IT has been another rocky week at Sunderland, but the one major positive to have emerged from the latest bout of ownership angst is the way in which the various elements of the club presented a unified stance when it came to reacting to The Fans Together (TFT) group’s attempts to acquire a 39 per cent shareholding.

From social media to supporters’ websites and even through the good old-fashioned medium of letters to The Northern Echo, fans were quick to express their unease at TFT – a ‘decentralised autonomous community’ according to their homepage – looking to raise funds to buy into Sunderland via the sale of crypto tokens.

With the furore still at its peak, Black Cats chairman Kyril Louis-Dreyfus weighed in by issuing a public statement that could hardly have been more dismissive when it came to assessing the prospect of a deal involving TFT.

“Neither I nor any employee from SAFC has had any dialogue with the cryptocurrency group The Fans Together, and although a timely conclusion to this matter is preferable, any transfer of shares must not compromise the club’s integrity,” said Louis-Dreyfus. “All shareholders must also be qualified to take the club forward in line with EFL governance and have alignment with the values and principles of SAFC and its supporters, as well as our long-term strategy.”

Would a cryptocurrency group pass the EFL’s owners’ and directors’ test? You would like to think not, although the Football League’s track record on waving through a succession of dubious shareholders hardly merits confidence. Are TFT the right people to work with Louis-Dreyfus and Juan Sartori? Even leaving aside the understandable crypto concerns, the fact TFT’s statement trumpeted their links with Greek Super League 2 side FC Episkopi and National League North club Bradford Park Avenue as proof of their footballing expertise immediately set alarm bells ringing.

As things stand, TFT’s interest looks dead in the water. Nevertheless, this week’s developments have highlighted the messiness of Sunderland’s ownership structure and the potential for significant disruption and damage if the current issues are not resolved ahead of the start of the new Championship season. Having finally won promotion via last month’s play-off final, this should be a period when Sunderland’s owners are focusing their attention on improving the playing squad. Instead, they are locked in a wrangle that is becoming increasingly divisive and entrenched.

Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven want to sell their shares, but it is abundantly clear they are keen to squeeze the maximum possible value from their current holding before walking away. According to chief operating officer Steve Davison, Louis-Dreyfus wants to increase his current shareholding, and would ideally like to buy up all of the club’s shares apart from the 20 per cent owned by Sartori, who he is happy to continue working alongside.

The Northern Echo:

The problem is that Louis-Dreyfus is either unable or unwilling to meet Donald and Methven’s current asking price. The Swiss 25-year-old’s personal wealth, as opposed to the extent of his family’s assets, remains somewhat unclear, but sources close to the ongoing discussions suggest it is Donald and Methven’s demands that are the key barrier to a deal rather than Louis-Dreyfus’ ability to pay.

The current impasse has existed since the start of year, and if anything, relationships between the two parties appear to have degenerated. The fact Donald and Methven were willing to talk to TFT despite Louis-Dreyfus’ obvious misgivings, as highlighted by his statement, is instructive, as is the pair’s absence from any of Sunderland’s official functions over the course of the play-off weekend despite their presence at Wembley.

Ultimately, Donald and Methven have the right to sell to whoever they see fit, although it is understood Louis-Dreyfus would then have the right to match the terms of any deal that was agreed. That would probably be the ideal scenario, although at the moment, it appears some way off.

The whole thing is a mess, and the fear is that while all parties insist it is ‘business as usual’, the increasingly acrimonious stand-off could negatively affect Sunderland’s ability to sign the players they need in order to maximise their chance of being competitive in the Championship next season.

The Northern Echo:

The fact the Black Cats are yet to make a summer signing is not too much of a concern given the stagnant nature of the transfer market right across the EFL, although the fact there appears to have been little progress in contract talks with Bailey Wright, Lynden Gooch and Patrick Roberts is something of a worry.

What is more concerning is that with Donald and Methven still owning 39 per cent of the club’s shares, it remains hard to see how transfer business will be conducted if the pair refuse to fund what should be their share of any summer investment.

Would Louis-Dreyfus will be willing to plug the gap? What would he expect in return? Louis-Dreyfus is the controlling shareholder, and assuming he is working in concert with Sartori, he effectively has a majority stake, so will Donald and Methven be willing to fund more than a third of Sunderland’s transfer business if they effectively have no say on how the money is spent? Why would outside investors be willing to buy into such an arrangement, acquiring a significant stake in a football club, but having little or no say in how the club is run?

There are a lot of unanswered questions, and as this week has proved, the current uncertainty creates the potential for some less-than-desirable actors to appear on the scene. It is hard to find anyone who thinks The Fans Together are the right people to be custodians of Sunderland, but the fact they were nevertheless able to claim a place at the negotiating table is extremely alarming.