Captain's Blog: So What Exactly Is 'The New Sunderland Model?'

Claudio Villa

Sunderland's summer transfer activity is seriously un-Sunderland-like. There is no question that something has changed, but just what exactly is this new Sunderland model we keep hearing about?

If Paolo Di Canio's words in the wake of losing Simon Mignolet to Liverpool are anything to go by, it's going to be a hugely busy few weeks for Sunderland.

"I would like to assure our fans that there is a huge amount of work going on behind the scenes", insisted the Italian. "Our aim is to build a competitive squad for the new season and this deal will give us further ability to strengthen the side."

There is no denying that the sale of the brilliant Belgian stopper is a blow to Sunderland. To try and assert anything different would be a wholly unfair reflection upon his contribution on Wearside, particularly last season when his heroics played a crucial role in maintaining the club's Premier League status.

I also won't deny that I probably would have resisted the temptation to cash in on him whilst his value was at its apex, though gambles are always easier with other people's money.

Nevertheless, the decision has been made, the deal has been done, and attention must be turned to how the Mignolet fee can be used to render weekly multiple world class saves no longer a basic necessity for Sunderland's survival.

That probably means a plethora of speculation over the coming couple of weeks and us finding ourselves drowning under a barrage of impromptu Wikipedia and Youtube research and buzz-phrases such as 'rebuild', 'project' and 'model'.

That last one may be a bit my fault actually, so I can't really complain about it. It is a term I have thrown around a lot, especially in our weekly Gossip feature and within the character-stingy world of Twitter. So what exactly is the 'Sunderland model' that the new recruitment team look to be working on this summer?

That is impossible to know for absolute certain, of course, but there are more than enough clues tucked away in plain sight to mostly piece it together.

The first crucial point to consider is the Financial Fair Play Regulations that are coming into effect this summer. It is quite well known at this point that Premier League clubs whose wage costs already exceed £52m (of which Sunderland are one) may only use a maximum of £4m per season from the newly inflated TV revenue to increase it further.

What is perhaps a little less well known is that the proposal of the short-term cap on salary increases were actually proposed by Sunderland chairman Ellis Short, so it becomes safe to assume that the club are well prepared to meet it.

Therefore it comes as less of a surprise to see an apparent purge on the majority of fat contracts at the club. The departures of Titus Bramble and Matthew Kilgallon were not a shock of course. Phil Bardsley being told to find himself a new club is perhaps more unexpected, but not by much. The widespread reports of the availability of Stephane Sessegnon and Lee Cattermole have raised an eyebrow or two, though.

However, they all have three things in common: a reasonably fat wage, a fairly limited (or in Sessegnon's case highly inconsistent) contribution, and dismal potential to significantly swell the club's coffers from this point onwards.

They are not the only hefty contracts on the books, of course, but the others tend to offer much better value. John O'Shea shares a mentality and ethos with Paolo Di Canio and can be the benchmark and natural leader of the group. Adam Johnson has name-value, plenty of talent in there somewhere, and his peak arguably ahead of him. Steven Fletcher is the only natural and reliable goalscorer at the club.

You can also look at the club's confirmed deals this summer for further evidence. Valentin Roberge and Cabral have joined from cash-strapped leagues, whilst Mobido Diakite was on a developmental level contract at Lazio.

Meanwhile, the likes of Alfred Duncan has been strongly linked in the press, with multiple journalists and media groups reporting genuine interest from Sunderland. One of those was CNN's Italian correspondent Tancredi Palmeri, who today told The Journal:

They have made contact about Duncan and Ibrahim M'Biaye. They are not the kind of players you would have expected anyone to bid for this summer, never mind an English club. That is not because they are bad players but because very few people in the game would have had the knowledge to bid for these players with the confidence that Sunderland have done.

The likes of Alfred Duncan would not come cheap in terms of a transfer fee, but armed with the new television deal, fresh sponsorship income, and what looks like being a good amount of money generated by sales, transfer fees are not Sunderland's problem this summer. The wage bill is.

A good comparison can be drawn with Liverpool's recent capture of Coutinho. The Brazilian was another gem at Inter who was a relative unknown in England, and at £8.5m he most certainly wasn't found in the bargain bin. However, his wages in Italy of just €600,000 per year (roughly £10k per week) were nothing to worry the accountants.

In fact, when The Gazzetta dello Sport published their annual review of Serie A salaries for the 2012/13 season, it became abundantly clear why it is a market Sunderland have equipped themselves to exploit.

The figures only covered the first team squads, so some reported targets were not declared. Though they revealed that three heavily linked Sunderland targets, Abel Hernandez, Jonathan Biabiany, and Alessandro Rosina were on salaries totaling (i.e between them) approximately £27k per week last season.

To put that into some eye-watering context, when Phil Bardsley was in court on driving offences a couple of years ago, his weekly income was cited at £31k per week, and he is reported to be on less money than Titus Bramble was.

When you see the figures laid out like that, it becomes little wonder that Sunderland have finally decided to forsake the domestic transfer market.

There is a tactical element to it too, of course. The players being targeted are a different type to those that preceded them. Quick, athletic, strong, and well suited to the demands of the modern game.

The last time Sunderland cashed in on a prized asset and decided to make wholesale changes, the bulk of the money was promptly reinvested in experienced, unremarkable, established players who were either at or past their peak. Those players were paid well and mostly contributed little.

This time, the 'model' couldn't be more different. It's based upon the club backing themselves to get ahead of the game and acquire talent before it has the track record to demand a wage that goes with it.

If you want to sum it up in one easy sentence, the 'new Sunderland model' is about players with something to prove rather than everything to lose. Well, that is what all the evidence certainly suggests. You never can really tell with Sunderland, can you?

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