Phil Smith: The problem Ellis Short has with selling Sunderland and how Martin Bain’s transfer strategy is key

Sunderland owner Ellis Short.
Sunderland owner Ellis Short.

When a deal with a German consortium to buy Sunderland fell through, the Black Cats moved quickly to appoint Simon Grayson.

The attempt to land Derek McInnes had left supporters bemused and Ellis Short clearly felt it was important to draw a line in the sand and say the club was no longer on the market.

Any supporter can see from what has happened since that investment in the club, if not being actively sought, would likely be welcomed.

That prospective deal collapsed amid doubts about the consortium’s ability to raise the cashflow to keep Sunderland, still balancing the books, afloat. That, in a nutshell, sums up the problem Short had when speaking to potential investors.

Finding an investor with the capital and appetite required was difficult, because Sunderland are not a club with obvious room for growth at the moment.

Certainly not as they were when Drumaville bought the club from Sir Bob Murray and Short then invested almost a decade ago.

Chief executive Martin Bain, then, is working on the assumption that, should Short continue to own the club, he has to find a way for it to thrive amid a difficult financial environment. That will clearly be a long and difficult process with no guarantees.

The club may not be publicly on the market, but it is also true that, if Bain succeeds in his task, it will clearly be more attractive to potential investors.

Finances, of course, are only one part of the puzzle.

The path to financial stability is crucial and the late transfer window departures aside, Bain has made inroads there. The wage bill has more than halved, and, aside from the late departures of Papy Djilobodji and Wahbi Khazri, he has started improving Sunderland’s chronic selling record.

Patrick van Aanholt, sold for £14million nine months ago, is already in exile at Crystal Palace. The loans of Fabio Borini and Jeremain Lens raised eyebrows but Kylian Mbappe’s move to PSG amid FFP scrutiny offers perspective and context. The deals were not a perfect solution but ensure Sunderland will make good money next summer.

The other part of his remit, to bring footballing stability, is a task with much still to be done.

Recruitment has been a key part of his attempts to turn Sunderland around and it will remain the issue that makes or breaks his time on Wearside. This summer, an overhaul was a necessity after relegation, but it will fall to him now to ensure that Sunderland can finally find an approach that balances their squad over a period of time.

Simon Wilson’s arrival from Manchester City as chief football officer was much vaunted, but his departure reflected a recognition that Sunderland faced very different challenges.

Simon Grayson will lean on his own contacts and chief scout Ian Miller, but Bain will also be aware of the need to build sustainable processes for the long-term.

While there are no guarantees in the transfer market, Sunderland clearly need to improve their record.

Both manager and chief executive are pleased with what they have done this summer, but the squad remains evidently short in comparison to some of the other sides in the Championship.

Fans can see that and it is a clear yardstick that they will use to measure Bain’s work.

It is abundantly clear that the path to a resurgent Sunderland lies most clearly and easily in new ownership.

Until then, Bain knows he must make progress on the footballing matters to match the financial. His first year in charge has demonstrated the magnitude of that task.