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Is 'Ambition' All That It's Cracked Up To Be?

If there’s one thing football does not lack it's buzz-words, and in recent years 'ambition' has become a yardstick upon which every transfer rumour is judged, writes Michael Lough.

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Naturally we all want to see our football club being ambitious, not being content with its current position, but sadly the word ambition seems to have become a synonym for nothing more than spending loads of money.

The 24/7 nature of the transfer market has only heightened this - we have the Sky Sports totalizer where the spending of the current window is compared to previous years, as well the individual spending of each club is placed under the microscope.

This readily available information can cause alarm amongst some fans - 'how come Stoke can spend all this money and we are penny pinching again?'

Spending ten million pounds on a player will often generate more excitement than a signing of a steady player for less than half of that sum. But does spending actually equate to ambition?

Last summer, when Newcastle appointed Steve Maclaren as manager, the club told everyone who would listen that finishing in the top eight along with a cup win was the target. Twelve months and over £80m later, they were relegated to the amusement of most Sunderland supporters.

However, if you had looked on social media during the summer of 2015 you could be forgiven for assuming that Newcastle were assembling a squad worthy of European football. As Georginio Wijnaldum and Mitrovic arrived on Tyneside, Sunderland were being criticised for under-spending and people were claiming that Ellis Short had no 'ambition'. Although it was fair to say that the squad was still left lacking in quality in certain areas, we still managed to maintain our Premier League status having spent a fraction of what Newcastle did.

Most Sunderland fans will agree that the turning point in our season was the January transfer window, but again this was done on a relatively small budget. Jan Kirchhoff arrived from Bayern Munich for £750,000, and after the debut from hell at White Hart Lane he was dismissed as another example of penny pinching by the club - you don’t need me to tell you how that turned out. Lamine Kone soon followed for a reported fee of £5m and was a revelation at centre half, and now teams are being credited with interest for much bigger amounts of money. Ironically Wahbi Khazri, the most expensive signing, was arguably the most inconsistent.

Contrast that to Newcastle, where tens of millions were spent on more attacking players which left the side woefully imbalanced.

What I’m trying to say in a long winded way is that the club’s recruitment is far more significant than showing that all-important ambition and wasting a fortune. In January, Sunderland identified areas of weakness and addressed them in a successful and efficient manner.

Thankfully, we now have a manager who is perfectly suited for this. As many people have already commented, David Moyes has developed a reputation for having an impressive scouting network and being able to achieve great results on a smaller budget.

At Everton, Bill Kenwright’s lack of spending in comparison to many teams didn’t stop Moyes from achieving a series of top half finishes and even a fourth place finish one season. Again, when Moyes spent large sums of money, the players rarely had the same impact.

It is also worth remembering how high our wage bill is compared to the strength of our squad - last year it was reported that Sunderland were operating on the eighth highest wage bill in the league. Although high earners such as Adam Johnson, Steven Fletcher and Danny Graham are off the wage bill now the club are still operating at substantial losses in addition to the money we have squandered in sacking managers - when all of this is considered, it’s no surprise that our spending is not as high as some would like.

Of course, while our constant battles against relegation have been frustrating we now have a manager who is the chairman’s preferred choice, and has full control over footballing matters. However, it will be the manager’s pragmatism rather than his cheque book which will determine how we progress as a football club.

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