Never mind defeats to Sacramento and Doncaster. Never mind the signings of Sebastián Coates, Adam Matthews and Ola Toivonen. The biggest issue coming out of last year’s pre-season was that the players clearly weren’t fit, which makes you question what the hell Dick Advocaat and his staff were doing the whole time. It was no surprise when we failed to win any of our opening nine games, with the Dutchman resigning after surrendering a two goal lead at home to West Ham. It was clear – the players were well off the pace.
And this year’s pre-season had the potential to be equally as disastrous. A new chief executive incoming, managerial uncertainty and a thinner squad, to name a few issues facing the club. Yet largely, in most aspects, the summer can be considered a success.
Firstly, let’s address the elephant in the room. We have made only one first team transfer, which is undoubtedly a concern with our first game just one week away. While the squad is stronger than the one we started last season with, the lack of additions makes it weaker than the one we finished the season with. With time running out before the Manchester City opener, you expect that there will be a mad rush to get bodies in and a hope that they can familiarise themselves with their new teammates in quick fashion. While nothing is ever certain with Sunderland, you have to trust that we’ll see some new faces to add to Papy Djilobodji’s arrival over the next few days.
Now, lack of transfers aside, let’s talk about the good things that the club has done this summer.
Of course, we have to start with the big one – the seemingly never-ending Sam Allardyce saga. Will England appoint him, or not? The uncertainty helped nobody in red and white. In stark contrast to recent years, the club communicated with the fans, something many had been asking for, first expressing dissatisfaction with the FA and then anger and frustration. For the first time in a while, the club seemed in tune with its fan base, perhaps influenced by new chief executive Martin Bain, and seemed determined to show that we weren’t going to be pushovers.
When the inevitable happened, and Allardyce was announced as England manager on the 22nd of July, Bain and his team moved quickly to secure the appointment of David Moyes, just a day later, with the new manager praising the chief executive’s work in his introductory interview. Despite his shortcomings at Manchester United and Real Sociedad, Moyes represented the best candidate in the club’s search for a new manager, with many quick to highlight the similarities between The Lads and the Everton side the Scotsman superbly transformed into top half regulars.
Stepping back to the transfer situation, much like a Randy Orton RKO, the signing of Djilobodji came outta nowhere, with very few knowing about the deal until he was pictured holding the scarf. Bain and his team deserve credit for seemingly getting the deal done with minimal fuss and in an almost secretive nature.
On the pitch, this Sunderland team seem a million miles away from what we saw last pre-season. While results are far from the most important thing, an unbeaten pre-season is nothing to be sniffed at. Despite the uncertainty surrounding the club and no new signings to bolster the squad, until Friday evening at least, the players have conducted themselves with great professionalism, getting their heads down and getting on with the job. Continuing the togetherness forged by Allardyce during last season’s ‘great escape’, the players look to be in decent spirits and have shown a willingness to work hard for the team, with Fabio Borini and Wahbi Khazri leading by typical example.
Perhaps through necessity, members of the club’s academy teams featured often, with each showing signs that they could offer something to the first team at some stage, with Joel Asoro impressing in particular.
Finishing off the campaign with a credible 1-1 draw against Borussia Dortmund, the players showed, if nothing else, that they are committed to the cause and are in much better physical condition than this time last year.
Off the pitch, there has been a noticeable improvement in the club’s media output, with videos ranging from the players enjoying mini golf and swimming to behind the scenes match footage. While these things may seem insignificant, it shows signs of a club engaging more with its fan base and understanding what they want to see. This was perhaps best demonstrated by the news that all pre-season friendlies would be streamed live and free on the club website for the very first time, allowing fans to track the team’s progress on a game to game basis.
That’s not to say that everything has been rosy. The squad is thin, and players such as Jermain Defoe and Jan Kirchhoff have had disrupted summers, while likely addition Yann M’Vila has been forced to train alone by Rubin Kazan. But compared to last summer, especially, the 2016-2017 pre-season has been a pretty successful one.
Now, just to sign some more bloody players!