Simon Grayson has been incredibly forthright with his ambitions for this coming season - whilst promotion back to the Premier League at the first time of asking is something that we would hope to achieve, the primary task of the new manager has been to rebuild our fractured squad on a limited budget, a remit of the job that he hasn’t been afraid to share with the Sunderland supporters since arriving just under a month ago.
And as such we, as a club, have had to adjust the way that we recruit new players. Gone are the days of splurging big sums on proven names and up-and-comers - instead, giving chances to players that have a point to prove, ones that see us as an opportunity to grow and better themselves, is clearly the way forward under Grayson’s stewardship.
The signings yesterday of Jason Steele and Lewis Grabban are proof that this is the case - two players that, for whatever reason, have lost their way in recent times and need the opportunity to prove themselves all over again. They’re coming to Sunderland from clubs with smaller fanbases and worse facilities, and whilst we don’t have the lure of Premier League football behind us we’re still an easy sell to any player looking to give their faltering career a bump-start at a club with unbelievable amounts of potential to grow.
Lewis Grabban has been burnt badly by his recent experiences at the likes of Reading and Bournemouth but he has to start with a clean slate here. We’re going to be looking to him to add pace and goals to an attack line that was starved of service last season, and though he’ll be afforded some leeway initially we’ll need him to contribute immensely over the course of the Championship campaign. One thing that Simon Grayson is renowned for is his ability to put faltering players back on the right path, and each member of our current squad needs to realise the tremendous opportunity that they have at their feet with Sunderland this season.
Similarly, we have to look at someone like Robbin Ruiter, who has proven himself to be incredibly capable in the last two pre-season fixtures and couldn’t really have done much more in order to showcase his abilities. I was thoroughly impressed by what I saw from Ruiter down at Bradford on Saturday, and then again last night - he’s calm, composed, a fantastic shot stopper and incredibly vocal. He came here this week with immense pressure placed upon him to convince Grayson that he’s worthy of a permanent contract, and with two outstanding goalkeeping performances under his belt he’s almost certainly going to be offered a long-term deal.
Adam Matthews is another - a player consistently overlooked by every Sunderland manager that has been here since he arrived from Celtic in 2015, now very much in contention for a starting berth ahead of the season’s opener in just over one week’s time. I thought he coped very well last night at Glanford Park and gave his strongest performance yet, giving the manager something to think about when he sits down to work out which of his three right backs will be given the chance to play against Derby.
This new outlook doesn’t just apply to new signings, though. Josh Maja may be only just eighteen years of age but very early into Grayson’s tenure as manager we saw kind words from the Sunderland gaffer regarding the former Manchester City forward, indicating that he would be given opportunities due to his hard work on the training pitch.
Having been given the chance to showcase his abilities throughout pre-season, Maja has scored four goals - despite starting in only three of our seven games so far - and has undoubtedly proven that he’s able to seamlessly slot into our side if needed. I spoke recently to someone from within the club that told me of how well though of Maja is by the staff at the Academy of Light, and it’s clear that this young man is very eager to do well here.
The message from the new manager has been clear from the outset - give your all as an employee of this football club and you’ll be duly recognised for your efforts. It’s been refreshing to see and I can only hope that this change in attitude since Grayson arrived continues to infect a playing squad that has badly needed a dose or two of reality for a number of years now.