It’s been another tough week at Sunderland, but the one big positive to emerge from the latest bout of ownership distress is the way the various elements of the club have presented a unified position when it came to reacting to The Fans. Together (TFT) the group attempts to acquire a 39 percent stake.
From social media to supporter websites and even through the good old medium of letters to The Northern Echo, fans quickly expressed their discomfort with TFT – a “self-contained decentralized community” according to their home page – trying to raise funds to buy in Sunderland via the sale of crypto tokens.
With the hype still at its peak, Black Cats president Kyril Louis-Dreyfus stepped in by releasing a public statement that could hardly have been more dismissive when it came to weighing the prospect of a deal involving TFT.
“Neither I nor any SAFC employee have had any dialogue with cryptocurrency group The Fans Together, and although a timely conclusion on this matter is preferable, any transfer of shares must not compromise the integrity of the club,” said Louis. Dreyfus. “All shareholders must also be qualified to carry the club forward in line with EFL governance and align with the values and principles of the SAFC and its supporters, as well as our long-term strategy.”
Would a cryptocurrency group pass the EFL owners and directors test? You’d like to think not, even if the Football League’s track record of swaying through a succession of dubious shareholders is hardly worth trusting. Are TFT the right people to work with Louis-Dreyfus and Juan Sartori? Even leaving aside understandable concerns about cryptocurrencies, the fact that TFT’s statement trumpeted their ties to Greek Super League 2 club FC Episkopi and National League North club Bradford Park Avenue as evidence of their footballing experience, immediately sounded the alarm bell.
At present, TFT’s interest appears to have died in the water. However, developments this week have highlighted the clutter of Sunderland’s ownership structure and the potential for significant disruption and damage if current issues are not resolved before the start of the new league season. Having finally won promotion via last month’s play-off final, this should be a time when the Sunderland owners are focusing their attention on improving their squad. Instead, they are stuck in a dispute that is becoming increasingly divisive and entrenched.
Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven want to sell their shares, but it is entirely clear that they are eager to squeeze the maximum possible value out of their current holding before they leave. According to chief operating officer Steve Davison, Louis-Dreyfus wants to increase his current holding and ideally would like to buy all of the club’s shares apart from the 20% owned by Sartori, with whom he is happy to continue working.
The problem is that Louis-Dreyfus is unable or unwilling to meet the current asking price of Donald and Methven. The personal wealth of the 25-year-old Swiss, as opposed to the size of his family’s wealth, remains somewhat unclear, but sources familiar with ongoing discussions suggest that it is Donald and Methven’s demands that are the key obstacle to a deal rather than Louis- Dreyfus Paying Ability.
The current impasse has existed since the beginning of the year and, if anything, relations between the two sides seem to have degenerated. The fact that Donald and Methven were willing to speak to TFT despite Louis-Dreyfus’s obvious perplexities, as evidenced by his statement, is instructive, as is the couple’s absence from any official Sunderland function over the course of the play weekend. -off despite their presence at Wembley.
Ultimately, Donald and Methven have the right to sell to whomever they see fit, although it is understood that Louis-Dreyfus would then have the right to comply with the terms of any agreed deal. That would probably be the ideal scenario, even if it seems a bit far off at the moment.
The whole thing is a mess and the fear is that while all sides insist it is “business as usual”, the increasingly bitter stalemate could negatively impact Sunderland’s ability to sign the players they need to maximize their chance to be competitive in the league next season.
The fact that the Black Cats have yet to sign for the summer isn’t too worrying given the stagnant nature of the transfer market across the EFL, although there appears to have been little progress in contract negotiations with Bailey Wright, Lynden Gooch and Patrick Roberts are kind of a concern.
What’s more troubling is that with Donald and Methven still owning 39% of the club’s shares, it remains difficult to see how the transfer business will be conducted if the couple refuses to finance what should be their share of any summer investment. .
Would Louis-Dreyfus be willing to close the gap? What would you expect in return? Louis-Dreyfus is the controlling shareholder and, assuming he works in concert with Sartori, he actually has a majority stake, so Donald and Methven will be willing to fund more than a third of Sunderland’s transfer business if they actually have no say in. chapter on how the money is spent? Why should outside investors be willing to buy such a deal, acquiring a significant stake in a football club, but having little or no say in how the club is run?
There are many unanswered questions, and as this week demonstrated, the current uncertainty creates the potential for some less-than-desirable actors to appear on the scene. It’s hard to find anyone who thinks The Fans Together are the right people to be the keepers of Sunderland, but the fact that they’ve still been able to claim a seat at the bargaining table is extremely alarming.