For those who may have spent the last few weeks living under a rock, the current Sunderland transfer saga of the moment (besides the apparent interest shown in Younes Kaboul by Watford) is the impending/not impending/signed and sealed/no it isn’t transfer of Sunderland’s star Ivorian centre back Lamine Kone.
As anyone who watched the vastly improved defensive performance of our beloved Black Cats in the second half of last season will know, since his arrival Kone has been both literally and figuratively a giant in defence for us. Having arrived for what now looks like a bargain £5m, Kone quickly established himself as one of the form defenders in the Premier League and proved his worth time and time again. Finally it seemed that Sunderland had the kind of imposing physical presence at the back that the team had been missing for so many years. Not only this but his partnership with Younes Kaboul has begun to show the level of understanding and co-operation that is key to a genuinely first rate central defensive pairing.
With that in mind, why on earth would the club even entertain the notion of allowing Kone to leave? Admittedly, there is the possibility that this was never an option and that the club has cunningly out-manoeuvred an agent who was pushing an agenda to try and get his client the best possible deal but the fact that we as Sunderland fans were so quick to believe that one of our few genuine stars was headed for the exit door shows exactly the mentality that has gnawed away at fans’ hopes that their club could establish itself as a genuine force in English football once again.
If we look back over the past five to ten years, it seems that every time a Sunderland player makes any kind of significant impact on the Premier League, he is destined for the exit door. Probably the most ignominious departure was that of Darren Bent, the heir apparent to SAFC legend Kevin Phillips and a man who scored a remarkable 32 goals in only 58 games for the club. Bent was the kind of player who Sunderland could and should have built a team around but, not for the first time, Sunderland decided that the best option was to cash in on his form (although there is the small matter of him forcing his way out of the club to better his, eventually, non-existent England career).
Similar situations have arisen since, with the sale of Jordan Henderson and Simon Mignolet to Liverpool following magnificent seasons at the Stadium of Light. While Mignolet has been replaced more-than-satisfactorily, Henderson has gone on to establish himself as an England international and has been a fairly regular starter for Liverpool since the departure of Steven Gerrard. Both of these are players who Sunderland could have built a team around and yet they were also allowed to leave.
While there is a certain degree of financial necessity and concessions must be made to players who wish to further their career at clubs where they might reasonably expect to challenge for trophies and medals, Sunderland forever seem to get the weak end of the bargain.
Look to Southampton and the exorbitant fees they have coaxed out of many of their Premier League rivals for their star players. If we are going to let our star players go then it should only ever be for ‘Godfather’ style "too good to say no" offers, not the relatively paltry sums that Bent, Henderson and Mignolet were allowed to leave for. No reasonable person would expect us to replace the top scoring Englishman in the Premier League, a future England international central midfielder and a Belgian international goalkeeper for the combined £53m they were sold for, especially not among the bizarre excesses of today’s transfer market.
If Sunderland wish to progress as a club, these are the kind of players we need to be clinging on to for dear life, right up until one of England’s biggest clubs comes calling with a truck loaded with £50 notes. If Everton can hang on to the frankly average John Stones despite Roman Abramovich attempting to throw his millions at them and then convince the Emirati owners of Manchester City to stump up a ridiculous fee, we should aim to do absolutely nothing less in our own transfer dealings. Sunderland have every resource they need to become a real footballing force again, they just need to start showing more of the nous and ambition that will get them there.