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MacAnthony Is Right - Lower League Scouting Needs To Be Prioritised

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When Peterborough Chairman Darragh MacAnthony said, "Premier League clubs need to get their heads out of their arses", he wasn't at all wrong.

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In the Summer of 2013, when Roberto De Fanti was given free rein to conduct our transfer business, almost every name of every player signed was met with groans of, 'who is he?'.

Ellis Short, having been left frustrated after seeing the club squander millions of pounds on players from other Premier League clubs in the season prior by Martin O'Neill, entrusted the Italian football agent with the task of completely overhauling the first team playing squad, and with a relatively small budget he brought in no less than fourteen players in that transfer window.

Of those fourteen players only one was a British player - Duncan Watmore. The rest - David Moberg Karlsson, Modibo Diakite, Valentin Roberge, Cabral, Vito Mannone, Jozy Altidore, El Hadji Ba, Emanuele Giaccherini, Ondrej Celustka, Charis Mavrias, Ki Sung Yeung, Fabio Borini and Andrea Dossena - were all foreign talents, many of which were bought from clubs from outside of England. Initially we were excited, with change at the club met with both vigour and confidence by the fans, but just a few weeks into the season it was clear that the plan was flawed. Sunderland had made too many changes too fast in buying so many unproven foreign players, and as a result we were headed only one way, and that was down.

Of all the players signed that season it could be argued that the biggest success story has been Duncan Watmore, who we've seen rise to prominence this season and become an integral part of the first team squad. For the relatively low fee it took to secure his services from Conference North side Altrincham, Watmore and the potential that he has as a football player represents everything that our fans want to see in a Sunderland player - he's ambitious, hungry to succeed and, above all else, he's had to work hard to get to where he is. Having started life out playing non-league football, Duncan is living the dream.

Peterborough United - a well-run, ambitious smaller football league club - are famed for their ability to spot lower league talent, and players like Watmore often find themselves stopping by the Cambridgeshire club on their path to better things.

'The Posh' are owned by Irishman Darragh MacAnthony, and he's been particularly vocal this week about the way in which Premier League clubs elect to conduct their transfer business. MacAnthony himself believes in the football league system and the fruits that it provides, and as such elects to conduct much of his club's transfer business in such a way that they are geared towards developing talent from the lower leagues.

In an interview earlier this week with BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, MacAnthony was perplexed as to why so many Premier League sides prefer to spend huge fees on players not based on these shores when the talent is clearly there. He said:

Premier League clubs need to get their heads out of their arses. Jamie Vardy and Dele Alli should have woken them up but they still want to go and buy the 'Van Winkels' of the world for £8.5 million and £50,000 per week. I'm sick of seeing 80-90 percent of Premier League clubs' transfer money leaving the country. It's ridiculous. It doesn't do the England team any good, it doesn't do the Premier League any good and it certainly doesn't do the Football League any good.

Talking about Leicester City signing Demarai Gray from Championship side Birmingham City, MacAnthony added:

Why aren't Liverpool trying to buy him? Why aren't Man United trying to buy him? Why aren't every top six club trying to buy that boy? £3.75m? In Liverpool's case, [they spent] £25m on [Lazar] Markovic, £25m on [Roberto] Firmino. Two foreign wastes of space, who may never settle.

It's hard to argue with what he's trying to say - put bluntly, Premier League clubs are much happier to splash big fees and wages on players from outside of these shores in an attempt to bolster their squads and it's something that often leaves me scratching my head.

Listening to talkSPORT yesterday as this very story was discussed, a football fan called in to make the point that although the fees paid for lower league talent may well exceed the fees paid for a player from abroad, the wages on offer are generally far less and when comparing the outlay for both options they aren't too different, so why do clubs look abroad when choosing talent unproven in the Premier League? Sure, for every Jozy Altidore there is a Wilfred Bony and for every Duncan Watmore there is a Roy O'Donovan, but surely there is proof in 2016 that recruiting from the lower leagues is a far more sensible and tactile way of conducting your business?

Look at Dele Alli. In August of 2013, when he was just seventeen years old, he broke into the first team at MK Dons and after a particularly brilliant season last year it prompted Tottenham Hotspur to spend five million pounds on a player unproven in the Premier League. Since signing he's seamlessly adopted to life playing in the top flight and is now one of the first names on the team sheet for both Tottenham and England. Compare that to the fees paid for the players mentioned by MacAnthony - Lazar Markovic and Roberto Firmino - it does make you wonder how much thought goes into the process of buying foreign players as opposed to placing trust in what we have here in Britain.

Why aren't more clubs, like Sunderland, gambling on young talent playing at a lower level?

Case in point - look at what it must have cost us to sign Adam Matthews and DeAndre Yedlin in the summer. Sure, Yedlin is on loan, but we'd have paid a fairly hefty sum in order to bring him to the football club for a year. Could that money not have been invested in bringing a younger player in from a lower league club to deputise behind Billy Jones? Instead, we went for a safe option in Matthews - who has barely played - and Yedlin, who is a) not good enough and b) not even our player.

It's no surprise to me that teams seem to come into the Premier League from the Championship now and outperform clubs like ourselves and Aston Villa with squads that cost a fraction of what ours cost to buy. When Villa sold Christian Benteke and Fabian Delph they received huge fees for both and managed to squander the lot this summer on players bought from abroad that simply aren't good enough. Consider that Idrissa Guaye, Jordan Amavi, Jordan Ayew, Jordan Veretout and Adama Traore all cost more than what it cost Spurs to secure Dele Alli, and are all likely paid better too - how can that be right?

For me, I feel it's our duty as a club to follow Tottenham's lead and invest heavily in scouting the lower leagues. The next John Stones, Chris Smalling or Jamie Vardy could be right there in front of our eyes, yet like most other clubs we choose to ignore it in favour of a foreign import with a fancy name. It just doesn't sit well with me.

Our persuit of Lamine Kone felt indicitive of the point that I'm trying to make - for a relatively low fee we could have secured a player that, despite never playing in England, has vast experience of playing in a much weaker league. Is that any different to bringing up someone from the Championship or League One with similar characteristics?

For me, we have to look down the leagues now and consider whether there are players that could improve us, even now.

When I see Alan Judge - a standout performer thus far in the Championship season after racking up plenty of assists and goals for Brentford from midfield - linked to a move to newly-ambitious Sheffield Wednesday I can't help but wonder whether or not he'd improve a team like ours. He might not have a fancy name, and he might have spent much of his career in the lower leagues, but he could be the type of hungry, driven character that would die for the opportunity to play in the Premier League for us. The same goes to Andre Gray, a pacy centre forward who has worked his way up the leagues in a short space of time and is currently the top scorer in the division below us - would someone like that improve our squad?

Another example is Gillingham youngster Bradley Dack, who has built his own reputation as a goalscoring midfielder in league one which has prompted his club to fear the worst should a bid from a bigger club come along. He is the second top scorer and highest assist maker in the division - could he perhaps represent a good piece of business for the relatively low fee it would cost for a club like ours to sign him?

We can only imagine.

Can the same be said of the likes of Lamine Gassama and Lamine Kone - players that to me represent a similar risk - yet we've pursued (particularly Kone) vigorously? I'll leave that judgement down to you.

Personally, I feel it's time we wised up. We've been burnt by bad dealings with foreign clubs in the past - perhaps it's time we stripped everything back and started believing in where we come from again.