Perhaps one the most interesting parts of this summer transfer window for us Sunderland fans will be regarding how Lee Congerton and Gus Poyet approach the goalkeeping situation we have at the club, something which has seemingly gone under the radar with the fans but is actually a crucial role to fill. In season's gone by we've always had solid options in terms of the players available to us in goal but this summer we find ourselves needing one possibly two new additions, depending on what plan we have for the younger players like Jordan Pickford and Joel Dixon.
Last season we found ourselves in a much more different situation. When Simon Mignolet was allowed to leave the club last summer to join Liverpool it left the fans devastated. Replacing him just over a week later with Arsenal's third choice stopper Vito Mannone did little to inspire the majority of fans but, to the credit of the player, the big Italian has been the consummate professional and his contributions over the last season will have written him in into Sunderland folklore for years to come.
Despite Vito making huge progress over the year, we find ourselves in a sticky patch. Both Kieren Westwood and Oscar Ustari have left the club and this has given those in charge something to think about. We now have to replace two backup players at a time when there are so many other squad spaces to fill and the club are keen to keep costs at a minimum. It's important that our business is both shrewd and diligent.
With our ‘player of the year' Vito Mannone entering the last year of his current contract, it's a matter that simply must be made a priority to clear up. Vito was brought in as cover for Kieren Westwood last summer and, in hindsight, we gave him too short a deal and now we're left in a precarious position needing to get our number one tied down to a lengthier contract. That being said, I sense Vito is happy here and I'd like to think he'd be keen to extend the terms of his stay should we put it to him, and there are suggestions that there is an automatic extension built into his existing deal. Time will tell on that one.
When Jordan Pickford signed a new four-year deal last week it was a huge investment of both money and trust in a young player that has impressed just about everywhere he's played since his debut for Darlington back in 2012. He was number one at Carlisle United from February of this year onwards and having shown he's good enough at that level you can only assume the club will be looking for Pickford to gain as much experience as he possibly can at as high a level as he possibly can - but not after he's been assessed by the coaching staff over pre-season. Poyet may have other plans for the youngster, with Pickford possibly going straight into the first team squad as a number two behind Mannone. It'll certainly be interesting to see where his short term future lies.
Usually when a football club has high hopes for a young goalkeeper it's common for them to look to more experienced options when recruiting players. Usually, this in the hope that they are able to impart their knowledge and perhaps kindle enthusiasm from the younger player in preparation for them one day taking over the starting berth in the side. Admittedly, it isn't something we usually do but if Pickford is expected to rise to the top he can only benefit from working with players that he can learn from. Players like Julian Speroni, Tomasz Kuszcak and Manuel Almunia are all available on free transfers this summer and all have played Premier League football. From a logical point of view, signing players of their ability, experience and age makes sense if we only require cover over the short term and need to surround Pickford with players that he can learn from in training.
Some might argue that in order to improve you need healthy competition in every position, and I see sense in that. Would it be such a bad thing if we chose to bring in a player that can really challenge Mannone for his starting role? Vito has established himself as our first choice goalkeeper since being afforded a place in the side when Westwood took ill at the start of November and has been there since. Bringing in someone else that can not only offer us a different option but that can push Mannone to his limits could be a good thing.
The Ustari signing in January was an odd one - he looked decent in the few games that he did play - but the player has made it clear to the club that, at his age and at this stage of his career, he feels that he's good enough to be playing first team football somewhere and he doesn't plan on staying beyond the length of the short term deal we gave him. If Ustari can find himself a club that play at a high level in a reputable league he's got every chance of becoming the number one for Argentina. I can't blame him for not wanting to sign a new deal here, and feel perhaps we should have given him a bigger contract when he was initially brought to the club over the winter.
My hopes are that, like Pickford, Vito Mannone gets a new contract and stays at this club for many years to come. His contribution to the cause has been nothing short of brilliant and it would be an absolute travesty if we were to allow him to slip through our fingers, with just a year left on his deal.
So, what do we do? Personally speaking I feel the club are going to look towards another short term and experienced option again. Considering the sheer amount of new signings that we simply require, spending vast amounts of money on a player in position we already have a first choice option in just doesn't make sense. But, as I've learned throughout my time supporting this club, very little does.