Conjectures on our transfer targets this summer have been varied. As an ardent follower of @SAFCsource (and you should be too), it’s pretty easy to see there have been hundreds of transfer rumours surrounding Sunderland’s summer business already - some players from the UK market, the majority from the French market, and the odd few from further afield. Despite this, I have noticed a familiar pattern to the rumours. It is this pattern that makes me feel much more confident about Sunderland’s summer transfer business than I have ever felt. It finally looks like we are buying for a purpose.
Too often we have been guilty of buying a British player who has lost their way at a bigger club. Cough cough - I’m looking at you Jack Rodwell - cough cough.
It didn’t matter what position they played in. We signed players based on their reputation and little else. Don’t fit the manager’s tactics? Too bad, they were available at a knock-down price. Hardly played for a few seasons? I’m sure that won’t be a problem. Injury prone? We can fix that.
Needless to say, these summer signings didn’t work out. But for some reason, we kept making the same mistakes in the transfer market. This is partly because we indulged in a poorly thought-out Director of Football system. And partly because managers only stuck around for the May miracles and August atrocities, before shuffling into the sunset.
This is about to change. And it’s all thanks to Big Sam. Never have I felt so relaxed about the summer transfer circus. Towards the end of last year, Allardyce stumbled upon a tactic that kept us solid and also carved out chances for our forwards. At the heart of it was big Jan Kirchhoff. When in possession, our fluid 4-3-3 allowed Kirchhoff to dictate the tempo of the game from deep. It meant that our two centre-backs could split and create more space for Kirchhoff to operate in. This also meant that, should we lose possession, we would always have at least three players back to stifle a turnover.
The success of this tactic hinged upon the adventure of our full-backs. It is no coincidence that Patrick Van Aanholt and DeAndre Yedlin looked far more dangerous when Jan Kirchhoff played as he acted as their insurance policy. They could afford to bomb forward and stretch teams, safe in the knowledge that they were covered. This also had an effect on the rest of the team’s structure. We could afford to play with two ‘box-to-box’ midfielders – although Lee Cattermole often looked uncomfortable in the role. The two wide players could act more like inside forwards, working in overlaps with the marauding full-backs, and then getting in the box to support Jermain Defoe. This allowed Defoe to stay within the width of the eighteen yard box and do what he does best: score goals.
The positions it looks like we are most interested in strengthening are a new right-back, a new central midfielder, and at least one forward to cover Defoe. It would also appear that we are trying to sign Yann M’Vila to a permanent contract. whilst bringing in another centre-back to cover Younes Kaboul and Lamine Kone.
This tells me that Sam Allardyce wants to stick with the tactic that kept us up last season and improve the starting eleven in three key areas. Firstly, the right-back position. Yedlin got forward just as much as Van Aanholt in the last few months of the season but was noticeably less effective. That’s not to say I wouldn’t welcome Yedlin as cover next season – but we need to make our right side just as potent as our left. To do that, we need to sign a right-back with the same attributes as Van Aanholt.
In central midfield, I am keeping all my fingers and toes crossed that M’Vila re-signs for us, which would fill one of the box-to-box midfield roles. The other space is still up for grabs. This is not to say that Lee Cattermole’s position in the squad would become redundant. Far from it. He would be the first person to cover any of the midfield three in case of an injury or drop in form. I’ve seen some stories linking Catts with a move away (back to Boro) but the thought of seeing him playing in anything other than a Sunderland shirt makes me want to stab a fork in my eye.
Lastly, and most excitingly, it looks like we are finally planning to spend big on a forward to provide Defoe with some much needed support and cover. Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past few weeks, you’ll have seen Diafra Sakho’s name mentioned alongside Sunderland in most of the gossip columns. Whoever we sign up front, they will need to provide cover not just for Defoe but also Fabio Borini and Wahbi Khazri. Sakho would certainly fit the bill, but it seems like there is a long way to go before that transfer can be completed.
Whatever happens this summer, it looks like we have finally learnt our lessons from the past five seasons. Sam Allardyce is too wily a manager to fall into the trap of buying a player that we don’t need, purely based on their reputation. I am confident he will find the best players possible to suit his tactics.
In Big Sam, I trust.