donald et al has been short termism, plasters over axe wounds. Get a DoF, agree a plan and appoint a manager to fit with that plan. That plan should permeate every level at the club so that Academy intakes are building to the same blueprint that the first team operate from. Third thing, engage the fans. Everyone is feeling a bit limp at the moment in terms of support. Distance does not always make the heart grow fonder. There have been a string of releases from Rodwell that have driven a wedge between club and fans and that has been coupled with a period where we haven't been able to get to the ground. That distance that has grown needs to be bridged.
Gary Burrell is still very sceptical and doesn't think it's a takeover until Donald, Methven and Satori are gone out of the club completely, "I’ve no idea if it will go through to be honest. And if it does then Sartori, Donald and Methven will still be here, so what’s the point? And as for Kyril Louis-Dreyfus, imagine if this was another club? Charlton or Wigan for example, you’d seen from afar that they were getting shafted by their owners and the club was up for sale. Next thing, you read in the press that a 22 year old lad is going to be taking over using some of the trust fund his rich mother holds for him, you’d instantly think ‘that’s going to be a disaster!’ I’d love to be proven wrong of course, but regardless of Louis-Dreyfus, the main concern I have is the fact that the Three Amigos will still be at the club. Once they’re gone, I will consider it a ‘takeover’."
Parkinson in or out and why?
If the takeover does go through, Sobs reckons that the new owners may already have someone in mid, "All of which is going to a pretty big thing in the career of Phil Parkinson. Whether any new regime will keep him on will only be discovered when they’ve done those things listed above and had a good look at how Parky would fit into their Sunderland philosophy. It might be that he’s a perfect fit, but of that I’m not so sure and I would expect that, if this takeover is indeed a real thing, they’ve either got somebody in mind and that Parky’s days are numbered, or they’ve identified how he can work within their desired footballing framework. Maybe having access to five subs will be the breakthrough for him – who knows. I, like the majority of Sunderland fans, am sick and tired of constantly wanting shot of the manager, and would like nothing more than for the current incumbent to get things right. I can’t imagine that the prospective new regime won’t have read media reports from which to form their own opinion. Sartori, as a shareholder, football fan, and occasional attendee at the SoL and the Colliery Tavern, will also have had his finger on the increasingly weakening pulse of SAFC and thus be aware of our manager’s rigid adherence to his plan A team formation, the associated strengths and weaknesses of that, and will have been working out how that can take us forward, if at all. Perhaps with the right backing, the Parky way might be the right way, but we have to remember that no matter how much pocket money young Kyril has, the current rules severely restrict how much he can spend on the 'front line' in terms of wages and transfer fees. Investment in the academy and general club infrastructure would appear to be the only way forward. Other than free beer and burgers, that is."
Michael Conroy reckons Parkinson may have seen his day on Wearside, "As I said, Parkinson must go for me. He's an inflexible manager and his results suggest he just isn't really cut out for the job. If you look at the players we have I maintain that they are good enough for this league, perhaps with one or two additions. I can't see a single player in there though where you can say that Parky is getting the best out of him, for that reason he needs to go."
Gary thinks that Parky should be given a bit longer, "On Parkinson, it’s difficult for me as I’ve not been watching the games this season so I can only judge what others are saying regarding the performances, tactics, substitutions etc. on the League Standings alone, I’d say give him a bit longer, but there are other fans a lot more qualified than me that say otherwise."