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Captain's Blog: Sunderland Need To Find A System This Summer, Not A Star

Finding a system will be more important than finding a star name this summer for Sunderland and Martin O'Neill.
Finding a system will be more important than finding a star name this summer for Sunderland and Martin O'Neill.

There has been one topic that has dominated the headlines regarding Sunderland all summer - the search for a striker. In truth, it has probably dominated ever since Darren Bent unceremoniously packed his bags and hovelled himself up in a Birmingham hotel.

Connor Wickham arrived for big money but struggled to make any real impact for one reason or another, Nicklas Bendtner was pretty enough on the eye but contributed considerably more style than he did substance. Asamoah Gyan simply fled.

In the meantime, just about every striker under the sun seems to have been linked with Sunderland. Ricardo Fuller, Georgios Samaras, Kevin Davies, Steven Fletcher, Peter Crouch, Roman Pavlyuchenko, Louis Saha, Ricky van Wolfswinkel, Grant Holt, and countless others have at one time or another been reported to be interesting the club.

Last week threw up an interesting link, however, when Jermain Defoe was reported to be interesting Martin O'Neill.

Whether or not the link is genuine is not the point here. I don't personally believe there to be much in it, but who knows. What it has done, however, is stirred great debate amongst fans as to what kind of striker the club should be looking for this summer because, in that sense, the diminutive and nimble Defoe with his penalty box instincts certainly stands out from the rest.

In terms of a player suited to filling the exact void left by Darren Bent, Defoe is a near-enough exact fit. He has bags of pace and can finish with precision from just about anywhere. He is basically an exciting player who can be relied upon for goals, so it isn't tough to see why a club so desperate to find a new goalscoring talisman to replace the one they feel they are owed would find him an attractive prospect.

You are unlikely to find many people at all who question Defoe's predatory prowess, but the question is really whether or not a direct replacement for Bent would be in the club's best interests moving forward. Is it what Sunderland actually needs?

Whilst it is true to say that those fleeting days when Darren Bent was at his brilliant best for Sunderland were exciting times, it is also just as true to suggest that they were precarious ones. When an entire team was set up to supply one man, as it tends to have to be for players of his ilk, you were never more than an injury, a loss of form, or, as it proved, a sulk away from a total collapse.

For all Bent's strengths, he was not part of a system - he was the entire production line. Is that something that the club want to return to? Do they want to once again entrust their fate to the performances, form, and good will of a single individual?

It all boils down to a simple question really; do Sunderland and their fans want a striker that the whole team must commit to bringing the best out of, or do they want a striker who is committed to bringing the best out of the whole team? For me, it is the latter, and players like Defoe and Bent fall very much into the former category.

There will be those who insist that there is actually room for both, and they are right. Countless examples of brilliant strike partnerships of the past prove that. Whether or not there is room for both AND Stephane Sessegnon in the same side is another matter entirely, however.

Considering how hard O'Neill is fighting to keep Sessegnon this summer, it is difficult to imagine him not once again being the central pivot of his side this season. He isn't likely to be considered suitable to play in a two-man central midfield, and previous attempts to try to shift him out to the right wing haven't ever really worked out.

So all the indications are that any plans of playing with two strikers will be sacrificed in order to accommodate Sessegnon in the side, with the remaining position up front going to someone capable of providing him the platform upon which he, as well as James McClean and any summer reinforcements, can perform. Someone who can fulfil Martin O'Neill's own remit for 'forward play' of 'getting the ball, holding the ball, and playing the ball' as a priority, as well as chipping in with 10-15 goals himself.

If that does prove to be the case, then it is difficult to see where there could be room for a player like Defoe, regardless of how good he is at putting the ball in the net.

Ultimately, whilst goalscorers excite, grab attention, and massage the ego, there are more ways to replace the goals of Darren Bent for Sunderland than simply trying to find someone like-for-like. Chances are we won't know Martin O'Neill's plans for injecting goals into the side until after the transfer window has closed and the dust has settled, but what Sunderland probably need this summer is a system, not a star.

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