- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 26, 2009

The British media call him the “quiet American.” On this side of the Atlantic, he’s almost anonymous. But Ellis Short is the fifth American to own an English Premier League club.

This year the former Texas businessman quietly took full control of Sunderland AFC, a moderate club with big ambitions based in the northeastern part of England. Nicknamed the Black Cats, Sunderland joins Manchester United, Aston Villa and Liverpool as clubs with American ownership. And with American sports tycoon Stan Kroenke the largest shareholder of Arsenal, Americans own a sizable portion of the most popular and profitable soccer league in the world.

The Independence, Mo., native co-founded the private equity group Lone Star Funds, which specialized in purchasing distressed companies and banks. He became interested in soccer after meeting the affable Niall Quinn, a former Ireland star and now Sunderland chairman, at the Ryder Cup in 2006. Short, 48, became part of a nine-man consortium that took over the club that year. After retiring in 2007, he moved to Britain and began investing his fortune in making Sunderland a fixture in the Premier League.

The American billionaire has been given credit in some quarters for Sunderland’s survival in the Premier League. The Black Cats escaped relegation on the final day of last season, finishing 16th in the 20-team standings. Sunderland plays at the 49,000-seat Stadium of Light, the Premier League’s fifth-biggest venue.

“We have a chairman in Niall Quinn who knows football inside and out and an owner in Ellis Short who has shown he is prepared to invest in the team,” coach Steve Bruce told London’s Sunday Mirror recently.

In the August transfer window, Short handed Bruce $49 million to buy players, and the club spent more on talent this summer than Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur. The most notable player to join the team was striker Darren Bent, who has played four times for England. Bent already has proved to be a good buy, producing five goals in six games. He is now in a four-way tie for the second spot on the goal-scoring chart behind Wayne Rooney, who has six. Sunderland (3-3, nine points) is eighth in the table and hosts Wolverhampton on Sunday.

Before delving into soccer, Short’s claim to fame was the purchase in 2003 of Skibo Castle in Scotland, an exclusive members-only hotel famous for hosting Madonna’s wedding to Guy Ritchie. In 2006, South Korean prosecutors issued a warrant for Short’s arrest on allegations of stock manipulation following the sale of Korea Exchange Bank to Lone Star Funds, but the charges eventually were dropped.

Beckham reborn? - In Grant Wahl’s book “The Beckham Experiment,” David Beckham’s commitment on the field for the Los Angeles Galaxy was questioned. For the moment, the English midfielder appears to be having the last word. Beckham pulled off a stunning 90-minute performance last weekend, scoring a goal and setting up another as the Galaxy beat Toronto FC 2-0.

The Galaxy (10-5-11, 41 points) face one of their toughest tests Saturday when the club visits the defending MLS Cup champion Columbus Crew (11-4-10, 43), who are in first place in the Eastern Conference and are undefeated at home.

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