Staring into the crazed eyes of Jim White for a protracted length of time is not advised. Yet I did exactly that yesterday. I did it because I was confident we would buy a striker: someone to take the weight off Defoe’s shoulders.
Last season, Sunderland scored forty-eight goals. Fifteen of those came from Jermain Defoe and eleven were scored by players no longer at the club. That is a fairly damning indictment of last season’s struggles in front of goal. However, for the club not to rectify that situation over the course of this summer’s transfer window is borderline criminal.
It was well publicised yesterday morning that we bid for Steven Naismith. It wasn’t a particularly inspiring link but it would have at least provided cover in all three forward positions. It would have been fine. Not great – but fine. It didn’t happen.
If you also factor in that Borini is out for an undisclosed amount of time (meant to be three/four months) with a groin injury, it means we are going into this busy period of fixtures with only Jermain Defoe, Duncan Watmore, and Joel Asoro as our striker options. Jermain Defoe is brilliant but he also turns 34 years old in October: we can’t expect him to stay fit all season. Duncan Watmore is "raw", which might be a slightly generous way of describing some of his decision-making. Joel Asoro is immensely talented but is 17 years old. I could barely dress myself at 17, let alone lead the line for a Premier League team.
I see it that we are now left with five options:
1. Pray that Defoe stays fit all season
It might just happen. It’s really, really unlikely but it might just happen. Worryingly, I think this is what the club are gambling on. It means that anytime he gets tackled the whole crowd are going to be on pins. He complained about tight hamstrings after the Southampton game so thank god he was overlooked yet again by England. His game-time will need to be carefully managed but if (and it’s a massive if) he stays fit for the whole season then we will be absolutely fine. But it’s an awful lot of eggs to put in one basket.
2. Pick up a striker on a free transfer
There are options out there. Lord Bendtner could make a triumphant return (stop sniggering in the back) and Adebayor could provide an expensive and inconsistent back-up for a year. Neither option is particularly reassuring but it would at least take some of the burden off Defoe.
3. Wait until January and buy a striker for a lesser fee
The transfer window is a mad place. This window was perhaps the maddest of the lot. Ryan Mason went for 10m, Jordan Ibe went for 15m, and Moussa Sissoko went for a mind-blowing 30m. January might provide the club with the opportunity to buy a striker with Premier League experience at a knock-down price. To use Ulloa as an example: Leicester now have Okazaki, Vardy, Musa, and Slimani as their forward options. Ulloa won’t get any game-time at all. As a player we were interested in yesterday, his price will drop rapidly in the coming months. It may be a case of penny-pinching but it also makes business sense.
4. Wait until January to sign a striker performing well in the Championship
It may seem slightly underwhelming but I think this is the most likely of all Moyes’ options. He has a history of buying young British players from the lower leagues. His plan could be to wait and see which young strikers are performing well in the Championship (or even League One) and go for them when January comes around. Most fans would prefer a back-up striker with Premier League experience but, this way, Moyes would get an able back-up for Defoe and a player for the future as well.
5. Wait until January and loan a striker from a European league
We have exhausted our domestic loan options, albeit on two exciting young prospects in Jason Denayer and Adnan Januzaj, but we can still bring in a loan player from another country in January. Like the third option above, the benefit of waiting until January is that the club will have a better idea of who is getting game-time and who isn’t. This will mean that European clubs are more likely to let a player leave if they are not in the manager’s plans. The fact that Moyes prefers to shop domestically probably makes this the least likely option of all.
To be honest, I’m actually pretty positive about the rest of our transfer activity this summer. It is only up front that we have lefty ourselves woefully short.
I feel that we have definitely improved our defence: I think that Manquillo and Djilibodji are upgrades on Yedlin/Jones and Kaboul/O’Shea. We also have the excellent Denayer as back-up. Once midfielders like Cattermole and Kirchhoff return from injury, we will have lots of options in the centre of the park. We even broke our club record transfer fee on a promising young Gabonese midfielder with an outstanding name. I also don’t mind that we didn’t sign a goalkeeper. Yes, Pickford made a mistake against Southampton but he was also impressive for the rest of that game. I’m far more concerned with our options at the other end of the pitch.
Time to see which of the five options Moyes will go for…