NOW that the dust has settled, it is clear that Sunderland did very little wrong throughout the Ji Dong-won affair.
They failed to adequately complete the striker’s international registration after he returned from a loan spell at Augsburg, but immediately notified the Premier League, who had already included the South Korean on their own list of registered players, when their error became clear.
They provided a detailed submission ahead of a Premier League board meeting in December, accepted the punishment of a six-figure fine, and swiftly drew a line under the matter once the league decided the case was closed. It was not their responsibility to publicise what had occurred.
Sadly, however, in the wake of the incident becoming public this week, the club has been portrayed in an unfavourable light. That is both unfortunate and unfair. Instead of Sunderland coming under scrutiny, it is the Premier League, and their opaque disciplinary procedures, that should be taken to task.
Why on earth was nothing mentioned when the initial hearing into the Ji transgression took place? By choosing to establish a wall of silence, it looks like the Premier League has attempted to sweep the matter under the carpet.
And while the Premier League’s own rules establish that the league was right to issue a fine rather than a points deduction, their refusal to disclose their findings means there are justified grumblings about Sunderland being spared a points penalty when other clubs have received much harsher penalties for similar transgressions.
To avoid similar situations in the future, the Premier League should fully disclose any disciplinary matter involving one of the clubs under their jurisdiction.
Clearly, there will be commercial concerns to prevent the full publication of the minutes from every board meeting, but when sanctions are imposed for a transgression of the rules, the public have a right to know what has been decided and why.
Too many major decisions are still being taken behind closed doors, resulting in accusations of favouritism and cronyism, even if none exists.
When Sunderland informed the Premier League that they had breached the rules, the authorities should immediately have issued a press release confirming the breach and stating that a punishment would be decided on a specified date.
Once that punishment was decided, it should have been publicised in full, along with the written reasons for the Premier League’s verdict.
Had that happened, there would have been none of this week’s mystery and intrigue. Sunderland would have been able to draw a line under the matter, and the Premier League would have looked like a progressive organisation capable of taking difficult decisions in a swift and reasoned manner.
Instead, the league now looks like it has been scrambling around in secret, while Sunderland have had to mount a frantic battle to clear their name.