Dembele may be the player on most supporters’ lips. However given we’re currently in the market for a serious creative influence in midfield it would seem sensible for other alternatives to be considered.
Let’s get this out of the way right up front. This is not in any way a transfer exclusive or a claim to be ‘ITK’. It’s simply intended to encourage a debate around the merits of throwing 29-year-old Swedish attacking midfielder/striker Ola Toivonen into the cauldron of names linked with us this summer.
Options are key in any transfer window and midfielders who can show versatility by also being deployed as a striker would ready us for all eventualities. And, while Toivonen may be on the verge of a move to Turkish side Trabzonspor, Congerton and Advocaat could do worse than look to highjack the proposed move. He definitely ticks a number of boxes and ‘adaptability’ is certainly one of them.
We already know Toivonen’s name. Those with good memories will recall he was linked to a host of Premier League teams in 2013 including Liverpool, Norwich, Newcastle and the Black Cats. Following an off field dispute and with his contract ending at PSV he eventually found his way to Ligue One side Rennes for a fee believed to be around €4mil.
However with a goal return of 14 in 43 appearances for the Red and Blacks they certainly eeked out every last drop of their frankly negligible investment. If current reports are to be believed the going rate is minimal once again and therefore will appeal to a number of clubs across Europe.
What does Toivonen offer? Dick Advocaat is best place to advise. The Sunderland coach worked with him at PSV and had this to say about the midfielder during his time in Holland:
"Toivonen is worth €14m. With all due respect, but if Ajax receive €8,5m for Vurnon Anita, and Twente get €15m or so for Luuk de Jong, then Ola is worth that much too."
Therefore Advocaat is certainly an admirer of the Swedish international who has notched up over 40 caps for his country. At one point in 2011, PSV were struggling. They moved to a 4-3-3 formation with Toivonen dropping back to an attacking central midfield role. Lens was shifted from winger to striker and the Swedish maestro sat alongside a name we’re also familiar with, Wijnaldum, as well as Strootman. PSV enjoyed considerable success subsequently and Toivonen was key to these achievements even notching up a more accurate pass rate over his midfield colleagues. Later on Wijnaldum was moved to the right of a front three with Advocaat actually preferring Toivonen in the central creative midfield role. Not bad for someone who had previously been used as the lone forward option.
What are the benefits to Sunderland should we elect to make a move? Toivonen would have an instant understanding of what is expected of him in Advocaat’s favoured 4-3-3 formation. In fact, presumably as he has done with Lens, the Little General would also be able to circumvent some of the usual difficulties associated with a player’s transition to another country by adding a healthy dose of familiarity to the Rennes star’s surroundings.
Importantly, the fee is rumoured to be low. Allied to this is the versatility and experience Toivonen brings and familiarity with Advocaat’s methods. If you look at it from this perspective perhaps it would be rather surprising if we weren’t considering making a move for the midfielder behind the scenes.