Despite not signing a much-needed striker on deadline day, many Sunderland fans are content with the business the club did in the eleventh hour on a notoriously tight budget.
We brought in three new signings - two permanent, one on loan - to flesh out a desperately threadbare Championship squad. Out of Jonny Williams, Marc Wilson, and Callum McManaman, it is McManaman that caught my eye the most.
Sunderland signed the winger for no upfront fee but will pay nominal sums to West Brom based on appearances and performances over the course of McManaman's two year contract. McManaman had another year left on his deal at West Brom but has effectively joined us on a free transfer.
Sunderland fans will be forgiven for not knowing much about our tricky new winger, other than perhaps the time he tried to cut former Mag Massadio Haidara in half with an "industrial" challenge that even Lee Cattermole would have been proud of. This has already endeared him to many Sunderland fans on social media who have gleefully dug out the old videos of the tackle.
McManaman showed a lot of promise when he was first an Everton trainee and then again at Wigan Athletic as a trainee. He broke through into the first team at Wigan at a very young age after impressing the youth team coaches there. In fact, when he made his debut on 24 May 2009, McManaman became the youngest ever player to play for Wigan in the Premier League.
He has spent most of his career to-date at Wigan, but he has also had spells at Blackpool, Sheffield Wednesday, and West Brom. His career highlight so far was arguably the FA Cup Final in 2013 where Wigan Athletic beat Man City 1-0. McManaman was in imperious form that day and was awarded the man-of-the-match award for the way in which he constantly terrorised the Man City defence.
McManaman's style of play is direct. He will look to get on the front foot and get round his man at every opportunity. One of his redeeming features is that if he fails the first two times to get round a full-back he won't stop trying to make something happen - he'll just be more determined to get past his man the third time and create a chance for his team-mates. He also works hard for the team which will be essential if he hopes to play in a wide midfield role in Grayson’s preferred 4-4-2 formation. As he told safc.com in his welcome interview, he:
...loves getting at players, beating a man, getting stuck in, getting fans off their seats.
It was his performances for Wigan between 2012 and 2015 that convinced West Brom to pay £4.75M for his services. Tony Pulis was impressed by the way that McManaman balanced industry with technique and direct wing-play.
But his move to West Brom didn’t work out for either party. He fell down the pecking order at the Hawthorns and only managed to make twenty appearances during his two seasons at the club. McManaman was sent out on loan at Sheffield Wednesday for the second half of last season, but he wasn’t able to build up match fitness as ten of his twelve appearances for the Owls came from the bench.
McManaman has been frustrated with his lack of opportunities in recent seasons and, in his words, has “found it hard not playing, not being involved”. At Sunderland he has the chance to join a team desperately crying out for creative midfielders and he will be given every opportunity to justify a starting position.
Perhaps the person who will be happiest that McManaman has joined the Lads will be Aiden McGeady. Before McManaman signed, the burden of creating all the team's chances fell on our Irish winger.
The onus was on McGeady to make magic happen and this was already making our team look one dimensional in attack. However, now that McManaman has signed, they can share the burden of creativity and can work in tandem to produce opportunities for our forwards to (hopefully) put away. With McGeady comfortable playing on either flank, he could line up on the right of a four man midfield and McManaman could offer similar pace and trickery from the left.
It is for this reason that I think McManaman is our best deadline day signing. With so much pressure on McGeady to be our wide playmaker, we were at serious risk of becoming stale and easy for opposition teams to work out.
McMananan offers something new and exciting in attack. He might not be match fit or sharp enough to start games straight away but he will also give us a great option from the bench – something we’ve been missing in recent games as Grayson has lamented the fact we haven’t had substitutes who can change the course of the game.
But the man himself has his sights set on a starting position:
It’s been hard the last year or so not playing. I’m just looking to get playing again and enjoying it.
I want to be playing every week, get myself going and get back to where I was. I’ve not been able to do that.
If he can recreate some of the form that convinced Tony Pulis to make him his first signing at the Hawthorns then he will have no problem forcing his way into our starting eleven and potentially becoming a fan favourite by the end of the season. We might just have saved our best bargain buy for last.