Chris Young is SAFC reporter for the Sunderland Echo. Previously Chris covered Hartlepool United for the Hartlepool Mail but began covering Sunderland in November 2011 following the late Ian Laws in the role. Here, he kindly takes time out of his busy day to chat to Roker Report about, amongst other things, transfers, FFP and gives his thoughts on pre-season.
RR: What's the biggest change you've personally noticed about the running of the club since your time covering it?
CY: The director of football model was a pretty seismic change and you can see the attraction to Short. It provides some continuity, rather than ripping everything up and starting from scratch every time a manager is sacked (which is pretty often in Sunderland's case...) I think perhaps the most significant change though has been the lack of a figurehead since the departure of Niall Quinn. The club lacks someone from the hierarchy who can connect with supporters and explain the direction it's going in.
RR: How easy are SAFC to cover in terms of access and to receive information? I noticed you didn’t get much in the way of contact with the club while in the US.
CY: From the Echo's point of view, our relationship is generally excellent, both in terms of access and information. It's helpful for the club too to have a vehicle to publicise things that they wouldn't necessarily want to comment on. Dick Advocaat wasn't particularly keen on speaking throughout pre-season. But (a) he doesn't really need to produce a charm offensive in the press and (b) he's not been keen on getting involved in the transfer circus.
RR: You were the only NE sports reporter that followed the team during all pre-season games, who was your stand out player and why?
CY: There weren't many who stood out! The friendlies were all pretty dire until the last one against Hannover. Jeremain Lens looked excellent in the last two games, while Adam Johnson was probably the sharpest performer generally.
RR: What was your opinion of the pre-season generally?
CY: I don't think the California leg of the North American trip was necessary. Yes, they obviously had to play Toronto as part of the Defoe / Altidore deal, but they could easily have stayed in Canada and played a couple of local sides. Going to the West Coast took too much out of the players. And me!
RR: Do you feel the squad as it stands is good enough to avoid relegation?
CY: It's been crystal clear throughout pre-season that Sunderland have needed an attacking midfielder and a new striker, and those positions still need to be addressed. Everyone knows - both inside and outside the club - that more "quality" is needed before the end of the window.
RR: Do you think the club will respond to Adam Johnson’s injury in the transfer window?
CY: The enquiry for Fabio Borini shows that they clearly are looking to bring in a replacement. Borini was not in the club's sights a fortnight ago (perhaps surprisingly) but their priorities have changed. Despite his legal troubles, Johnson's injury is a blow. As I said above, he was one of the better performers in pre-season.
RR: What's your opinion of the Director of Football role in the modern game?
CY: It depends how it works. With the way football has developed, I think managers need a helping hand when it comes to overseeing scouting, negotiations, dealing with agents etc. The problems with it generally have come when the DoF undermines the manager.
RR: What’s your view of Congerton's impact at SAFC?
CY: He's been dealt a poor hand so far. No-one should underestimate the mess left by the De Fanti period. That summer transfer window set the club back two years and they're still recovering. Congerton has faced the near-impossible task of bringing in a number of players, but also quality ones, on a limited budget. He's also had to make necessary changes to the club's scouting / academy system. But clearly supporters need to see evidence of improvement on the field and that's what he'll ultimately be judged on.
RR: In your opinion do you feel that Short, Congerton and Advocaat are all pulling in the same direction?
CY: It's a far, far healthier situation than it was with Poyet when the tensions between them were played out in a very public way. Congerton and Advocaat are on the same page and enjoy an excellent working relationship.
RR: If you were in charge of summer recruitment who would you realistically sign?
CY: I got asked this on a web-chat a few weeks ago and said if you could get Fabio Borini for £6million or so, then Sunderland should go back in for him. For all everyone got bored by the saga last summer (when it was Poyet pushing that narrative) Borini would still be a quality addition for Sunderland and he's an uber-professional.
RR: What’s your view of Financial Fair Play and how this impacts SAFC specifically?
CY: Sigh... A lot of supporters neither understand - or buy - FFP, particularly when Sunderland seem so keen to follow it and so many other sides in the Premier League don't even raise an eyebrow. There's two sides to FFP. There's the basic element of balancing the books, and then there's the Premier League own regulations on the total wage bill. It's all complicated and could do with being explained much better by the club.
RR: Kevin Phillips has recently suggested he was surprised about Advocaat’s U-turn as it may indicate we lack clear direction. Do you know how close we were to appointing another coach and what’s your own thoughts on the matter?
CY: Dyche and McClaren were both avenues explored by the club. But Short had reservations over all the alternatives available. Advocaat was always Short and Congerton's first choice though, by some distance.
RR: In your opinion what will the club turn at the end of the season should Advocaat leave as is the likelihood?
CY: I wouldn't rule out Advocaat staying for another year if Sunderland can have a positive campaign. I think Advocaat has shown the club the benefits of experience, so don't expect them to go for a novice whenever he does depart.
RR: What do think the main issues are that hinder us from attracting quality signings on a regular basis, is it simply geography, budget, mixture of both?
CY: Yes, I'd say very much a mixture of both. And the annual struggles against relegation are a factor too. Look at how Stoke have been able to attract better players after establishing themselves in mid-table.
RR: What’s your view on agents in the modern game and what sort relationship do they have with the press generally?
CY: There's good and bad ones, and plenty that do a lot of good work with youngsters who go unnoticed. Some agents are happy to speak with journalists, others aren't, and some, that you have to treat with a pinch of salt.
RR: How do you feel the club is viewed outside of the region both by the football press and from those specifically within the game itself?
CY: Think there's a general feeling that the fans deserve better and that the club is desperately in need of some stability after so many managers in the last five years.
RR: Are the press aware of the perception from some in the NE that media coverage is unbalanced between SAFC and NUFC?
CY: Yes, I think that goes back to the Keegan era though. For me, both clubs have been so chaotic over the last five years that there's been plenty to keep the press occupied on Wearside and Tyneside.
RR: What do you think about having transfer windows in football? Do you think we should return to the previous approach?
CY: I do think the transfer window should close before the start of the season. But from a selfish point of view, our web traffic goes through the roof during the transfer window!
RR: As a journalist for the Sunderland Echo, what are the highlights and pitfalls of covering the transfer window?
CY: The Echo tries to provide the most accurate transfer news, which often prompts frustration from some supporters if we play down or rubbish a move, or don't immediately jump on a rumour. But on the flip side of the coin, if we're saying a transfer is happening, then you can be sure that's the case. In the Premier League era, it can be tough to keep track on transfers from overseas, when news leak out in the foreign media - as was the case frequently under De Fanti. But when you do get news of a possible transfer first - as with Adnan Januzaj - then it's obviously satisfying.
RR: What’s been you’re favorite story that you’ve covered so far?
CY: From a footballing point of view, the Paolo Di Canio reign was disastrous, but from a journalist's standpoint, there seemed to be a story every day! Only the tip of the iceberg has come out publicly over what went on when Di Canio was in charge.
RR: Thanks Chris, hope you enjoy the season.