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OPINION: Are Sunderland Building on Shifting Sands?

Is SAFC's spending during transfer windows too limited and over reliant upon loans? Roker Report's Graeme Atkinson gives his thoughts.

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There was a weary familiarity about the weekend’s result. Our annual optimism, inevitably building during a pre-season, seems almost like a religious conviction. There isn’t anything tangible to maintain its continued existence but nonetheless it marches on.

There are those that will say it’s just one game and I’d go along with that, it is.  Let’s not get too carried away.  However the same problems continue to permeate throughout our performances season after season.  To not take this pattern seriously is naïve.  Managers and head coaches have come and gone but that is the one constant that remains.  Matters are more complicated than simply couching it in those terms, but by any margin this is a huge season for Ellis Short.

When Advocaat agreed to return it was based on an understanding that quality signings would be forthcoming.  Presumably those assurances were made by Short to the Dutchman personally.  This isn’t to say Advocaat would be disappointed with the signings to date.  Indeed price isn’t always a guarantee of value for money but in general terms you get what you pay for in life.

We’ve paid around £5mil net (not including salaries) thus far.  This doesn’t factor in the money we apparently received as part of Asamoah Gyan’s transfer to Shanghai as it isn’t clear how this will be paid to us.  For a summer transfer window in the Premier League £5mil is frankly minimal at best. It’s hard to imagine Advocaat believing he can genuinely push the team higher up the league with those figures during this transfer window.

Of course, there is still some time remaining.  Congerton has a few weeks left to negotiate the last one or two deals Advocaat has said he needs to help improve the squad.  However if the funds simply aren’t in place Congerton and therefore Advocaat’s hands are tied.  Had the Fer transfer gone through this would have been a loan arrangement.  Januzaj, who has also been rumoured to have been on Wearside last week for talks with the club, is again on a loan basis should it come to fruition.

It was hoped, especially with the sale of Wickham, that a significant amount of our available funds would be spent on at least an attacking centre midfield player.  We now have a real opportunity to solidify in that key area.  While Fer would have been a shrewd loan there was apparently ‘no buy’ clause.  The intent should be to purchase players we can build a squad around.  This must be particularly important to Advocaat given he’s only contracted to the club for another year.

I’m all for loan players but they should supplement the core of what we have, not become the foundation.  Once removed from the squad at the end of the loan period there isn’t always a guarantee they’ll return as we’ve found to our cost in the past with Evans, Welbeck, Borini, Ki etc.  The result is obvious isn’t it? We are continually starting from scratch.  How can we build on shifting sands?

While I’ve been happy generally with the signings to date I was expecting that those already through the door were bought with one understanding.  The hope was that the main bulk of our financial clout would go towards buying, on a permanent basis, a strong, creative centre midfielder and possibly a striker.  The reality doesn’t appear to back this up.

The Little General controls the media as well as any Sunderland coach I’ve seen and there seems to be messages to Short peppered throughout his interviews.  Poyet and Di Canio tried something similar in previous summers but lacked tact and subtlety, souring relationships with those at the top that ultimately control the purse strings.  Maybe even their inexperience coaching at the top level played a part too.

However Short must now be beginning to hear the sound of a broken record.  Manager after manager, head coach after head coach, they have all stated the squad needs improvement.  This isn’t a surprise, in fact coaches up and down the land will have the same cry to their club officials too.  The difference here is, in terms of SAFC, never as a man been more right and in Advocaat never has there been a better man to use the investment more wisely.  Over to you Ellis Short, the ball is very firmly in your court.

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