As Sunderland slip ever closer to League One, the only glimmer of hope is that new owners may be lining up to breathe fresh life into the dying club. But amidst subterfuge, claims of fake news and shadowy identities, what is really going on?
Another week, another round of takeover rumours at Sunderland. Certainly it seems to be the case that one or more groups have been in contact with Ellis Short in recent weeks in a bid to conclude a deal once the club's descent into League One is finally confirmed.
But in a world of 'in the know' secrecy and 'fake news', what is going on and who exactly should long-suffering Sunderland fans believe right now?
Sunderland AFC is dead to Ellis Short and vice versa
It's never been truer that there's no way back for Ellis Short at Sunderland now. Having led the club to the brink of only its second relegation to English football's third tier, the American financier will not be welcomed back to Wearside any time soon without drastic change and improvement.
The mood of the fan base has long since turned and no one but no one, including the man himself presumably, has any desire to see Short's ownership continue much further. That mood should hasten any takeover deal but what happens next is complex and difficult.
The O'Brien theory quashed?
This week the gossip has focused on an Irish businessman who owns a crane hire company. The Times reckon William O'Brien has been liaising with Niall Quinn as the head of a consortium of investors seeking to reach agreement with Ellis Short to buy the troubled Black Cats.
The Irish element is compelling given Sunderland's recent history pre-Short and no good takeover story at present can include anyone other that Niall Quinn to give it legs.
But, amidst that story surfacing on Friday, Sunderland fanzine A Love Supreme suggested the Fleet Street newspaper is completely mistaken, the long-standing Mackem publication having earlier insisted that a local group is in pole position to take control of SAFC from Ellis Short.
And then others waded in to suggest the Irish speculation was wide of the mark, including a couple of journalists on twitter, one of which claimed he had spoken with Quinn himself.
The English then...
So if it isn't Irish folks, then it must be this English contingent, and if it's an English contingent then there must be some local chaps involved according to the vociferous noise emanating from certain quarters.
There are those who suggest this takeover angle is far from a done deal but given the disconnect between club and supporter in recent years, some involvement from North East figures makes for a potent prospect. And it's understandable that fanzines and fans would get behind such a movement.
Add to that the continued presence of Sunderland-supporting production company Fulwell73. Still filming their behind-the-scenes documentary, the group put themselves firmly in the eye of the Wearside public last year after noises surfaced about their own potential takeover deal.
Capital though, must have oodles of it
Sunderland aren't worth what they were. Years of mismanagement, mountains of debt and third tier football have wiped the value of the club but whoever presents to Ellis Short with a takeover bid must come armed with bundles of available capital.
Being able to take control of SAFC is one thing, but not being able to invest a penny in the playing squad or the footballing infrastructure would fail any new move in its earliest days and have supporters wondering if anything will ever improve and whether the new owners are really any different to the old.
Supposedly last summer's German bid was rejected because the group didn't convince Short that they would have sufficient financial clout to run the club as a going concern. After all, we're led to believe the present owner covers the operating losses of Sunderland AFC to the tune of some several hundred thousand per month.
That may yet open the door for other investors, particularly those from abroad - China for example. Certainly there have been continued ongoing rumours that such groups have been circling the Stadium of Light for some time.
And this need for clout also backs up the suggestion that new investors will take control of the footballing operation at SAFC and enter into some agreement that sees Ellis Short slink into the background to manage the debt and enter into some future financial arrangement with the new group.
Fake news and manipulating the mood
Whoever is coming needs to be striking while the iron is hot. Relegation to League One will be confirmed in the coming weeks and Sunderland risk losing another chunk of fans. Several more thousand will walk away this summer and vow not to return until the situation improves or there is evidence of change at the top.
That presents these interested parties with a problem. Concluding a deal will be complex and time-consuming but perhaps it can be hurried along by applying pressure on Short to walk away.
Those seeking to take control must get the fan base onside and generate some excitement. They also need to maximise revenue next term which ideally means convincing some of the wavering fans to stick by the club a bit longer. The deadline for season ticket renewals is already upon us for one thing.
For that very reason, in the coming weeks expect a further campaign of manipulating the mood and some flirtation with supporters which will hasten once relegation is confirmed. Somebody is probably coming but who it is and whether they'll prove to be a favoured bidder of the assorted stakeholders around SAFC it isn't yet clear.
It could be a long summer.