Six crucial challenges facing Stewart Donald and Sunderland's new owners should EFL approve takeover

The EFL are considering Stewart Donald's proposed takeover of Sunderland.

Tuesday, 1st May 2018, 10:00 am
EASTLEIGH, HAMPSHIRE - AUGUST 01: Eastleigh chairman Stewart Donald looks on prior to the Pre-Season Friendly match between Eastleigh and Northampton Town at Silverlake Stadium on August 1, 2014 in Eastleigh, Hampshire. (Photo by Pete Norton/Getty Images)

Any ‘relevant person’ seeking to assume control of a club must pass the league’s Owners’ and Directors’ test, designed to ‘protect the integrity’ of the competition.

The test is fairly limited in scope, focusing mainly on any previous financial difficulties, outstanding criminal convictions or professional disqualifications.

Stewart Donald.

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There has been a strengthening of regulations in recent times, meaning anyone that submits false information during the process could be subject to retrospective punishment.

Crucially, however, the declaration from potential owners must include proof when it comes to the source of funding.

Donald himself is confident that he will be given the green light to takeover.

The rules do prevent multiple ownership of clubs within the UK footballing pyramid but Donald has made clear his intent to relinquish control of National League side Eastleigh FC.

Stewart Donald.

Should that approval arrive, then his consortium will have to move quickly to prepare the club for next season.

The transfer window closes within days of the new season starting and current chief executive Martin Bain has predicted that around 14 new players will be required.

That is just one of a myriad of challenges facing the new regime....

Managerial appointment & recruitment strategy

The new regime has clearly decided it wants its own candidate in place and moved quickly to see Chris Coleman leave his post.

A decision will have to be made on a successor swiftly should approval be granted from the EFL.

Last summer, Simon Grayson arrived just days before pre-season fixtures began and the club never got to grips with the campaign ahead.

While news of the sale has been greeted with delight on Wearside, there is a significant amount of sympathy for Chris Coleman, who remained highly thought of despite the club’s relegation to League One.

Getting the right candidate in place will be crucial in fostering goodwill and building momentum towards the new campaign.

So far, those heavily linked with the post are candidates with significant Football League experience.

It remains to be seen which direction Donald and his backers will take the club but few decisions they make will be as crucial as this one.

Key, too, will be where that manager fits in to the broader picture when it comes to recruitment.

Sunderland’s chronic failures in that department are well documented and are an absolutely central reason for the current malaise.

The new team put in place by Bain last summer has been scouting tirelessly this year with the focus generally on the lower leagues across the UK.

It remains to be seen what markets the new regime wants to tap but it is clear that a comprehensive football strategy needs to be put in place and quickly.

Contract decisions

Sunderland’s players are due back for training today and will be led by Robbie Stockdale.

Chris Coleman was planning to hold talks with his squad on an individual basis to inform them whether they would be part of the club’s rebuild.

That process will be delayed as the deal is ratified and while it would be a surprise if any of the players coming towards the end of their deals are kept on, calls will also have to be made on those under contract.

Should Sunderland want to add any free agents of their own to the squad for next season, they will have to move fast if they are to avoid losing out to rival clubs.

As Coleman said before his departure, every day without action is a day lost.

Boardroom restructuring

Sunderland’s current board includes Short, chief executive Martin Bain, financial director Angela Lowes and Per-Magnus Andersson, an associate of the owner.

It seems highly likely that Bain will depart if a deal is ratified, and Andersson’s involvement seems unlikely to continue.

After a traumatic period for supporters, greater accountability and clarity at the top will be vital and one hopes that the new group heed a call from supporters group the Red and White Army for honesty and openness with supporters.

Donald has made that one of the key features of his time at Eastleigh and while Sunderland is a different beast entirely, he has promised on twitter to engage wherever possible.

Clearly, transparency over the other investors and who will be involved in decision making at the club will be absolutely vital.

Jack Rodwell

It may be a smaller issue in the bigger picture but any new owner could show serious intent by bringing an end to the Jack Rodwell saga.

The costly impasse has cast a major cloud over this season and there seems to be little prospect of a resolution coming about that sees Rodwell moving to another club, particularly after he turned down a deadline day loan move to the Eredivisie.

A settlement will likely have to be reached with regards to the last year of his contract and while it would be a financial hit for the investors, it would be one that truly signalled change on the horizon.

Wage bill

Rodwell is not the only player on a significant wage and the onerous bill is one of the reasons that Short has had to pump money into the club on a monthly basis.

Sunderland will need to cut their costs significantly in preparation for a League One campaign.

That means getting good deals for those signed in the Premier League era whose contract does not include an automatic cut next season and those currently out on loan. It will be easier said than done given the under performance of many on the pitch.


In the slightly longer term picture is the club’s expensive but fruitful category one academy.

Under Short and Bain, there were no plans to downgrade that status following relegation, despite the significant costs attached.

The new regime will likely hope for a swift return to the top tiers of the game and thus an increase in revenue streams.

Sunderland’s academy products will surely form the bedrock of a team next year whoever takes a spot in the dug-out.