Tony Gillan: Experience tells Sunderland fans not to get too carried away but American investor talks have sparked excitement
There’s a tingle around Sunderland AFC at the moment and not just because nine points were accrued in a week.
Overcoming the collective might of Wimbledon, Rochdale and Portsmouth has contributed to the general jolliness, but that isn’t the main reason.
We refer of course to the imminent takeover by four extraordinarily wealthy American gentlemen, which reportedly couldn’t be imminenter.
But a tingle is all it is. A committed pocket of congenital whingers and fault-finders aside (some of whom are still ranting about Tom Cowie), Sunderland supporters are often of an optimistic disposition. This is evidenced by the mere fact that they are Sunderland supporters.
But there’s an understandable tendency on Wearside not to get carried away. Eleven years ago another American billionaire took over. As you may have heard, it didn’t end well.
Assuming that the takeover even happens at all, will it be any different this time?
Possibly. To start with there are four buyers. More importantly, compared to the combined wealth of the foursome, Ellis Short is on his uppers.
The name causing most excitement is Michael Dell’s. You know the name if not the man. It might well be in front of your face right now.
According to one remarkably precise estimate, the technology tycoon is worth £28.6bn and 22p.
The other three, John Phelan, Glenn Fuhrman and Robert Platek aren’t household names and don’t make their level of wealth public knowledge.
This is wise in my experience. I wouldn’t tell my mates if I had won fifty quid on the horses as they would soon greed it off me. The same principal applies.
Nevertheless, the three are no less loaded for all this.
They each have a stake in MSD (Michael Saul Dell) Partners, a company dealing in private equity: a subject too boring to elaborate upon.
Otherwise it all sounds exciting: but only in the long term. During the coming years, current events at the club could prove pivotal. In the shorter term, those nine points are more important than who sits where in the boardroom.
The transfer window closes on Monday and it’s unlikely that the fab four’s arrival will make much difference to Sunderland’s dealings.
The January window might be more interesting. But then there is financial fair play to consider. They can’t just lob money at the club.
This is also Sunderland’s last season for parachute payments. So if new players are put on long, lucrative contracts, then the club had better make damned sure it gets promoted.
FFP can be circumvented to an extent if the new owners loan money to the club. But is that wise? Only 15 months ago there was a stark possibility of the club entering administration because of debt.
There is a list of reasons not to be giddily excited and maintain healthy scepticism about the takeover. Top of the list is bitter experience.
We know little of the character of the four bigwigs, nor what they have in mind, their motives (why would anyone want to buy a football club?) or what their level of investment will be. And how will they react when they discover how much agents make your skin crawl?
All anyone can do is trust Messrs Donald and Methven on this one.
There are too many imponderables to be truly excited.