Dear Roker Report,
I think we are beginning to see the first shoots of a very bright future.
An undefeated start to the season (League Cup aside) has brought a sense of optimism to the club, the likes of which haven’t been seen on Wearside since Niall Quinn led his consortium to buy the club.
But how far can this optimism stretch?
The new owners have tried to manage expectations by keeping our eyes firmly on League One, Jack Ross was the first one to admit Sunderland should be expecting to be playing in the Championship next season, and the fans have always known we should be in the Prem. I think we have, for the first time, a structure and a plan that can take us there and beyond.
This may seem overly ambitious considering we are only a few games into League 1, but the framework is there. I think the arrival of the ‘head coach’ role at Sunderland is a breath of fresh air. Not only Jack Ross, but the type of role he has taken.
We’ve had our fair share of managers over the last decade. We’ve had man-managers, wheeler dealers, tacticians and whatever the f*ck Di Canio was, but I can’t remember in my time as a supporter, any great football coaches.
Now we have Jack Ross, an objectively capable football coach, and there are several reasons this makes our future a bright one.
Firstly; profit from player sales is about as rare as silverware at Sunderland. Henderson and Mignolet are the only players who spring easily to mind as I write this. Not a great return considering how good our academy is on paper. But now we might actually be entering into a time where we can sell players for more than we buy them. I don’t think there’s a player in the current match day squad who wouldn’t turn a profit. A good omen if we want to be sustainable.
It might not sound positive, selling off our players already, but there’s something to be said for being prepared to sell players who aren’t at the desired standard and still getting more money than what you spent on them. It’s how Alex Ferguson did it. Just because players weren’t good enough for the first team didn’t mean Man U made a loss on players. Look at Alim Oztürk, he’s currently not cut out for League 1, at least not with our style of play, but in January or next summer, should he be put on the transfer list, he will actually be worth more than when we got him. This is fairly easy as he arrived on a free, but we’ve been lumbered with rubbish freebies before (looking at you Valentin Roberge) and by then he would have improved as a player under Ross and we can recoup some of his wages in transfer fees.
Then there’s the players you keep: It’s important to note the ages of the players brought in this summer as well as the academy graduates who have been brought in as key members of the squad, these players are primed to improve. When we get promoted, we won’t need to buy in a whole new team for the next stage, we’ll already have a squad who are better than the year before. Should we go one better the following year, we’ll have a squad in the prime of their careers, there won’t need to be a ridiculous heap of investment in a Premier League ready team, we will already have one. Such is my belief in Jack Ross and the players he coaches.
Lastly, there’s the appeal of development which will attract talent to the club, making us a desirable destination for quality young players.
Sunderland have actually developed a number of high quality footballers over the last few years, but it’s always felt like we’ve been given clay and over time moulded a footballer, who then moves on to fulfill their talent. Instead it would be nice, for a change, to get the footballer and bring it to life. I would liken this to Southampton who in recent years have developed some of the best players on earth. Van Dijk and Mané are frighteningly good not to mention the talent that’s been pinched from their academy (Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Bale). Imagine what we could do with players with that much potential.
It don’t think the loan market should be overlooked either. It’s worked well for us in the past with youngsters Rose and Welbeck but also with top players like M’Vila, why not be a first choice destination for the Lukaku’s and Loftus-Cheek’s who have been incredible loan signings in recent years? We need to use the tools we have to appeal to the best players.
Having a good academy and training facilities is all well and good, but without proper use they’re effectively worthless. Now that we have a head coach who can truly utilise these assets and I believe the effects of this will last us for a long while into the future.
Ed’s Note [JN]: I cannot agree more. Obviously the job is long and arduous - as this season will be too - but I have the utmost belief the men in charge right now are the right ones for the job. They’re already entirely revoking the mistakes of the past, and it genuinely does feel like a new era.
I wrote an article on the Dortmund model, outlining how it works and discussing why we are the perfect fit to follow it. So far, it seems the men agree. In reality it is no longer a Dortmund model, but a tried and tested blueprint for a successful and stable football club - anyone not following it would be mad to ignore it for much longer.
Our academy has really struggled and stagnated under Ellis Short - the graduation of three players saved it from harm and essentially saved our elite level, category one status. Players like our current captain, George Honeyman, were ignored for far too long and allowed to stagnate in the U23 leagues. The whole club was not really a sleeping giant, but merely a zombie ran by people happy to write paychecks and do little else to stop our slide.
This year we should see the academy status rise partly due to pure participation of academy players in the first team alone, but we also need to focus on how to utilise the fantastic facilities, coaching and talent within it’s walls for the first-team. Short and his cronies ignored it for far too long, and it really is our crown jewel.
Dear Roker Report,
The initial signs are so good that we can possibly think of automatic promotion this season.
The young players like Gooch, Honeyman and Maja are clearly showing the faith the club has shown in them. And even the younger academy players like Hume and Mumba are making steady progression.
I expect the club to make moves to tie them down to long term contracts.
There have been enough academy graduates slipping through without the club making the desired profit on the investment they’ve made on the players over the years - Colback and Asoro to name few.
Giving the players bigger contracts can also show the faith the club has got in the players, and we may see better performances with their long term future sorted.
Adarsh (in Kerala, India)
Ed’s Note [JN]: Oxford and Wimbledon were disappointing performances, but we are still unbeaten in the league and playing some impressive stuff. Considering we’re only at what I predict 70% of the side’s overall potential, the future this season is bright.
In the immediacy, we now have essentially a fully-fit side, missing only long-term ACL victim Duncan Watmore. Aiden McGeady, Charlie Wyke, Jerome Sinclair and Dylan McGeouch all haven’t started once this season, and can really help push the rest of the lads and provide a wholly different prospect going forwards.
I think the Asoro profit ain’t that bad. It doesn’t sound glamorous, but is a huge chunk for a League One club. We also have a canny sell-on. Not bad business considering he only impressed in a handful of games and one half-season.