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Sunderland chief promises to spend to chase European ambition
SUNDERLAND chief executive Margaret Byrne has identified European qualification as the club's leading ambition and promised that money will be made available this summer to help achieve it.
In a rare interview with The Northern Echo, Byrne outlined her determination to transform Sunderland into a profit-making organisation and end the club's reliance on owner Ellis Short within the next three years.
However, the drive to achieve financial self-sufficiency will not restrict Martin O'Neill's ability to recruit new talent when the transfer window reopens in the summer.
With 11 games of the season remaining, Sunderland are struggling to improve on last term's 13th-placed finish, but the club's rulers continue to harbour much loftier ambitions and are willing to invest significant sums of money to encourage progress.
“We're definitely making strides to where we want to be, and it's important for Martin to get his team in,” said Byrne. “There's still lots of players from previous regimes here on contracts that he's trying to make better players or bring in to his style of football.
“That's a process, and like any manager, it's going to take a bit of time. He's been here just over a year now and the ultimate aim is to play European football. That is what Martin wants to do and that focus hasn't changed.
“We need to get a few results under our belt and then push on to next season, but there'll definitely be more investment in the summer. We're going through plans and discussing ideas already.
“There are players out of contract and no doubt there'll be offers come in for some of our players as well. It's an ongoing process of changing the squad and I'm sure it will be a busy enough summer.”
The Sunderland hierarchy's willingness to invest in the squad is matched by a determination to ensure financial stability and an adherence to the new tranche of regulations that are changing the cavalier approach that was previously prevalent in Premier League boardrooms.
UEFA's Financial Fair Play regulations are already influencing the spending pattern of clubs who envisage being in a position to play European football, while a recent Premier League agreement limits a club's total annual losses to £105m and prevents them spending more than £4m of their increased television revenue on their wage bill.
The result should be a gradual rebalancing of incomings and outgoings, something Byrne believes is long overdue.
“There are three clubs in the Premier League that made a profit last year, yet we're the biggest league in the world,” she said. “We pride ourselves on what we do, yet clubs aren't making a profit.
“We'll be reporting a big loss this year because we didn't accept offers to sell our players, but with the new TV money and the caveats about what can and cannot be spent, most clubs should be at the end of the three-year cycle in profit. That is certainly our aim.”
In order to achieve that aim, Sunderland will attempt to maximise their match-day revenues by increasing attendances at the Stadium of Light and seek to grow their non-footballing income by expanding into new avenues and regions.
This week's announcement of a partnership with the Nelson Mandela Foundation entrenches the club's links in Africa, while this summer's three major concerts will confirm the Stadium of Light's status as one of the leading outdoor music venues in the country.
Further commercial initiatives are in the pipeline, and Byrne has refused to rule out a future stadium naming rights agreement if the proposal suits.
“I think you have to be open-minded,” she said. “You have to keep all the options open, but at the same time you're not going to put a name on the stadium that doesn't fit.
“There's been lots of interest in that sphere, but nothing that has yet made Ellis as an owner of the board think, 'This is worth taking forward'. There's always offers though and you have to be open-minded because at the back of your head, you're thinking, 'The reason this money is coming in is for player purchases'.”