Takeover rumours, transfer breakthroughs and League One predictions: Phil Smith's Sunderland AFC Q&A

With the transfer window now wide open, Sunderland are on the hunt for a host of new signings.

Wednesday, 19th August 2020, 12:37 pm

But where do things stand with some of the club’s top targets, when can we expect to see more movement in the market, and what is happening with the sale of the club?

Phil Smith is here to provide the inside track on talks and answer your burning questions on the transfer situation at the Stadium of Light:

Q: Why haven’t the club rubbished the public claims made by William Storey?

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Phil Smith's Sunderland AFC Q&A - with the takeover, transfers and more under the spotlight

It appears they don’t want to be drawn into a public war of words and fuel the speculation even further.

Whether that’s been successful is debatable and I don’t think the vacuum of information has done anyone much good.

We went through the same thing earlier this summer with Mark Campbell and the club took exactly the same approach then.

It certainly hasn’t done Storey any harm in terms of publicity.

As I reported last week, privately it has been made clear that he is not viewed as a credible buyer and I have not heard anything since to indicate a change.

More broadly, I do think the club will have to provide an update to supporters before the season begins.

The wait for news and the lack of clarity is not helpful and given the report last month about the apparent closeness of a sale, I don’t think it’s particularly fair on fans.

The new season can’t start under a cloud and so there has to be some clarity at some stage.

When he resigned as chairman, Donald restated his commitment to finding the right buyer.

These rumours make fans nervous despite that and I don’t think it helps anyone.

Q: Hi Phil do you think we’re seeing the beginnings of a turnaround (of sorts) with all the perceived activity around interested ownership parties. Do you think Dave Jones is being influential? Or is nothing happening in your view?

Where the takeover stands I’m not entirely sure to be honest and I don’t think it is helpful or right for me to speculate.

In terms of the turnaround, what is absolutely the case is that the club is unrecognisable in terms of it’s day-to-day running from before the pandemic.

David Jones is an influential figure, and is playing a role in both recruitment and the key appointments that loom on the horizon.

Jim Rodwell has, as you would expect, the most influence on a daily basis, liaising with the manager on transfer targets and leading those searches for a new academy manager and recruitment team.

Though it changed little in terms of the bigger picture, the departures of Tony Coton and Richard Hill were major in how they affected Sunderland’s daily operations.

It will be very interesting to see how things progress in the next couple of weeks, given the takeover speculation you mention.

The day-to-day operations happening don’t suggest an imminent major change, but that also reflects the complete change in structure.

Q: Is the lack of transfer activity due to the takeover?

I’ve had absolutely no indication whatsoever that this is the case.

All the conversations I’ve had about where recruitment stands have reflected the need to work out how to get the deals required done within the salary cap rules.

Take, for example, someone like Demetri Mitchell (and this is hypothetical, rather than inside information!).

He’s impressed on trial and has good attributes for the wing-back position.

But he’ll be counted towards the salary cap and that might leave you with a question. Do you now look at a loan (or an U21 option) for cover in that position, which means you can spend a little more up front, for example?

These are the calculations happening at the minute.

Clearly, time is now very much of the essence as the season comes into view.

Q: Is a takeover in the process of happening or not in your opinion or is it just all talk smoke and mirrors?

As I’ve said above, where a takeover stands right now I’m not sure and the last thing anyone needs is speculation from me.

It certainly isn’t like last summer, where the proposed takeover of Mark Campbell brought the club to pretty much an absolute standstill.

Work at the club is going on, from recruitment to things like the academy manager.

As I said above, that perhaps just reflects the changing structure at the club.

The owners, who would make any takeover decision, have pretty much delegated day-to-day operations to the likes of Jim Rodwell.

Q: And will the salary cap be contested in court?

The PFA and EFL are in talks at the moment in an attempt to reach some form of compromise.

I expect this is a story that will run for quite some time, to be honest.

Q: Are the club still interested in Fraser or is that deal completely dead? He’s all what Sunderland need!

The impression I was left with was that it was highly unlikely after the salary cap vote.

I don’t think you could say any deal is completely dead, though, until the player opts to sign for another club.

All these players are having to reassess their options as a result of the vote.

I’m not talking specifically about Fraser here, but look at the situation from the point of view of these free agents more generally.

Your League One options are now limited, as you probably can’t the wage you deserve from the top clubs at that level.

There might be better financial offers in the Championship, but will you get the playing time you need?

Is going abroad now an option? Is it worth waiting a little longer to see if the PFA arbitration has any impact?

I don’t think a deal for Fraser is likely, though I agree entirely that his creativity would bring some welcome variety to Sunderland’s options.

As I said, though, you’re never quite sure until they (I’d put Luke Garbutt in this category too) make a final decision.

Neither look likely at the moment, though.

Q: Your thoughts on our preparations for the new season?

Like everyone else, it’s a relief to see a proper game booked in for this Saturday.

Gateshead have already had a friendly against Carlisle and were in play-off action not all that long ago, so they should be in good shape physically and be able to offer a good test.

Sunderland will need at least another one (ideally you’d want more but the schedule already looks tight) and Parkinson has already stated his desire to have a game at the Stadium of Light to help his players acclimatise.

More generally, the lack of squad depth is as much a concern to me as to everybody else.

It’s going to be a very demanding start to the season and so some progress is much needed.

A bit more quality is required but even more pressing than that, at least three additions are needed to ensure there is just enough cover to prevent one injury having a major impact.

Q: How much of a problem is the wage cap proving?

Sunderland had hoped to do some business before the rules came into place, and not being able to do so is now quite obviously presenting a lot of challenges.

More than anything, players and agents are having to reassess now that the picture available to them has changed completely.

You would hope, nevertheless, that some contingency planning was done beforehand as the cap has been in the works for quite some time.

Q: Is an exit for Aiden McGeady looking likely?

It’s probably worth remembering at this point that the transfer window this summer runs until October, so there is a long way to go in terms of what happens next with McGeady.

Sunderland will be very keen to find a club for him, as at the moment he’s taking up a very valuable squad slot and £2,000-a-week in terms of the cap rules.

A departure would allow a little bit more breathing space in terms of new additions.

How long that will take is another matter.

A return to Charlton looks highly unlikely given the ongoing uncertainty there and as we said right throughout January, the ball is firmly in Aiden’s court.

He is settled in the area and has a year to run on a good contract. Any final decision will ultimately rest with him.

There’s no prospect of a first-team return though, and so the club will doubt consider any avenue to find a resolution.

Q: Fans are growing more and more tired over the total shutdown of any momentum on both the transfer and the supposed takeover front. Will we see a breakthrough in either soon?

As I said towards the beginning of the Q&A, I think the club must provide a takeover update before the season begins.

There is now a widespread belief that something will happen before then and so if it doesn’t, the season will begin on a major negative note.

Some clarity will surely have to be provided, either way.

On transfers, there will surely be progress soon.

I can understand the pause and recalibration after the salary cap vote, but time is off the essence now.

Q: When is the PFA's arbitration result on the salary cap likely to be announced as the delay is restricting Sunderlands recruitment of the top players they have been trying to sign?

The PFA and the EFL are in talks this week and any announcement will clearly be subject as to whether some kind of compromise or agreement is reached.

If not, then that is what will see the whole thing drag on for considerably longer.

Sunderland and all other clubs just have to operate on the understanding that the rules are in place and have to be followed.

For now, they have to go about their business taking the rules into account.

I don’t think they can really afford to wait and see what happens with the PFA arbitration.

Q: Is there any news on the future sales of season tickets, any temporary plans for seating/isolating, in case of any form of spectators/part spectators being allowed in the stadium if announced by the government?

Yes, the club are working very hard on planning for when supporters are allowed to return to the stadium.

They’ve held meetings with the Branch Liaison Council to outline how things are likely to have to work, in terms of social distancing within the Stadium and all the measures that will be in place to minimise risk.

Clubs have not had any update on when supporters will be back, and so all they can plan for at the moment is that this will happen from October 1st, as per the last government announcement.

I wouldn’t expect any more season ticket sale updates until there’s confirmation of that and Sunderland have been able to establish exactly how many fans are allowed in.

They stopped the sales in the first place as they don’t envisage being able to get many more fans in than tickets they have already sold.

Q: With the transfer business done so far who do you think will be Sunderland’s main rivals?

They’re a tricky one to judge because there is clearly a lot of discontent around the club as a whole, but Hull City’s early business looks very strong (if they do conclude a move for Greg Docherty).

They’re investing well and have players who have thrived at this level before.

In terms of the other relegated teams, it’s impossible to judge what state they are going to be in when the campaign begins.

Lee Bowyer is an exceptional manager and so there’s no way I’d write Charlton off as long he is in charge, but their squad at the moment looks weaker than when they were promoted at Sunderland’s expense.

I expect it to be a pretty quiet market generally and so the teams I expect to challenge are the ones who already have a pretty strong core from last season.

Ipswich, Peterborough, Portsmouth and Fleetwood will not be far off, and the fact that Oxford United have such a good record in the loan market gives them an advantage in the salary cap era. I doubt they’ll be far off.

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