Chris Weatherspoon: Sell and Invest
Player of the season? Check. One of the Premier League's best goalkeepers, if not the best? Check. An impossibly high stock that it will be extremely difficult to surpass? Check.
Were it not for Simon Mignolet, Sunderland would have been relegated last season. Goalkeepers, of course, are entrusted with bailing their sides out. But Mignolet took it to extremes last term. They say a good stopper will earn his side fifteen points a season. The Belgian arguably helped Sunderland earn somewhere near double that – scarcely a game went by where he didn't pull off at least one outstanding save.
So, at face value, it would seem ludicrous to advocate his sale. Mignolet is a brilliant young keeper who will surely only get better with time and age.
Yet, this is exactly why Sunderland should cash in this summer. The only way Mignolet's stock is likely to rise even higher than it already is (and no, I'm not talking about the derogatory £6.5m Liverpool allegedly believe they can get him for) is if Sunderland have another torrid season. Perform well and Mignolet – though remaining an excellent stopper – will shrink slightly into the background. Accordingly, his value will diminish. Only a fool would suggest that Mignolet won't eventually leave Wearside to pursue greater heights, but hanging onto him too long could greatly damage the amount of money Sunderland receive for him.
The squad is in need of great upheaval – we are already seeing heavy activity in the transfer market – and a hefty fee for the Belgian will go a long way to helping Paolo Di Canio bolster his transfer budget. A great goalkeeper is, of course, desirable. But in some ways it is a luxury too – Keiren Westwood, while not on Mignolet's level, is a more than able replacement. Indeed, if the club can stock higher quality players in front of him as a result of the money garnered from Mignolet's sale, West wood will not need to be as good as his predecessor.
The more pleasing option would be to keep Mignolet and sign high quality players. But the realities of the situation make that a near impossibility. Financial “fair play” rules, combined with Ellis Short's (sensible) unwillingness to pitch the club onto rocky monetary terrain means that in order for big signings to be made, big sales must also be sanctioned.
It would be a great shame to see Mignolet leave, but in Westwood the club already has a solid keeper on its books. It may seem paradoxical to sell the best player on the clubs books, but sometimes a tough sacrifice is worth it.
(PS: I got forced to write this side of the argument because Nick got in there first with the side of the debate that is actually right. Of course we need to sodding keep him.)
Nick Holden: Keep At All Costs
Certainly there may be an argument to make for selling Mignolet and re-investing the money from his sale into this summer’s rebuilding project, but I believe this is a heavily flawed argument for several reasons.
Firstly, at the moment we are onto a sure thing with Our Belgian Keeper. We can be linked with any quality of keeper to replace Mignolet (I’ve seen Celtic’s Fraser Forster mentioned), but ultimately all transfers are a gamble to some extent. Whereas we know that next season Mignolet is likely not just to maintain his brilliant performance levels, but to improve them, a new man could quite easily fail to reach these heights or instantly to find comfortable and consistent performances. In a position as key as that of goalkeeper, why take a risk on the new man not hitting the ground running when you know that you already have one of the best goalkeepers (in my opinion actually the best) in the league already there?
This leads into my next point; stability. We already know that we’re in for a big squad upheaval over the summer, so it’s important that we keep as many points of continuity as we can to minimise the destabilising impact of these changes. For instance, keeping John O’Shea as the organiser at the heart of defence, Stéphane Sessègnon as the key man in attack, and Simon Mignolet as the reassuring pressure between the sticks. If we decide to sell Mignolet and bring a new man in, then even if they do hit the ground running their presence, instead of the handsome Belgian the team is used to, may have a frankly unnecessary impact on the transition from the current squad to our, hopefully, shiny new one.
The idea of selling your best player so you can improve the squad as a whole with the money is one that is floating around several Premier League clubs at the moment. Spurs and Liverpool are in a position where they could face silly money bids for their respective best players, Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez, and will need to decide over the summer whether to accept the money and reinvest, or cling on stubbornly to their star performers. It is also something that Sunderland did not too long ago.
The sale of Academy star Jordan Henderson to Liverpool was supposed to be a sacrifice to fund the redevelopment of the squad as a whole. Instead the sale of one player, who still looks destined to grow into a very good footballer, funded the arrival of a large majority of our current squad of Meh Footballers. Promise mixed with talent was sold to facilitate the arrival of mediocrity mixed with a fair sprinkling of shite. Yes, we may receive a decent pot of money that we do need for reinventing our current squad, but it has been seen many times that this is a dangerous move. Again we come onto selling a sure thing for an unknown gamble.
Finally, do we actually need the money selling Mignolet may bring in? Last summer’s splurge on Adam Johnson and Steven Fletcher showed that, if he judges it necessary, Ellis Short does have the will and the wonga to spend in the transfer market. However, most of the (quiet) noises coming from the enigmatic Texan since then have suggested that he is no longer happy with the minimal return coming from his substantial investment. This certainly seems to be backed up by the fact that our transfer policy so far seems more targeted on ferreting out cheap deals from the free transfer market than making big splashes with marquee signings.
That brings me to wonder how much of the money from a Mignolet sale would even be invested into the first team. I can hardly see Short deciding to abandon his new value-oriented transfer policy in favour of the old approach just because one sale has brought a lot of money in. So if we are unlikely even to see money from Mignolet’s sale being reinvested into first team signings, then what reason at all is there to sell?
As an absolutely final addendum, if we lose Simon Mignolet we’ll have to lose the Our Belgian Keeper chant, and that is literally impossible to justify.
Should Sunderland be looking to keep Simon Mignolet or cashing in on him as a means to improve the rest of the side? Have your say in the comments box below and by voting in the poll.