While Steve Bruce may have gorged himself on a transfer deadline day all you can eat buffet, Sunderland took a more considered approach to the market this summer. On the face of it, we don’t look to have done too badly
Mercifully, the transfer window feeding fest is over. No more Borini “sagas”, no more doubts over whether Connor Wickham will be sold, no more Modibo Diakite. Strip away the “didn’t happen” stories and say it quietly, but Sunderland don’t look to have done too badly this summer. We may not have brought in a feast of talent, but then again we’d do well to remember that quantity doesn’t always equate to quality.
Cast your minds back to last summer and a transfer window masterminded by Paolo Di Canio and Roberto De Fanti. Many of us, myself very much included, convinced ourselves the stream of players heading to Wearside were, for the most part, likely to be a collection of well scouted, under the radar European talent. What we got was some good loan players and one first team regular on a permanent deal in Vito Mannone. Sometimes, less is more.
This summer has seen a more targeted approach to matters. We needed full backs, we’ve always needed full backs, and this time we’ve got three players capable of covering the positions. A fourth would have been nice, true, but it’s like a banquet compared to recent years we’ve had only Phil Bardsley to call our own in the position.
Midfield has long been a problem position too; one which Gus Poyet first looked to solve by introducing a modern three man engine room, which for the most part worked to decent effect, despite the paucity of quality tools available to him. He and Congerton have used this window wisely to add both numbers and hopefully quality and guile in that area of the pitch.
With Lee Cattermole and Liam Bridcutt available to sit at the base of the midfield, there are any number of combinations that Poyet could employ in front of either of the young Englishmen, each with different attributes and qualities. Gone are the days when we had to worry over whether we’d have to suffer Craig Gardner and David Vaughan in the centre of the park.
In attacking areas too things look a little rosier, as Emanuele Giaccherini now enters his second season in England, hopefully as a player better adapted to the rigours of Premier League football. If he is, then the old “it’ll be like having a new signing” cliché will certainly ring true. We saw glimpses of his undoubted ability last season, mostly when he came off the bench towards the end of the season and it will be interesting to see how he performs now that Poyet has had a preseason to work with him. With no Fabio Borini, he could be just the man to fill that problematic left forward role.
If not him, then perhaps new signing Ricky Alvarez can, or even Jordi Gomez. Adam Johnson and Will Buckley are likely to compete for the right wing berth, but both are capable of switching to the left too.
There’s also Connor Wickham to consider. He’s looked uncomfortable out on the left so far, but with Steven Fletcher and Jozy Altidore to compete with for a central striking role, there’s a chance Poyet could stick with him in that role. It’s easy to forget, but Borini did not hit the ground running in a Sunderland shirt and was initially signed to play through the middle as part of a front two. Wickham has experience of playing on the left from his Ipswich days and Poyet certainly looks like a manager capable of moulding and improving young talent.
Many supporters have bemoaned the fact that no quality strikers have been signed, but with the aforementioned trio at the club and Danny Graham still hanging around picking up a wage, it wasnever really on the cards. In fact, we appear to have more depth in attacking areas than anywhere else.
Ultimately, it is the defence that looks like being our Achilles heel. With John O’Shea and Wes Brown the obvious first choice pairing in the centre, it is a concern that only Sebastian Coates and Santiago Vergini can be considered natural cover in that position. With Vergini starting the season at right back, there’s not much in reserve, particularly when you consider the full back positions.
Patrick van Aanholt has improved since a shaky start at West Brom but if his form drop or he picks up an injury or suspension, we have no natural replacement for him. Billy Jones put in an awkward performance in the left back position in the League Cup at Birmingham and originally appeared to be brought in as a right back. If need be, he’d have to improve on that initial showing on his weaker side of the pitch as there are no other obvious alternatives.
With two ageing – and at times in their career, injury prone central defenders – as our first choice pairing, we may find ourselves resorting to Jack Rodwell or Liam Bridcutt at the heart of defence, or potentially Sebastian Larsson or Will Buckley playing in the full back positions; scenarios that are far from ideal.
The lack of defensive cover aside, it’s been a decent transfer window on the face of it, with no significant losses to an already decent if paper thin squad, now supplemented by some solid and potentially exciting recruits. Once everyone forgets about the deadline day hyperbole and has a chance to reflect on the bigger picture, the conclusion will surely be, “steady improvement”.
As it is, in the aftermath of the hype of deadline day, supporters have probably had their view of our transfer window tainted by the sight of Steve Bruce treating it like an all you can eat buffet. Remember though, quantity isn’t everything and there is nothing to suggest Bruce will get any more out of the likes of Hatem Ben Arfa or Gaston Ramirez than he did Stephane Sessegnon. Indeed, where Ramirez is concerned, a better manager than him in Mauricio Pocchetino often left him on the Southampton bench.
Is Steve Bruce really the man to transform underperforming, temperamental talent? More importantly, would either of these players, or the exotic but ultimately unimpressive – statistically anyway – Abel Hernandez have made much of a difference to our squad?
That said, if this summer’s transfer dealings still leave you feeling underwhelmed and uninspired, perhaps now is the time to cut Bruce some slack and reappraise his final transfer window at the club. For some time, it appeared to have had a crippling impact on our ability to do deals, with him seemingly leaving us with a raft of deadwood. Looking at our squad now, there are a few crucial components we can thank Bruce for, some of whom were brought in during his final summer at the club. Can the same be said of De Fanti’s lot?
Still, the days of big names and bigger reputations appear to be over at Sunderland and that is no bad thing. It’s done us little or no favours in the past. There’s no use bemoaning loan signings either. We got no more loyalty out of Darren Bent and Asamoah Gyan, than we did Marcos Alonso or Fabio Borini. We’re paying the penalty for short termism and mismanagement, or it’s allowing us to clean up our act and be shrewder in the market now, depending on which way you look at it.
The club had the façade of a transfer structure last summer, which they appear to have replaced with a real blueprint this time around. Congerton and Poyet have laid the foundations but their vision won’t be fully realised for some time. For once, there might be something on the horizon other than ugly wreckage caused by short termism and panic buying. Patience is more imperative than ever.