Kristjaan Speakman discusses Sunderland's budget, ownership and ambitions for Championship return

Kristjaan Speakman says Sunderland will have a competitive budget in the Championship next season but has warned that a period of transition will be inevitable.
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The Black Cats secured their promotion from League One at a fourth time of asking with a 2-0 play-off final win over Wyocmbe Wanderers at Wembley last Saturday, and attention has quickly turned to next season.

The club’s Sporting Director had overseen planning for either a Championship or League One campaign in recent weeks, and though the final details are being settled this week the budget has largely been put in place.

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Speakman said he was upbeat about the club’s prospects but says many players will need some time to adjust to a new league.

Sunderland chairman Kyril Louis-DreyfusSunderland chairman Kyril Louis-Dreyfus
Sunderland chairman Kyril Louis-Dreyfus

“We still have some executive meetings this week and we will communicate with more clarity after those conversations,” Speakman said.

“There is definitely a transition process.

“We’re not going to try and put a halt on any ambition, say that we’re going to try and finish 20th, 15th or 12th or whatever.

“We want to finish as high as we possibly can and will give everything to do that, but we’ve also got to be respectful of the fact that it is a new league and we are taking a new team into it.

Sporting Director Kristjaan SpeakmanSporting Director Kristjaan Speakman
Sporting Director Kristjaan Speakman
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“We’ve got to get the blend right in our squad to give us the best chance.

“What we’re not going to do is deviate from the strategy.

“We’re going to stick to what we’re doing, tweak it where we need to and in doing so we’re fairly sure we’ll have a really competitive team.

“You’ve seen our team this season with new players and young players coming in who hadn’t played in the league before, then can sometimes be a bit of adaptation.

“You’ve got to expect that [next season], and naturally with a model like ours, the more time you spend in the Championship the stronger you become.

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“We’ve got a big list of to-do’s behind the scenes in terms of making this a fully modern, functioning football club but that was the case regardless of Saturday’s result.”

Kryil Louis-Dreyfus remains keen to increase his 41% shareholding in the club, but as of yet there has been no resolution in his attempt to purchase Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven’s stakes.

While Louis-Dreyfus has control of executive decision making and a majority on the board, investment currently happens on a proportionate basis from Louis-Dreyfus, Donald, Methven and Juan Sartori.

The Echo asked Speakman if that could deliver the kind of budget needed for the second tier.

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“I do totally appreciate that the ownership question is one that keeps coming up,” he said.

“From my perspective, in all the time I’ve been here, everything has been as it was sold to me in terms of how we run.

“I appreciate that some of that can’t always be communicated externally and that then becomes frustrating.

“We will finalise the budgets and the detail of that this week and it then becomes very important to manage expectation around what that is, and what we’re then trying to [achieve] next season.

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“We really want that unity in terms of expectation internally and externally. We know how important it will be to get everyone in that picture.”

Sunderland are aiming to pivot a sustainable financial model in the long term and Speakman says they will not overspend to keep up with the demands of the Championship. While TV revenue does increase as a result of the step up from League One, the costs associated with promotion and in particular the increased wage bill, mean that promotion is significant but not transformative financially.

He has also alluded to teams like Huddersfield and Luton Town, who both made the play-offs this year, as examples of money only being important as smart decisions in eventual success.

Speakman spoke regularly of ensuring everyone is on the same page in terms of realistic expectations, and communication around that in the build up to the campaign will prove key.

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“History is a really good indicator of the future, if we go back to a situation where we spend over our limits and get some decisions wrong, we end up exactly where we just came from,” he said.

“We need to learn those lessons in terms of how we take the club forward.

“Everyone wants instant success and I get that. We’ve got to understand the transition of moving into and then through the Championship, and what timeframe we think we can do it in.

“It’s about how we make the best use of our resources.

“Parachute payments make for a big disparity in the Championship, there is a big gap in the quartiles of expenditure.

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“We’ve been expanding our operations to get to a point where we feel we have a Championship structure, which we feel we have.

“We want to get out of the Championship as soon as possible, just like with League One, of course we do, but we need the right strategy to navigate it.

“There are teams who have finished in the play-offs of that league with bottom-half budgets.

“Finances can offer an indication of where you’ll finish but there are some teams nearer the bottom with some of the biggest budgets.

“We’ve got to stick to our process, be tough with ourselves in terms of where we can improve, to deliver a team who can do really well in this league.”