As the Premier League season winds to an exciting conclusion with both Manchester sides waging a tug-of-war over the title and a number of clubs battling to stave off relegation the rest of us caught somewhere in the middle are already casting our eyes to the summer break. This year sees the return of the European Championship to grant us football fans our fix over the often barren summer months. However, International football aside, the real interest over the break relies heavily on the approaching transfer window and the wheeling and dealing ahead for our respective clubs.
As Sunderland fans we are looking ahead at this transfer window with real interest as it will be our first opportunity to see Martin O'Neill, hopefully, work some magic with Ellis Shorts' cheque book. However, how will O'Neill's approach differ from that of, say, our neighbours up the road for instance?
Like it or not Alan Pardew has worked something of a minor miracle with our arch rivals. Despite suffering an initial backlash following his appointment, which was further compounded as he was the successor to the popular Chris Hughton who was harshly given the push in the eyes of the majority. Pardew has since gone on to prove everyone wrong and become one of the biggest success stories of the season.
Whilst eyebrows were raised at the initial sales of what were regarded as key players at the time, Joey Barton, Kevin Nolan, Jose Enrique and the cashing in of Andy Carroll, Newcastle have looked further afield for their replacements and made some, what have proven to be, shrewd investments in players based in the French league and elsewhere across the continent.
Of course Pardew cannot claim, although he probably would try, all of the credit for Newcastle's success in the transfer market. This praise has to lie with Chief Scout Graham Carr who has a fantastic recent record with the players he has helped bring to Tyneside that have turned Newcastle into a side fighting for European qualification.
Of course Newcastle are not the only Premier League club to have found success and good value in the transfer market with foreign based players as of late. Swansea's shot stopper Michel Vorm for example has caught the eye this season and has been a vital component in the Welsh side's emergence this term. The Dutchman also only set the Swans back £1.5m from FC Utrecht.
Even looking closer to home, Sunderland's Stephane Sessegnon has gone on to settle nicely in to life in the Premier League following his £6m move from PSG in January of 2011. Whilst we will undoubtedly have to
fight off interest in our talented playmaker this summer you would imagine that were we to accept any offer we would stand to make a sizeable profit on the Benin International.
So whilst there is value to be found overseas without having to spend money that would make Manchester City blush, this is unlikely to be the approach we will see O'Neill make. Martin has a very distinct policy when it comes to his business in the transfer market, both on the type of player he brings in and the nature of the deal itself.
O'Neill makes no secret of the fact that he learned a lot from the late, great Brian Clough and will always look for more value in the market with bosmans and small fees than splash out over £20m on a player. O'Neill really made his name in management with Leicester City (following some success with Wycombe Wanderers) and in turn this
success was based around his policy to make stars rather than buy stars. Players such as Robbie Savage, Neil Lennon, Steve Guppy and Muzzy Izzet for example were all seen as surplus to requirement before O'Neill got his hands on them and they would all go on to play international football.
It is therefore unrealistic for Sunderland fans to expect O'Neill to change his ways at this stage of his managerial career. What we can expect is British players or players with experience in the English leagues to be on the Northern Irishman's shopping list.
This is not necessarily a bad thing and it is a policy that has done O'Neill no harm over the years. In fact O'Neill has often taken players on that no-one else in their right mind would have even considered and turned their career around. Tony Cottee for example was a forgotten man earning a wage in the Malaysian leagues before O'Neill
persuaded him to join his Leicester side. The former England International went on to score just short of fifty goals to help Leicester to a memorable run of two League Cups and a promotion.
Whilst with Celtic O'Neill also took a "punt" on Chris Sutton, who had become something of a laughing stock at Chelsea and John Hartson, for whom there were questions over his fitness and attitude. The pair would go on to revitalise their careers during Martin's successful stint with the Glasgow side.
There has been evidence as of late that value can be found in the transfer market with players based from British sides. Sebastian Larsson for example joined Sunderland on a Bosman and instantly added much needed threat from dead ball situations and goals from the midfield. Demba Ba swapped West Ham with Newcastle United, despite questions over an underlying knee injury and was a revelation in the first half of the season embarking on a remarkable goalscoring run. Tottenham Hotspur were also able to add England International and media favourite Scott Parker to their side for a cut-price £5m. There is value to be found on these shores.
So, what kind of players can we expect to see O'Neill chasing during the summer months? Following their relegation on Sunday afternoon one of the first names that seems to tick all of the right boxes in O'Neill's eyes could be the Wolves forward Steven Fletcher. Victor Moses has also reportedly refused to enter into talks with Wigan with regards to extending his contract and could be available on a free, although you would expect there to be some competition for his signature following his emergence this year. How about the Yak? O'Neill loves a big forward and, well, Yakubu certainly fits that bill and has been in a rich vein on form this year. Or how about O'Neill works some more of his magic by revitalising the career of a footballing misfit? A cut-price Andy Carroll anyone?