Roy Keane may be gone but trouble is continuing off the pitch at the top levels of Sunderland. The club's primary shareholder Ellis Short was yesterday forced to distance himself from hugely critical comments about Keane by a lone "representative" of the Irish-American. The quotes appear to have caused huge consternation and swift PR manoeuvres at the Stadium of Light, as well as providing further evidence that control of the club has been greatly taken away from the Drumaville consortium.
In an interview with a website reprinted in yesterday's Guardian, Per-Magnus Andersson – a Swedish-American business partner of Short – claimed Keane's
personality made him unsuitable for management. He also stated that "the former owners were Irish and they were probably a bit more relaxed in their relationship with Keane because he is a legend in Ireland".
In the interview, Anderson describes himself as chairman of Drumaville. However when asked by the Sunday Tribune, actual chairman John Ryan said Andersson was "a representative of Short" and that while "he was not on the Sunderland board he may be now on the Drumaville board... but his comments don't reflect that of Ellis or the club".
After what appears to be a frantic clean-up on Wearside, a club statement released an hour after the Sunday Tribune's call fully distanced Short from the comments and downscaled Andersson's position further.
It read: "In his first public statement since becoming a shareholder of Sunderland AFC, Ellis Short moved quickly to disassociate himself from comments made by a low-level adviser in his organisation. Mr Short said: 'The comments reported in a newspaper today do not represent me, Drumaville or the board. For the record, I have nothing but admiration for Roy Keane and am grateful for all he has done for the club and I wish him well for the future. With regards to the future, Niall Quinn and his executive board are the only people authorised to speak on behalf of the club.'"
The trouble however hints at how layered the power structure at Sunderland has become, and how Short is beginning to exert his control as primary shareholder with the stakes of many of the Drumaville consortium diluted.
Sunderland fans making the 139 mile journey to Manchester for yesterday evening's game at Old Trafford admitted to being worried about potential interference from Short and his associates but remained confident that Quinn was still the man calling the shots. "He is the football man, they'd be mad not to listen to him when it comes to managers," said Martin Short, a Stadium of Light season ticket holder. "Short has to have a say but the last thing we need at this point in the season is a foreign manager coming in and trying to come to terms with life in English football. We need a guy who can come in and feel comfortable."
While suspicious of Sam Allardyce's Newcastle past and penchant for long-ball tactics, Sunderland fans are beginning to come round to his candidature, particularly considering the dearth of viable candidates for the post. David O'Leary, Dick Advocaat and Avram Grant have been mentioned but Drumaville member and non-executive director of Sunderland, Charlie Chawke, put forward a different name yesterday. "I'd bring Mick McCarthy back. The way things went here last time wasn't his fault and he's proving it at Wolves. Of course he probably wouldn't want to leave but I'd be putting his name forward."