Captain's Blog: Examining The Sunderland Striker Situation

Ian MacNicol

We all love strikers, right? Especially brand new shiny ones. Can we expect to see any more of those arrive at Sunderland this summer?

It has been a frantic summer of transfer activity at Sunderland to say the very least. A squad in serious need of an injection of quality and dynamism has received just that.

But whilst we are mostly all delighted to see defensive midfielders, full backs and wingers come in, I don't think that anything quite stirs the excitement like bringing in a shiny brand new striker or two.

We have been active in that department too, of course, with the capture of top target Jozy Altidore - a player that Paolo Di Canio describes as 'one of the best strikers in Europe' - and a very welcome addition he is, too. There is no question that it was an area of the squad that needed to be freshened up.

That said, aside from perhaps the full back positions, there are more questions and uncertainty surrounding the forward ranks than any other. So what exactly is the situation now as pre-season really clicks into gear?

Given the amount of forwards linked with Sunderland this summer, I think it is safe to say that they are not entirely satisfied with the current options. Granted, there has been more spurious stories than those with genuine substance, but more than enough of the latter to provide a conclusion.

I certainly don't think that many of us fans would disagree with an assertion that the attack requires further strengthening.

The theory is clear. Steven Fletcher is currently injured; Jozy Altidore is wholly unproven at this level; Stephane Sessegnon doesn't score enough goals; Ji Dong-won looks like he is away anyway; Connor Wickham appears about as far away from being ready as he did two years ago, and Danny Graham is, well, Danny Graham. There isn't really anyone there that you'd hang your hat on at the moment so bets need to hedged and new faces brought in.

But whilst that theory is simple, the practicalities are a little more complicated.

The new Premier League Financial Fair Play regulations have made it next to impossible for Sunderland to carry a swollen squad next summer, even if Ellis Short was feeling in extra generous fettle.

A maximum of £4million can be used from the extra TV income to increase the wage bill, so the reality of the situation is that the Sunderland forward ranks are probably at just about capacity for now. The new rules may not be absolutely binding, but they are highly restrictive. The resources can't really be expected to carry more than the six strikers they already do.

There are those who insist that Stephane Sessegnon shouldn't be counted amongst that number and it is a perspective with which I can sympathise. He is a mercurial so-and-so and tough to pigeon-hole.

However, it is a perspective that is ultimately redundant. However we would personally categorise Sessegnon doesn't matter. All that matters is that the club and the budget-makers within it consider him a striker. Whether we disagree is as immaterial as whether we agree with a referee who has decided to brandish a contentious red card.

Furthermore, I think we need to be careful not to find ourselves pinned down by semantics. We hear the term 'striker' as we have a particular stereotype in mind. But I suspect that the club's view is a lot more flexible.

Last season Di Canio himself specifically mentioned Sessegnon - or a player of his ilk - as a 'preferred' option in a front two:

I prefer two different players and that might mean a number 10 like Stephane; someone who can receive the ball between the two lines.

Once they turn, they can go one-v-one and beat their opponents with their ability or pick a pass.

This is the football I want to see because, as much as we can, I want to see the ball on the ground.

With two centre-forwards, you can do that still, but you are more predictable because they don't have 40 yards in their legs to beat their opponent.

That's not being negative about them, they just have different characteristics.

Di Canio also developed a reputation at Swindon for tailoring his attack to what he considered an opposition's weaknesses, so I think we can expect to see a lot of variation in the front two next season. It won't be a case of having a clear favoured pairing and the rest fighting for the scraps.

At the moment all the signs are that the Sunderland striker search will indeed continue at some point this summer - but only after there is some outward movement to make the room.

Right now that looks like being Danny Graham, who is said to be on the verge of a loan move to Hull City. Removing the former Swansea man from the wage bill, even temporarily, should create a little leeway to make a change should the right target become available. It could be that Graham is replaced with a loanee of our own. That wouldn't surprise me one bit.

Either way, though, unless something drastic happens on the outgoings front I wouldn't expect any further major changes to the make-up of the Sunderland attack this summer. There are frankly more pressing concerns at this moment in time.

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