Now we're being linked with the likes of (WARNING - sit down) Phil Jagielka, Steven Naimsith and we've even got Steven Pienaar on trial. Ugh. Not that this trip down memory lane isn't warm and pleasant for Moyes, reminding him of simpler and more successful times at Everton. But I’d hazard a guess and say Sunderland fans were hoping for something a little less…well…sh*t.
Moyes is a manager on a downward spiral, trying to arrest a career decline. It makes sense therefore that he is being cautious and trying to surround himself with players he trusts and who he knows. In other words, his recent failures have made him unwilling to be inventive and resourceful in the transfer market. He appears bitter, non-plussed, beaten and not up for the challenge. This isn't a reactionary or emotional view of mine, as my contribution to the ‘Make Your Case’ edition debating who should be the next Sunderland manager outlined my concerns regarding Moyes’ recent work and stated my preferred choice was Sean Dyche.
I'm not saying Moyes is a bad manager. You don't just lose all your managerial abilities over night and he has achieved great success in the past. But he's lost some of his spark and now he's trying to recapture it. Good for him. But wouldn't you rather that wasn't happening at our club? I know I don't trust him and nothing in the last few weeks has made me feel more accommodating. Moyes himself admitted that he thought we were going down last season and that’s why he didn’t take the job. That’s the positive attitude we’re looking for, isn’t it guys? Inspirational.
I know he got Everton out of relegation, but that was a long time ago and a lot has happened since then. Experiences change you and I remain unconvinced he has the bottle for it now. In any case, overlooking his questionable motivational skills amidst a relegation struggle, his alarming recent failures and the residual impact of that on his psyche and confidence, my main gripe thus far is the lack of transfer activity and the concerning return to a focus on the domestic market, indicated by the underwhelming names we have been linked with, such as those mentioned above. When contrasted with Sam Allardyce’s approach, it makes for grim reading.
Allardyce’s scouting network allowed Sunderland to secure the signatures of talented players from abroad at modest prices. Last season when the chips were down and new blood was needed, did Allardyce pull out all the stops to sign Joey O’Brien, James Collins or Kevin Nolan? No, he went abroad. He was bold, inventive and pragmatic at the darkest of times, resulting in one of the most successful and popular transfer windows we've seen in years. He didn’t just play it safe and go for players he had managed before. This is a level of confidence, pragmatism and resourcefulness that clearly escapes David Moyes, even amongst the relative security of the summer transfer window.
Allardyce’s success was possible with an excellent and highly technical scouting department who knew what they were looking for and were willing to look far and wide to find it. Of course the answer isn’t just to sign players from abroad. It has to be methodical, careful and scientific - and that’s exactly what Allardyce’s approach was. God only knows the good players and times that were coming our way had Allardyce stuck around and produced more magic from his European connections. Sadly, it was not to be.
While I do not wish to engage in nostalgia, I feel it is important to admit what we have lost and what we have now been left with.
I am convinced that Sunderland's lethargy and impotence in the transfer market is not only because Moyes is new and is ‘playing catch-up’. Moyes has always preferred signing players from the domestic markets who have experience of the top British leagues. He appears to therefore have fundamentally different beliefs about where is best to source your players in today's market. However, following this model with a modest budget in the current market is no mean feat, when your consider that Ross McCormack of the Championship moved for £14m this summer.
So if we can’t afford the sort of £20m fees mentioned for the likes of Fellaini, or the £30m for Benteke, and if £14m gets you a Championship striker and £8m gets you a Chelsea reserve who could not get a game during an injury crisis, this indicates the quality we can expect from signings within the domestic market for relatively modest eight figure outlays. I maintain that a properly constructed scouting network focusing on foreign markets offers far better value and only a fool would shop for bargains in the domestic market, particularly with money tight and time is not on your side.
Papy Djilobodji may turn out to be a good player, but at £8m he has nearly trebled in value since Mourinho bought him from France last summer, despite playing just three League Cup minutes for Chelsea all season. Lamine Koné is now close to being an £18m player, nearly quadrupling the money we paid for him just six months ago. In a domestic market where your value seemingly increases regardless of whether you have a disappointing, productive or outstanding spell, perhaps a club of our limited resources should be focusing on foreign markets instead?
If Moyes thinks he can identify hidden gems in the domestic markets then he should by all means try to do so in the long term. But he should have recognised that right now the threadbare squad he inherited was in dire need of reinforcements, starting with the return of popular and impressive loanees DeAndre Yedlin and Yann M’Vila. With time not on his side, he could have utilised the scouting networks and targets Allardyce inevitably would have left behind in the short term, before implementing his own scouting network and focus in the long term. This would have given us the best chance of starting the season with a realistic chance of competing and winning games early on.
Instead, we find ourselves just a few days from the start of the season with one new player, neither M’Vila or Yedlin re-signed and we are on the brink of selling the best centre back we have had in my life time. In their place come British Premier League reserve dross in the form of £7m Paddy McNair and £1m Donald Love - a pair whose sole qualification seems to be a stint with Moyes while he was the manager of Manchester United.
Of course, if the majority of our signings are to be Moyes’ mates and ex-players, we are being rather generous calling it a ‘scouting network’ at all. He appears intent on surrounding himself with primarily familiar faces and has set about dismantling what Allardyce built and failing thus far to strengthen the squad, instead weakening it with the sale of Koné and failing to sign M’Vila. Crucially, he is destroying the positivity and connection that the fans had with the team after the second half of last season.
Keane, Bruce and O’Neill all heavily favoured the domestic markets and it is largely this obsession and refusal to focus on and utilise other markets in an intelligent and meticulous way that has caused our constant stagnation and regression, not to mention extensive financial outlay on very average players who bask in our reserves or go out on subsidised loans and ultimately depart for little to no financial return. Having just had so much success signing very reasonably priced, quality players from foreign markets - one of whom we are about to make a significant profit on - how can we be so cavalier in turning away from a seemingly beneficial and functioning recruitment model and return to one that has bled us dry financially and lumbered us with deadwood for years?
It may seem harsh on Moyes to take this stance so early, with a competitive ball not yet kicked. However, there have been a lot of calls for patience, understanding and even optimism, so I felt it necessary to give the other side of the argument and readdress the balance. I was never convinced by him, but in his time so far he has done nothing to subdue my concerns. We have waited weeks for the new signings to start emerging and when they have, it is fair to say they are neither exciting nor an improvement our squad or the players we have lost.
And what gems have this new and revamped ‘scouting network’ taken so long to identify? Paddy McNair for a potential £7m. I’m sorry, it is just not good enough. There is better value than that abroad because we’ve seen it and reaped its rewards.
In my opinion, he will fail to deliver what we all crave and will load our squad with players that we will not want to rely on in Premier league games and who we will not make a profit on in the future. I’ve seen nothing to make me optimistic that better signings are coming. The only way to make sense of these signings and targets is if you brace yourself for overpriced and uninspired domestic dross and forget the dream of money spinning deals from the domestic market and expect no more inspired buys coming from the continent.
I hope I’m wrong, but we’ve been here before and it has not been enjoyable or successful. Don’t kid yourself, it’s going to be a long season.