Phil Smith's Sunderland Q&A: Takeover, Aiden McGeady's U23 return and Phil Parkinson's future under the microscope

Sunderland supporters are eagerly waiting for news on a potential takeover of the club.

Tuesday, 24th November 2020, 1:34 pm

There has also been much to discuss on the pitch, with Sunderland’s performances raising some concerns, and Aiden McGeady’s return to the U23 side sparking some surprise.

Phil Smith has been taking questions from fans on all the latest, and you can read his answers below...

What’s the latest with the takeover?

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Juan Sartori and Kyril Louis-Dreyfus

The club is still in a period of exclusivity with a party, believed to be the consortium led by Kyril Louis-Dreyfus and Juan Sartori.

Remember that in October, CEO Jim Rodwell said that the group in exclusivity was the only party to have provided proof of funds.

Rodwell then cancelled a meeting with supporter groups, citing the progression of those takeover talks.

While he has not had any direct contact with any potential new owner/investor, Phil Parkinson confirmed at his press conference last Friday that his understanding was that talks were 'progressing'.

There has been some optimism around the club that Louis-Dreyfus has a vision and long-term plans for growth.

There will, nevertheless, remain a healthy level of scepticism and caution on Wearside given the club's recent history with takeovers.

Remember that key members of Mark Campbell's team were selecting offices at the Stadium of Light, and Jack Ross had spoken with investors from the FPP group before their takeover became a loan.

Add in the significant effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on football's finances, and caution is undoubtedly the best policy.

For now, though, it is up to Louis-Dreyfus and Sartori to conclude their deal.

Sartori, in particular, is key to any deal that does or does not take place.

Whatever happens next, it is clear that Stewart Donald is open and actively pursuing the sale of the majority of his shares (if not in their entirety).

Under the terms of Madrox, Sartori (or Charlie Methven) have a preferential right to acquire any shares that Donald sells.

So if Sartori does want to increase his involvement, he is in a strong position to do so.

Equally, anyone wishing to purchase Donald's shares who has his support (i.e Louis-Dreyfus) also has a clear advantage.

So you can see why, for now, it is a case of waiting to see whether these talks reach a resolution.

Any other interested parties, such as Washington DC investor Matthew Pauls, will have to wait for an exclusivity period to end, and then reach an agreement that suits all current Madrox shareholders.

It's at that stage that any other group would then move into the stages we've outlined above: proof of funds, period of exclusivity, drawing up a share purchase agreement, etc.

That would, in all likelihood, signal another extended wait for change.

Given Sartoris input, or lack of, so far, are we to assume he'll be more hands on once this takeover is complete?

There'll be a few things that I think every Sunderland supporter will be keeping a very close eye on, if and when any takeover does go through.

One is exactly how the shareholding works out.

Does Louis-Dreyfus, or any other figure, have a majority on their own? If so, that gives them significant power and dramatically alters the structure of the club.

Similarly, the initial appointments, particularly the chair of the board, will give a strong indication of where the power lies and who is going to have the ultimate say on day-to-day decisions at the club.

Once we know this, I think supporters will feel in a much better position to assess the merits of a takeover (to stress again, if it goes through).

As for Juan Sartori, I think it's perfectly reasonable to be sceptical about any claims of a more hands-on role.

This has been promised on numerous occasions and rarely come to fruition.

The most recent statement on this front was from Madrox earlier this year, when they said that a move to London was being delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sartori's political career in Uruguay continues, though, and as such, it is difficult to assume there will be a more significant daily role.

Clearly, though, he has big ambitions more generally.

It has been regularly touted in Uruguay that he has some hopes for a footballing network of clubs, and Madrox have themselves hinted at this in the past.

At the moment, it isn't yet clear where Louis-Dreyfus fits in exactly with all of that.

What are the chances of a first-team return for Aiden McGeady?

Was Aiden McGeady's return to the U23 team a sign that he could be brought back into the first-team fold?

The first thing to say is that the timing of his return to the U23 side is probably less to do with the first-team's poor form, and more to do with his own fitness.

McGeady began training with the U23s when he returned for pre-season, but then picked up a calf injury that sidelined him for a while.

He also recently had a minor knee problem that kept him out of games and training for a short while.

So that's why the topic has come back up this week, and it's also useful for context. Regardless of where you stand on the debate, it will likely be a little while before he is fully fit.

In terms of what it means going forward, the answer is likely very little to begin with.

Phil Parkinson has been absolutely clear on his stance, and there have been no indications whatsoever of him changing course.

His return to the U23s reflects the fact that it is clearly in the club's interests for McGeady to be fit, regardless of what comes next.

The January window opens in five weeks and it makes sense for everyone to have McGeady match fit ahead of that point.

It will, of course, make for a very interesting dynamic if Sunderland's indifferent performances continue.

Parkinson was (fairly) clear that he had made his decision on team culture, but we also saw a shift in the summer when he added the emergence of academy talents as another reason.

If McGeady is getting fitter, Sunderland aren't at the top and the youngsters aren't playing much... the pressure will clearly grow.

In fairness, I do think we're going to see plenty of Elliot Embleton in the coming weeks.

My (admittedly quite rough) calculations have some space still left on Sunderland's squad list, so I suspect this story will run on for a while yet.

Don't expect anything to change in the near future, though.

What next for Phil Parkinson and will the takeover have any impact?

The table still feels a little misleading at this stage, but is obviously concerning nevertheless.

Sunderland are eighth but they remain in touching distance of the top two. That, though, is where they need to be.

There have been too many missed opportunities over the last eighteen months and it is fair to point out that the rationale from the board in replacing Jack Ross with Parkinson was to get into that top two.

Sunderland look to be a definite top-six team, but right now you couldn't mark them out as a top-two team with any great deal of confidence. That is an obvious issue in what, rightly, has been set out by everyone at the club as a season in which Sunderland need to finally lift themselves back into the Championship.

There needs to be a significant improvement to demonstrate that can happen with the current set up.

The underlying data (expected goals, expected goals against, etc) is generally good, but there's a key point to be made here.

Since the Portsmouth game, in which Sunderland were comprehensively outplayed, that has dropped off significantly.

Defensively they have been far weaker and that has exposed the lack of goals.

Yes, there have been some key chances missed in games, but they are not a team that has been working the opposition goalkeeper anywhere near enough (which the manager has conceded).

When the results and performances dip, that then crystallises the concerns over the long-term direction.

The trip to Fleetwood feels like a big game, with the fixture list then presenting two home fixtures against Burton Albion and Wigan Athletic sides that are really struggling.

In terms of the takeover, it's quite a difficult one to gauge.

It's worth rememberng that Stewart Donald, while clearly still key as the majority shareholder, has devolved a lot of the day-to-day decisions since stepping down as chair of the board.

We saw the effects of that in the summer, when Paul Reid, Tony Coton and Richard Hill all left the club.

So the influence of figures like Rodwell will be key.

Clearly, though, a potential takeover makes things more complicated.

Do you think the current crop of players are good enough and would perform under different management?

I think that there are some key deficiencies in the squad, that would present a challenge for any manager.

The lack of pace is the most obvious one. Denver Hume can hurt teams from deep when he as possession, and we have seen that over a relatively long period of time now, but otherwise there is definitely a gap there.

It was interesting that Phil Parkinson acknowledged this over the summer, identifying the ability to run in behind and stretch defences as a key reason for signing Aiden O'Brien. I though the Irishman started brightly and showed some signs of that, but the all-important goal eluded him and he has been out of form recently.

We've seen that lack of pace exposed a little in recent weeks in the other two thirds, as well, with opposition teams getting some joy on the counter.

Generally, though, the squad is good enough and deep enough to maintain an automatic promotion push.

That has to be the expectation and fans are right to demand it.

It has been an interesting campaign in that, as has been well-versed, Sunderland have created some clear chances in games. As such, their expected goals is very good and you can argue that they should have had more points from games earlier in the season.

Yet there is definitely room for significant attacking improvement, and getting the best out of Embleton and other attacking players is key.

The squad is capable of producing significantly better than what we have seen since the Portsmouth game.

Why do you think he persists with playing people out of position?

This squad was built essentially to play 3-4-3, admittedly with some variation within that.

It was only after some indifferent pre-season showings that Parkinson tinkered with things a bit, bringing in an extra striker.

The first half at Doncaster Rovers was a good performance, and I thought by and large the players looked comfortable in their positions. It certainly looked a lot more settled than, for example, the Portsmouth and MK Dons defeats, when players out of position clearly caused a lot of issues within the game.

Without a doubt, there is a general need to get more of the attacking options in the squad, whether that is from the bench or from the start of games.

The pressure to get that right is growing, with results and performances indifferent over the last month.

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