It's early days for our manager and what few new players we've brought in, so it wouldn't be fair to criticise or judge performances too harshly. But there's one area of the game wherein Sunderland AFC once more need holding to account: the transfer market.
We were reliably informed, as was Simon Grayson, that we would have precious little money to play with in this transfer window. The figure bandied about was £15,000,000 - a paltry sum it can be said - but not nothing. In a league at the opposite end of the TV money spectrum, where ludicrously large figures are not paid for mediocre talent, a league where you can pick up an Aiden McGeady for a quarter of a million, we have somehow managed to make ourselves look the poorest in a line-up of scruffy paupers.
So what's the issue? We knew we would have very little to spend, so why am I surprised? Well I'm not surprised, I'm annoyed. I'm annoyed because we haven't even come close to spending that feeble sum of fifteen million. I'm annoyed because our club is being treat like a plague carrier by all potential signings and their representation. I'm annoyed that no one at the club is bothering to broach the subject and I'm disgusted that all local journalists pointedly ignore the multiple opportunities given to ask relevant questions. These media outlets are just gossips. They're little better than fishwives washing clothes by the river. They have more information than they'll ever let on, they have enough of the truth to do their job exceedingly well and act like journalists with integrity, but they're so terrified of being shut out of their little boys club that they keep the information to themselves. Anything of any relevance is curtailed by the club and hoarded by the little men that give us sound bites of redundant, regurgitated, non-news that they can emblazon across a cheap paper in fat, bold headlines. “News”. Pah!
Before you even think it, it's no good saying: “Oh well that Pickford money was used to pay off debts”, because a) that is not an acceptable business model and b) it does nothing to actually benefit the club, but rather the owner – an owner that's clearly cutting his losses at the next given opportunity, and has had one eye on the exit door for longer than anyone cares to mention.
Half the time with this club you have to rely on hear-say and conjecture to make any kind of opinion and that's about as informed as they'll ever allow you to be. On the one hand we're told the club is massively in debt and has to cut corners just to stay afloat, yet on the other we're told that Short just wants the best for the club and is willing to spend big to make it happen. In the same breath as we're told the man is allegedly contemplating administration, news filters out of a group of investors, lead by Short, willing to sink £2,000,000,000 into the purchase and turnover of distressed assets. Good luck making heads or tails of that.
In truth the efficient repayment of a loan does nothing for us in football terms. It hasn't freed up any money, there are no debts prohibiting us from spending under some exotic FA ruling - it does precisely nothing for us, does it? It strikes me as another example of the kind of misguided financial decisions that have set us back so much in recent years.
Jordan Pickford might as well have walked for free, really. We should have just let him take half that money as a signing fee so he could enjoy himself, because it's done precisely fuck all to help us. It makes Martin Bain's job easier though; his is a role whereby he can justify his wage packet simply by cutting everyone else's. I'm going to leave that one alone now before I start to cry. There is no justification for selling Jordan Pickford. It was backwards and just plain fucking stupid. But anyway.
Here we are now with less than a fortnight to go until the end of the transfer window and we are apparently unable to attract to players of any calibre. Before you cry out in shock and recrimination, Aiden McGeady and Lewis Grabban have proven themselves players of calibre, but isn't it interesting that Simon Grayson has such a firm personal connection with the players we've brought in? It's as if the very thought of signing a contract with Bain's name on it is almost Faustian – players and their agents clearly feel it's a huge gamble to work with him. And of course it is! No one wants to lose their soul at the SoL, not for a club that can't even reap financial reward from its own academy product, a player sold for a record fee. Only Sunderland AFC could break a transfer record and have nothing to show for it.
It's interesting to look back retrospectively and consider just how many players David Moyes brought in, players that he knew personally. Perhaps that's the issue with bringing in player-agents like De Fanti, only to blame him for all of the mistakes that in fact everyone was complicit in. And perhaps throwing Margaret Byrne under the bus wasn't the best of ideas – because sometimes people don't want to be remembered for protecting child molesters. These people, they remember your awful behaviour, they remember the absolute nightmare you are to work with, and they tell their friends and clients. Did Sam Allardyce leave amicably? Do we believe that Sam Allardyce, one of the most well-connected managers in England, doesn't hold a grudge? I wonder: if he were asked now by one of the many footballing personalities he knows, about Sunderland and whether it's a good idea for such and such to take their services there, would he be positive? Or would he answer: “Sunderland!? Hah! Don't touch that with a barge pole, mate.”
And if he did, would he be right?
The fact remains that with barely a week left in the window we're resigned to a miniscule pool - a veritable dirty puddle - of players to choose from and let's face it: the only viable option for us here is Robert Snodgrass – a player that hasn't scored a goal in fifteen games for a club that provides far better service than we do – and only then because he last experienced any kind of success under our current gaffer.
But guess what? Snodgrass is going to Aston Villa! You know why? Because you wouldn't kennel your dog with SAFC right now, that's why. Because if you're involved with the club I'll bet you can't move in that place without being harassed, and as a fan you can't expect even a modicum of reason without being made to feel like you're asking the Earth – imagine being a player! Sod that for a game of toy soldiers.
Often the first argument from those unwilling or unable to comprehend this truth, is “Wey, who would ye bring in!?” Well the problem with that is that it's not my job. I don't get paid to travel to games up and down the country, to jet around Europe and beyond, watching football and getting paid to do so. That's a scouts job. So where are the scouts now?
I'd be interested in a detailed review of the consultancy of Rob McKenzie’s work at the club, the gentleman hired on a 3-month basis to govern such a crucial part of the club’s ongoing campaign. Where was Rob's selection of young, eager, talented players that would jump at the chance to come to a club the size of Sunderland? Is it possible that there aren't any? Can it be possible that in the entire world, saturated as it is with human life, there are no players capable of playing in this team? No players with a price tag under this elusive fifteen million?
Logic dictates that it isn't possible to do a job for months and achieve absolutely nothing. It can’t be the case, surely, that a man with such a reputation for talent spotting was restricted to the bargain bin of free agents and personal friends, so what other obstacle stood in the way of him replicating the ability that had allowed him to hold such lucrative, if not glamorous, roles at the tippy top of elite football? What barriers were there for him, here at Sunderland? What level of player was he scouting? Riyad Mahrez was playing for Le Havre in Ligue 2 when this man was credited with bringing him to Leicester to become a vital player in a league winning team. Obviously, operating in Europe is second nature to him as a scout - have we been linked with a single player from a European team? Was that ever our focus?
Who pulls the strings now? Who is responsible for strengthening this team? Has it all been left to Simon Grayson - a man that was already, arguably, out of his depth with both the size of this club and the enormity of it’s problems when he signed?
The only way to measure the worth of a football club’s scouting team is by judging their activity of a period of time and cross referencing that with the level of ability brought into the squad over the same period. We can’t say for sure what the scouting team are up to because there’s been no movement.
So considering that there’s been no movement, and considering that the stand-out talents of the window so far are either players Grayson knows or players we already had, is scouting for the future really a priority right now at Sunderland AFC? It would be tragic if the last meaningful round of recruitment done to strengthen this club for a challenging future resulted in Papy Djilobodji.
Come on guys. At least try to look busy.