After the rip-roaring success of last weeks Make Your Case feature, we decided to bring it back for another airing. In the absence of our podcast and other such places to debate things, we thought we'd bring them to these pages to discuss whatever the current hot topic is.
This week we're bringing together the wonderful minds of Dan Williams and Karl Jones to debate the future of Kieran Richardson. Rico's been subject to bids from Everton and Fulham if you believe what you read, while West Ham United and newly promoted Reading also lie in wait for his services.
So should we keep him, or should we cut all ties and let him go? Dan and Karl make cases for both sides...
Dan Williams: We should SELL Richardson
Kieran Richardson is a difficult player to analyse when it comes to our team. In his time with the Black Cats, he's been a left back, left winger, central midfielder, on the right, and has played in the hole behind the front man. Brought in by Roy Keane for a reported £5.5m, he's been Sunderland's Mr Utility for years now.
It was Steve Bruce that tried to turn the former Manchester United man into a left back. Well, he did it in stages, moving Richardson to a different position whenever he started to look competent in the role of full back.
The time has now come for Richardson to make way. Despite his service in the position this term, his time as Sunderland's first-choice left back is up. When fans talk about the hallowed ‘next level', it doesn't always have to apply to our centre forwards. We now need to look into filling every position with a player who is a natural there, not someone who has been shoe-horned into it.
Despite our reasonably successful season, it's safe to say that our defence needs to improve. And while I could talk at length about Phil Bardsley's short comings, I'm here to discuss Richardson.
Having being bought by Roy Keane, it is almost certain that Kieran will be one of the highest-paid players in the squad. With financial fair play rules coming into effect, Martin O'Neill will almost certainly have to sell players in order to bring in the new faces that we so desperately need. Looking to offload those that will not only bring in a decent fee, but also free up a fair amount of wages along the way, can only be seen as the most sensible way forward.
We don't need Richardson at the club in any other position that left back. We have good enough players in midfield to ensure that he isn't required there, and it seems that no Sunderland manager is willing to give him an extended run behind the striker. With Sessegnon in our squad, this shouldn't be something that comes as a surprise to anyone.
Arguably, for Richardson's career, a move away from the Stadium of Light might be the best thing for him. Rather than being played at full back, there's a chance that a move could see him return to the kind of player that earned him a move to Sunderland in the first place, his pioneering attacking play was instrumental in West Brom's ‘Great Escape', and, although it seems like a long time ago now, he's still the player that scored two goals against America on his England debut.
I'm sure that Karl has made a strong argument for keeping Kieran at the club, but we must be realistic and know that Ellis Short is unable to bank roll our club indefinitely, and Richardson is theoretically one of our most valuable assets. We should also take into account that he has made noises about leaving, and his contract expires at the end of next season. Not only do we risk his transfer value slipping down, but we obviously run the risk of losing him on a free transfer if he digs his heels in and forces a move.
The other interesting thing about Richardson is that, despite now being our longest serving player, he doesn't seem all that interested in actually being here. You would expect that someone who had been at the club for such a long time would make noise about it, but as Michael Graham said on our podcast, you get the impression that if the club was to accept an offer for him, he would happily go and play somewhere else. He doesn't seem to have much of a connection with the club, and you know as well as I do, Sunderland fans love a player that will run through a brick wall for the team. That just isn't Richardson.
There are more than enough players on the continent that could easily slip into Kieran's shoes, and arguably for a fraction of his wages. Toulouse FC's Chiekh M'Bengue is just one example that springs to mind, and there are undoubtedly many more available. Plus, given O'Neill's apparent preference to buy British, there are several home-grown options too. Middlesbrough's Joe Bennett is just one of the names that we've been linked to.
Kieran Richardson has been a good servant during his time at Sunderland, and there really are few that have put in such a shift for us over the last few years. However, his time at the club has run its course now, it's time for us to cash in and use the money on building a team capable of bringing glory back to the north east. It's time for us to make the step to the ‘next level', and it's time for Kieran Richardson's days at the Stadium of Light to come to an end.
Karl Jones: We should KEEP Richardson
I often read from other Sunderland fans that Kieran Richardson is not a ‘proper’ full-back. Aside from the elite in this division – Leighton Baines, Benoit Assou-Ekotto and reinvigorated pair Ashley Cole and Gael Clichy – he isn’t far off. Richardson’s stamina and pace are key – not only to an otherwise laboured back line, but for penetrating opposition defences with well-timed runs from deep.
There was no coincidence that James McClean’s influence waned as the season drew to a close; Richardson’s ability to overlap the Irishman was cruelly taken due to injury, and as such, a left-hand side that had been Sunderland’s most-utilised area in attack had been nullified.
The joke about Richardson having Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in his back pocket after the FA Cup win over Arsenal is often exaggerated due to ‘the Ox’s’ hype, but the fact is that one of England’s most adventurous young players was contained – and then forced backwards – by Kieran. And people are happy to let a full-back capable of prodding wingers deep into their own half and keeping them there go without much of a fight?
Whilst I can understand the logic in ridding another reported high earner off the wage bill, we already have enough wriggle-room in that department courtesy of letting Craig Gordon go – with George McCartney (a ‘proper’ left-back by definition) and Asamoah Gyan waiting in the departure lounge.
The only player we’ve been linked to that I would consider as a replacement for Richardson is Siaka Tiene of Paris Saint Germain – and his signature would not be courted primarily for his footballing ability, but more to allow Stephane Sessegnon to feel more comfortable at the club. I say that, having seen next-to-nothing of Tiene (or Ligue 1 for that matter) for the best part of a year since French football was made less readily available on British TV. Before that, Tiene, like Sessegnon, was a stand-out player in a smaller team which prompted a move to the capital. At 30 years of age, Tiene could quite easily supplement Richardson without off-setting the kitty no doubt reserved for a striker or two.
Nicky Shorey, Maynor Figueroa and the others are available for a pittance, but there’s good reason for that. Phil Bardsley still has plenty of convincing to do that he is good enough at right-back, let alone on his ‘wrong’ side, and Jack Colback’s composure is greater needed in the tilt-a-whirl that is a Premier League midfield.
Richardson is far from perfect; his passing is not consistent enough, which is why he is no longer a central midfielder, but as a secondary source of offense, that isn’t as important. He also has a tendency to concede the infuriating, pressure-relieving, ‘cheap’ free-kicks just when Sunderland has a team penned in its own half, but the good outweighs the bad. Here may lay the answer: in five seasons on Wearside Richardson is on his third permanent manager wanting to put his own design on the team. He has had just as many squad numbers. It isn’t too hard to see that maybe he wants to feel a little more valued.
So who's side are you on? Should we keep Richardson or let him go? Make your vote known below and add your own comments!