Ellis Short willing to give Sunderland away for 'free' - but new owners must take on huge debt

Sunderland owner Ellis Short.
Sunderland owner Ellis Short.
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Ellis Short is prepared to give Sunderland away for free if a new owner is willing to take on the club's huge debts, according to fresh reports.

Short is now based in the US and has handed over day-to-day control of the club to chief executive Martin Bain with the American billionaire looking to sell the club.

The club was valued at upwards of £80million last summer but the price tag had been slashed to £50million with the club struggling for Championship survival.

Now BBC Sport report Short is now ready to give the club away for nothing - provided the new owners take on the huge debt.

The last set of accounts, up to July 2016, showed the gross debt was £137million.

Around half the debt, £69million, is to Short himself and BBC Sport claim the billionaire may forego some or all of that figure as part of a deal.

The balance of £68million is owed to Security Bank Corporation. There are significant annual interest payments per year too.

Short is reported to have held talks with several prospective buyers in recent months but no deal has yet been agreed.

A German consortium held talks with Short last summer and it remains to be seen whether they will come back in to the mix.

The exact current debt level is not yet known with the next set of accounts due to be published in April. The debt level may have reduced further.

Sunderland are not commenting on the fresh reports.

It comes after manager Chris Coleman revealed he has never spoken to Short since taking charge - three months ago.

"Again, I have never spoke with the chairman. I have been here three months. I have never had a conversation with the chairman," said Coleman.

"I have no idea about the price. I have no idea who, if there is someone, I have seen reports that there is people interested but I can't say to you it is close or it is this or that, I have never spoke to the chairman.

"It is tough. I have seen the reports. I have said what I have said.

"I couldn't tell you anymore than that to be honest with you."

Meanwhile, a petition calling for Short to sell the club has now been signed by more than 8,000 supporters.

Sunderland supporters group Red and White Army have launched the petition as well as writing an open letter to Short, urging the football club's owner to sell up.

Disillusioned fans have come together to call for Short to 'treat the club with respect' and find a buyer as quickly as possible.

The petition was only launched on Tuesday afternoon but has already been signed by thousands of Sunderland supporters.

Sunderland are bottom of the Championship ahead of the game against Middlesbrough at the Stadium of Light on Saturday afternoon, three points adrift of safety with just 13 games to go.