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That's the plug out the way, now for another column. This originally appeared in Issue 207 with the January transfer window about to take hold. See what we thought might happen...
Since its introduction to English football at the beginning of 2003, the January transfer window has rarely been a time of prosperity and progress on Wearside. Such footballing luminaries as Tal Ben Haim, Calum Davenport and, lest we forget, Rade Prica have all escaped the harsh winter cold by setting foot inside the grand foyer of the Stadium of Light - few who have arrived at the start of a new year have gone on to leave a lasting impression for the red and whites.
In years gone by, the preference by most clubs, not just Sunderland, has been for makeshift loan deals; club owners and managers alike seem well aware of the hyperinflation that afflicts a window where each club is desperately trying to ensure the latter half of their season is a joyous one.
Last year, though, things went somewhat awry. Chelsea, still buoyed by their sizeable amount of roubles, splurged a capital outlay in excess of £70m on just two players in the shape of Fernando Torres and David Luiz. On the red half of the Mersey, Liverpool parted with an astonishing £35m for a certain Andy Carroll, while Darren Bent left Wearside for pastures new in the Midlands for an exchange fee that may eventually rise to £24m.
On a smaller scale, much the same was the case for our own club. True, Sulley Muntari's loan deal was scarcely beneficial for either party, but the acquisition of Stephane Sessegnon for a fee believed to be in excess of £6m suggested a potential shift in policy at SR5.
It is hard not to think that the upcoming window will need to see more of the same if Steve Bruce is to improve on last year's top ten finish. With the season now into its third month, the Black Cats have notched up a paltry two wins (this was written prior to our visit to Old Trafford, but I'll take it as a given that we got nothing there), and the manager is having a troublesome time keeping the hounds from the door.
So, perhaps a measured dip into the murky January waters could provide him with the springboard he most sorely needs right now. Provided there are funds made available, there is little doubt that the squad has certain areas which are in blatant need of reinforcement.
In spite of Connor Wickham's recent emergence as a genuine candidate for a regular first team berth, we still lack true firepower at the top end of the field. It was recently reported that Bruce was on the lookout for another 'marquee signing', though he will no doubt be extra cautious this time around, following the scenarios that unfolded regarding Darren Bent and Asamoah Gyan.
Nicklas Bendtner looks classy, but he is only on Wearside temporarily. Bruce may opt to make a permanent move for the Dane but, if not, and possibly even if he does, the need for another top level striker must not be allowed to go unnoticed.
This, of course, is problematic: in January, everyone wants a striker, and there are plenty who are willing to pay way over the odds to get one. With Ellis Short wanting to run the club as efficiently as possible, it is unlikely that Sunderland will succumb to such measures - they will need craft in order to fulfil their aims.
Our neighbours from up the road have shown, at least so far this season, the benefits of effective scouting abroad. While uncovering a hidden gem is much more fanciful than it is realistic, a sensible transfer policy may well be to venture abroad, where prices are lower and competition not quite so fierce. A brief perusal of Europe's leading scorers thus far throws up a whole host of names, some that could possibly come to ply their trade on Wearside (Ujah, Abdellaoue, Papiss Demba Cisse), and some who most certainly won't (Higuain, Messi, Doumbia).
Of course, there are significant risks with such an approach. Goals in the European leagues do not necessarily translate to goals in England (see the aforementioned Prica), and any one who does arrive must do so having undergone significant amounts of scouting and analysis. However, if done properly, Bruce may be able to find a man capable of firing his side back into the top half of the table.
Away from the front line, it is down the left that Sunderland's next most obvious weakness arises. The first team squad boasts just a single truly left-footed player - Kieran Richardson - and the side's lack of balance is all too often in evidence.
The inability to find suitable left-sided players, both in defence and midfield, is not an issue specific to Bruce's reign, but it is one which he should surely be seeking to rectify. If we are to pick one over the other, then it is at left-back that the squad must be strengthened. Richardson has grown into his role in defence, but the fact remains that he is still not an out and out full-back.
Here, a look at those a bit closer to home may be of some benefit. In the Championship, Leeds United's Ben Parker is highly rated, and would not cost the earth. Even more sought after is Nathaniel Clyne of Crystal Palace. Clyne is a right-back by trade, which does little to aid Sunderland's balance problem, but his arrival could see John O'Shea shift to left-back, a position he is more than familiar with. In this scenario, Sunderland would at least have four recognised defenders in their back line.
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