Both on and off the pitch this season Sunderland have somewhat surprised and delighted in equal measure by the amount of partnerships which have been set-up.
Some connect directly to our playing squad, most recently with Tanzanian league champions Simba SC which will see two of their most highly-regarded youngsters head to Wearside for a trial period in the near future.
The array of partnerships which have been set-up by the club have seen Sunderland finally open their arms and welcome in the future of football - something which we've never been quick to do.
It bugged me that when Vaux closed we went local once again, sponsorship-wise, with Reg Vardy. Not since the early 1990's and West Ham adorning Dagenham Motors has a Premier League team in a huge stadium had to settle for a local car dealership.
Understandably people wanted to see the club continue to embrace its locality, however it was a good time to move on and we didn't take it. We'd moved grounds, changed crests and nicknames but a sponsor seemed too much to bear for the powers that be.
Finally it seems off the pitch we're joining the real world, and really building for a brighter tomorrow.
The first move of note came a while back with the line-up with top Ghanaian side Asante Kotoko. While nothing has particularly happened on that front yet apart from a few niceties being exchanged, it should be a very good thing for the future to be exchanging players and views with one of the most successful sides in Ghana's history.
In addition to that and the Simba deal, others have since followed which could bring lots of success. Further links in Africa with the opening of an Egyptian Sunderland AFC Academy and a deal similar to that we have with Asante with South African Premier League side Bidvest Wits.
Deals of this nature certainly establish us as one of the first in the queue for the next age of African talent to come to the Premier League and create a direct route to it too as opposed to players moving through France, Belgium or Holland first and a premium being put on them. We ourselves would be the ones to put that premium on when it comes to selling. Good players and big profits. What's not to like?
There's also the links with SK Lierse in Belgium. Another which could prove significant in terms of acquiring passports and loaning players who aren't quite ready for the 25-man squad at the start of the season. Rumour has it (at time of writing) that this is where recent impressive triallist Tom Oostinjen will end up next season.
There's also FC Gava. A Spanish third tier side based on the outskirts of Barcelona. While they might not be performing at the highest level, they do offer us the chance to use one the premiere training facilities in Spain for warm-weather winter training camps, if we don't bugger of to Dubai again. The little-known Catalans also have a strong focus on youth players, with Oriol Valero and Dani Hernanddez set to join our Academy next season having impressed on a recent trial.
The recently achieved Academy Level One status is a huge boost to us, being one of only a handful of teams allowed to develop young players without restriction, be they from South Hylton, South Africa or South America.
There'll still be plenty of home-grown talent coming through the Academy Of Light, but it's great that we can have the option to find ourselves a potential Cesc Fabregas or someone like that. You only need to hit on one or two every year and we now have a plethora of options to do so.
There's still the issue of identity and connection with the locals though, which Martin O'Neill does look to have taken on board.
For every Alfred N'Diaye, Kader Mangane or Ji Dong-Won who come to the club from a far-flung corner there's also some locals out there who know what it's all about up here and ‘get' the passion and expectation of North East football.
The likes of Jack Colback were already here, while Lee Cattermole, Adam Johnson and Danny Graham all know the North East football scene very well. Sure they're not all Mackems, but the point is they still have a great understanding of the area, its feeling towards football and establish a connection to some degree to those the other side of the white line in the seats.
Over the next five years it's difficult to see anything other than Sunderland being a huge success and a big player when it comes to unearthing talent, and not ‘unearthing' talent such as French internationals and Ligue One winners like them lot up the road have done. We're actually building something.
I really would like to see Sunderland go on to follow the examples of Udinese. Or Porto. Or Ajax - successful teams with a reputation for development, production lines of top quality players. We know we're never going to compete with the top four or five teams in the Premier League when it comes to offering wages or a nice place to live, but we can offer opportunity and facilities that precious few other teams can.
In an interview we once did on our own site, Jonathan Wilson once told us he'd prefer to see us "take a chance on ten Ji Dong-Won's" than some of the big money moves we were linked with at the time. A view I very much share.
It looks as though Mr Wilson and myself will be proved correct in the next few years as Sunderland look to maximise these partnerships. There'll be a lot more N'Diaye's, Mignolet's and Dong-Won's, with to a lesser extent Mandron's, Stryjek's and Gorrin's coming through the club, but always maintaining some local identity as the likes of Colback and Cattermole continue to form the spine of the team.
Exciting times are ahead as Sunderland go in search of finding the perfect balance for a sustainable future.