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Pedigree Or Premium - Congerton's Struggles With Conflicting Remits

Sunderland's continued struggle for major breakthroughs in the transfer market is frustrating everyone, Gus Poyet apparently very much included. But is Lee Congerton really the villain of the piece?

Richard Sellers


As the weeks have gone on without major breakthroughs in the transfer market, there has been a lot of sympathy generated amongst the supporters for Gus Poyet. It's not hard to see why.

Poyet was the public spearhead of the 'miracle' to keep the club in the division, and since then he has been pretty clear about how he wanted things done this summer. He wanted deals done nice and early, he wanted the bulk of his squad in place for the 'crucial' trip to Portugal, and he wanted money spent on an injection of real quality. In other words, he wanted all the things that the fans also wanted to see, so it is not difficult to see how a level of empathy has developed.

The problem is, of course, that the world that Gus Poyet was describing was a perfect one. Lee Congerton, on the other hand, has to live and work in the real one, and the real world can be an absolute bitch during a transfer window for a Sporting Director.

I think it is - or at least it should be by now - common knowledge that Sunderland are committed to the process of making themselves financially self-sustainable. It's frustrating, especially in this ere of massive TV deals being thrown about, but the hope will be that it is a necessary short-term pain that paves the way for a brighter future. Whether it pans out that way we don't know, but it appears to be the plan whether we like it or not.

That's not to say that there is a complete and steadfast unwillingness to spend money - as the bid to bring Fabio Borini back to the Stadium of Light proves - but it's clear that a balance is being sought between spending what is required and reducing the large financial losses we have seen the club report in recent years. That's something that Margaret Byrne revealed as far back as March 2013:

Because we're not producing profits, every time we buy a player, Ellis is virtually buying that player for the club himself. We're really lucky to have his backing and support.

This TV deal gives the club a chance to get our books in order.

A quick look back through the transfer business since that time backs that up, too. Though Roberto De Fanti was much maligned, ten of the players Sunderland brought to the Stadium of Light last season were either free transfers or on loan deals - Valentin Roberge, Mobido Diakite, Ondrej Celustka, Andrea Dossena, Oscar Ustari, Santiago Vergini, Ki Sung-yueng, Fabio Borini and Marcos Alonso.

So far this summer, only Patrick van Aanholt has required a fee with the other new arrivals - Billy Jones, Jordi Gomez and Costel Pantilimon - being Bosman free transfers. There was obviously some money spent on the likes of Emanuele Giaccherini, Jozy Altidore and Liam Bridcutt, but Simon Mignolet and Stephane Sessegnon were sold to mostly fund them.

Now, seeing the lack of incoming players from Poyet's point of view is very easy because it's a perspective we all share. But what about Lee Congerton's? I suspect it all looks very different when sat behind his remit of delivering the players that the coach wants yet also satisfying the demands from higher above.

There are also similarities between the types of players that are, or indeed are not arriving. Last summer, Paolo Di Canio was very clear that he wanted players of proven Premier League pedigree, preferably English ones. That has been echoed by Congerton this summer too, and in fairness all four of the arrivals so far have come from English clubs (though Van Aanholt has no proven track record in English football).

With the Borini pursuit ongoing, that number could swell further, and the attempts to sign Ashley Williams from Swansea earlier in the summer add further weight to the argument that the domestic market is the club's market of choice this summer for the bulk of their business.

That is a policy I dare say the majority of fans endorse. We've seen far too many obscure South Americans come and go after barely playing a game, or cheaper foreign gambles backfire, forcing us to turn again to the players we were trying to replace in the first place. Meanwhile, the players who shone from last season's batch of recruits - Vito Mannone, Ki, Marcos Alonso and Fabio Borini - all arrived very well accustomed to the English game.

So, for all Poyet's headline-happy protestations of a world less perfect, there-in lies the dilemma of Sunderland's transfer window reality. How do you get Premier League pedigree without paying the Premier League premium on each one? Between now and September, something has to give. Last season it was buying the proven pedigree. Will it be not paying the premium that gives this summer? Time will tell.

Either way, though, it's important not to cast Lee Congerton as the villain of the piece, and I'm not sure Poyet's recent comments are helping much there to be perfectly honest. Like De Fanti, he appears to be struggling to satisfy apparently conflicting remits from different directions, neither of which are necessarily wrong, and in any line of work that's not an especially enviable position to be in.

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