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Bin raking, or brilliant budgeting? How Sunderland can scour lower leagues for talent in January

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Could cash-strapped Sunderland benefit from gambling on some lower league aces in January?

With a host of players injured or suspended, it’s fair to say that Chris Coleman is currently in charge of a skeleton crew. And with the January transfer window a matter of weeks away, many fans will be intrigued as to how much Coleman will have to spend, and just who he will be able to attract to a club on the ropes.

However, with over £100 million of gross/net debt still hanging heavily around the neck of the club, and over £60 million owed to external lenders - according to the last financial report - the club are in a precarious position in terms of finding funds for the upcoming window.

In turn, Coleman will likely be encouraged to sell in order to buy, both to raise funds and also to deflate a still rather lofty wage bill - at least by Championship standards.

So with the purse strings looking tight, will the former Wales manager look to the lower leagues in order to find some cut-price quality? After all, he did manager to make it work on the international stage with Wales.

Brentford v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship
One player who could be potentially shifted for a profit in order to free up funds and wages?
Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

This is an issue that has lingered at the back of my mind for quite some time: is there a rich vein of talent lurking in the lower divisions just waiting to be unearthed? People point to the likes of Dele Alli, Michail Antonio, and Jamie Vardy as irrefutable truth confirming the above question, so why don’t we see more players make the step up from the lower reaches of the footballing ladder?

If truth be told, it’s probably a medley of reasons as to why talented lower league players fail to find a transfer up the pyramid; however, a large part of that is likely down to an unwillingness from clubs such as our own to gamble on players often considered inferior due to their lower league exploits.

That being said, we might just find themselves in a position whereby dipping into the lower leagues could potentially be the only way in which we are able to strengthen a squad seriously lacking in quality. Some may point to James Vaughan’s profligacy in front of goal as evidence suggesting otherwise, yet on the contrary a little digging will show you that there’s some serious young talent out there waiting to battle for the badge of a ‘big’ club willing to take a gamble.

MK Dons v Cambridge City - FA Cup First Round Replay
Should Sunderland look to the lower leagues in the search for talented, young players?
Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images

One such player could be someone like George Cooper of Crewe Alexandra, a twenty-one year old winger with multiple seasons of competitive football already under his belt, and a contract that expires this summer.

Statistically speaking, Cooper looks a very talented player. Managing 10 goals and 14 assists last season, and 1 goal and 7 assists so far this campaign in a side struggling near the foot of the table, Cooper looks a dangerous attacking player. It should be noted that fans have grumbled about his ability to consistently find a killer pass, yet the stats speak for themselves, Cooper is an attack-minded forward who creates goals.

The same can be said for several other players in the lower divisions. Midfielders, Billy Bodin, who has managed 8 goals for Bristol Rovers this season, and Josh Morris, who bagged 19 goals as a left-midfielder for Scunthorpe last campaign, are two more classy attackers playing outside of the Championship.

Furthermore, if you go even further down the pile, Alex Woodyard of Lincoln City is a highly rated midfielder potentially worthy of a chance playing at a higher level, and Macauley Bonne of Leyton Orient has been in scintillating form this campaign for a struggling O’s side.

Chris Coleman may be forced into signing some relative unknown quantity, but if that player fights for the badge and plays smart football, then why should their history make any difference to their potential to do well for a ‘big’ club taking a gamble on them?

Many a fan would grumble at the notion of the club players from League One and below, yet if truth be told this club is in a position in which they cannot be particularly picky in terms of who we choose to sign - so long as those players are desperate to succeed and take this club up the league table.

Beggar’s can’t be choosers, and considering our current financial malaise, scouting the lower leagues might just be one option that could see Chris Coleman assemble a young, hungry side desperate to find success.