So the dust has now well and truly settled on what can only be described as a ‘transitional’ season, with a remarkable final day capping a stuttering end to the campaign after the initial surge in form under the guidance of Martin O’Neill. As always, the focus once again now turns to close season gossip and conjecture.
For what is seemingly the fourth year in a row, the club are facing a summer of widespread change; and whilst a full scale overhaul may not necessarily be required, the areas of the squad we need to strengthen became painfully plain to see as we limped over the finish line in a disappointing yet fittingly luckless 13th position. With the unveiling of the clubs new kit, the rumours of a sponsorship deal for the Stadium of Light itself, and another run of sold out concerts hosted by the club, we are looking and feeling like a top end set up, yet little to no progress has been made on the playing side.
Yes, it has been a tournament summer (we’ll conveniently ignore how THAT ended for now…) and negotiations must be a bit of a nightmare with so many international players on duty, but the scouting opportunities are greatly enhanced and you’d hope the manager and his staff have been casting a keen eye across some of the underrated talent on show in Poland and Ukraine. However, it is worth noting that by this week last year, the club had signed Seb Larsson, Keiren Westwood, Ji Dong-Won, Conor Wickham and Craig Gardner as well as making Elmohamady’s loan move a permanent arrangement. The signings of Wes Brown, John O’Shea and David Vaughan were also all but complete and only James McLean’s arrival was not completed by the second week of July.
It makes this post season seem eerily quiet, don’t you think? Although as I write the news has broken of the signing of Carlos Cuellar, elsewhere even the rumour mill which has featured Sunderland on heavy rotation for the past three summers seems to have gotten bored of waiting for us. Names such as Saha and Fletcher and are the only tediously predictable targets being mooted by the usual outlets. Personally Cuellar is the only one of the recent tips that I’d have welcomed with any kind of enthusiasm anyway – Saha will score goals when fit but both he and Fletcher are short term fixes at best; I sincerely hope a player relegated with Wolves and an injury prone journeyman striker doesn’t reflect the scope of our ambitions this summer.
We have spent… OK wasted, an awful lot of money since the initial Drumaville takeover, and a more frugal transfer policy is widely expected to become the norm now that Ellis Short has complete control of the club. It’s a wise move, especially with UEFAs financial fair play rules coming into force imminently. However, I would much rather use this as a valid reason to sign younger prospects, keen to prove themselves at the top level alongside investment in proven quality players who will walk into the starting eleven. Easier said than done I accept, but short term ‘patch up’ targets like Saha send a mixed message to fans, current players and other potential longer term targets. Put it this way; I’d rather sign another McClean or Henderson and lose them for £20 million in a couple of seasons, than pay a 30 odd year olds wages for a year then watch them trot to whichever oil rich country has decided to start a veterans super league this time next summer.
Say no to the likes of Saha, save the signing on fees and wages and put them towards one or two of the quality creative targets on the market such as Junior Hoillet or Ryan Jarvis whilst giving the likes of Conor Wickham, Louis Laing and Billy Knott a decent crack at the first team. The Bosman market is once again ripe for harvest, with Cuellar in amongst other healthy crops such as Hugo Rodallega – who must be seen as a value for money alternative to the mooted Fletcher deal?
I hate to say it – and I’m genuinely cringing as I type – but there is one summer transfer policy making ours look really quite second rate… whilst we seemingly chase relegated targetmen, thirty something freebie centre halves and injury ravaged journeymen, there is another club negotiating fantastic value for money deals for Frances mightily impressive international right back, a Dutch striker described as the future of Holland’s forward line, and a midfielder who has been an Ajax regular since the age of 17. The whole lot will come in at under £25 million and the average age of the players are 23... The club in question are located about 12 miles up the road. Three targets who perfectly meet the criteria of a ‘quality, not quantity’ policy; the very same manifesto announced by Ellis Short last week. If ever there was a time to stop, think and revise our ideas toward recruitment, it’s surely when that lot start to look sensible in comparison!
But I didn’t say that, you didn’t hear it, and anyone who claims otherwise is a liar, a traitor and probably a thief.