It goes without saying that the club simply have to invest this summer. There are no ifs or buts about it considering close to 10 first team players will depart come season’s end, and although the under-23 side will certainly provide a couple of younger lads who can fill in when needed, or be utilised from the bench, they don’t have the quality or experience yet to secure a starting berth.
One surprisingly important decision to be made this summer, however, is whether or not the club need to invest in a new right-back. It’s an odd statement when you consider how many right backs we currently have at the club, yet the ambitiousness of this summer’s transfer activity could potentially be measured against whether we decide to invest or merely settle for what we have.
Billy Jones, Donald Love, Javier Manquillo and Adam Matthews as well as young prospect Josh Robson are all natural right-sided full-backs currently on the club’s books.
Manquillo is a loan signing, and will most likely return to Atlético Madrid this summer due to a combination of failing to impress coupled with Madrid’s upcoming transfer ban. Even if the ex-Liverpool player had impressed this season, Sunderland don’t seemed to be in a position in which to afford Manquillo - who allegedly had a £13.5 million fee agreed to be paid if he played over 25 games this season. Thankfully the Spaniard has played less than 20 games, and will likely not return to Wearside next season.
Adam Matthews will return to the club after 15 appearances for Bristol City this season who appear unlikely to make the move a permanent one. Will Matthews be given an opportunity to prove his worth, or will he be moved on for a small price, adding to the list of players who seemingly did little to deserve their pay? I’d imagine it would be the latter in all honesty especially considering the fact that it was Moyes who actually sanctioned his loan to Bristol. That being said, Matthews has 2 years left on his 4 year deal, and could prove difficult to sell if his wages appeal to him more than his opportunities to play.
That leaves Billy Jones, Donald Love and Josh Robson as the potential suitors for the full-back position next season - which to be honest isn’t the most exhilarating of prospects.
That’s not meant as a sign of disrespect to the aforementioned players, but Jones is notoriously injury prone and offers little in the way of attacking intent. Young Donald Love constantly looks nervous and makes silly mistakes which could be forgiven when you consider the fact he is 22 years old - yet there is just something about his decision making, awareness, positioning and ability on the ball which leaves a lot of question marks hanging over his potential. Josh Robson is as the club have put it themselves, “A right-back by trade, Josh is a physical defender with a real old-school approach as he takes no chances and does the basics extremely well.” I don’t mean to sound overly critical, but his description - along with the brief glimpses I have seen of the lad - suggest he has a long way to go before becoming a top professional.
None of those players really offer us anything going into next season. Love and Robson could well develop into fine players, but asking them to be a major cog in the club’s attempt at bouncing back to the Premier League the first time of asking doesn’t seem like a great idea. Both lads could do with a loan away from the club at a lower level where they can cut their teeth against opposition who will play with physicality and a determination to win at all costs.
Thus, Moyes and co. are left with a relatively simple decision to make: work with what we have, or invest in something new. The decision to sign a new right back or not will likely be indicative of whether Moyes is able to reshape the entire squad, or if he is unable to because his hands are tied financially.
If the club bring in a young, pacey, right back who does the basics well and offers an outlet further up the pitch then you would like to think that Moyes and co. have the ability to overhaul the entire squad.
Players like James Bree who recently moved to Aston Villa, or Dominic Iorfa of Wolves - highly regarded as a top talent despite an inconsistent campaign - would stand out as proof that the club are looking to overhaul a side that has failed to deliver over many years, and replace them with young, hungry talent.
However, there is a good chance that we simply don’t have the wage budget and transfer kitty to bring in exciting young players to replace the tired, lacklustre players who crumbled this season.
If the likes of Billy Jones and Jack Rodwell are first-team players next season then we know that the ambition just isn’t really there.
We need an overhaul this summer, that goes without saying. However, just how ambitious the club will be in their player trading will be crucial in the long-term. A new right back could rather bizarrely be the start of something special.