Kacper Przybyłko has been on trial at Sunderland for a few weeks now, and while the club’s lack of desire to make his stay a permanent - or at least season-long - one previously made sense, the failure to sign Billy Sharp and James Wilson combined with our lack of options up front has greatly helped his cause.
While concerns around his injury record - 26 games missed last season alone - and goal tally of just 68 goals in 235 appearances are understandable, there are mitigating factors.
Przybyłko’s last season was practically non-existent due to injuries. However, the foot injury that had side-lined him from September to late December 2017 reoccurred and kept him out for another 98 days a mere two weeks after he returned to training.
His previous club Kaiserslauten were fighting relegation last season, and our past experiences show that patience is a rare commodity for club’s fighting to survive, especially when it comes to potential goal scorers. The blame for players’ injury records cannot entirely lie with the players, and it is likely he was rushed back onto the pitch, causing his injury to flair up again.
Similarly, his poor goal-to-game ratio is made somewhat more reassuring when you look at the minutes he’s played in those games.
Kacper has only scored 20 goals and recorded 8 assists in the 2.Bundesliga in 114 appearances, but 49 of these games were played as a substitute, meaning he has scored at a rate of one goal for every 313 minutes played. This admittedly isn’t the best, but Charlie Wyke’s tally of one goal scored for every 277 minutes played in League One, arguably a weaker competition than the German second-tier, isn’t that far ahead of him.
It’s also safe to assume that Przybyłko could enjoy a far more prolific season at Sunderland than his previous clubs due to our position within League One. Rather than playing for mid-table teams or those battling relegation, Kacper would be leading the line for a side enjoying more of the ball and providing more service than he may be used to.
It’s unfair to judge a player based solely on his stats, and it’s Przybyłko’s attributes, especially physically, that would make him a shrewd addition to Jack Ross’ squad. Even if you think strikers like Wyke, Maja, Sinclair, and Watmore will give us more than enough quality to win promotion when they’re all fit and firing, to put it simply none of these players are 6’4.
Signing Kacper would give Jack Ross an option, either as an alternative to Wyke or an impact sub, to change the way we structure our attacks - especially at set pieces.
Players like Oviedo, Matthews, Maguire, and McGeady can deliver fantastic balls from open play and set pieces and having a player of Przybyłko’s height on the end of them could prove deadly, just as having him on the pitch to defend opposition set pieces could save us points. Sometimes, especially in this League, you need to get direct and dirty, and we might struggle to compete in this way with our current options up front. Looking at the bench on Saturday showed we had no-one who could come on in an attacking role and fundamentally change the game.
Using Przybyłko as an impact-sub would be the perfect way to utilise his strengths while minimising his weaknesses. With his strength and stature he could bully tiring defences, and fashion chances for himself and those around him, and by using him as a substitute we would reduce the risk of injury and keep more prolific strikers like Wyke on the pitch. Just look at Peter Crouch at Stoke to see how such a seemingly basic approach can still work today, even in the Premier League.
Poor fitness from a non-existent pre-season and a raft of injuries won’t matter overly much if we’re using him to rescue and win points at the end of games.
His social media posts would suggest he’d be honoured to play for the club, even in such a minimal role, bringing much less risk of locker-room friction than signing a veteran free-agent striker or Premier League loanee who could demand starts or see himself as above the club.
This coupled with the low wage demands he will likely have, given his injury record and the fact he previously played in the German second-tier means he would have far less of an impact on our budget than someone like Darren Bent. We could do a lot worse.
Ultimately, our aim this season is to get out of this division as soon as possible, and if Przybyłko offers even a chance of scoring us goals and winning points that we would not otherwise win, I think it’s worth the risk to sign him on a short-term deal - especially given the fact he’s only 25.
If it goes well and we’re promoted, it pays for itself, and if we’re promoted and he isn’t quite up for the Championship, we either release him or sell him to another League One promotion candidate hoping to replicate our campaign. Low risk, potentially high reward.