Sunderland have been heavily linked over recent days with the signing of Middlesbrough midfielder Grant Leadbitter, a rumour that was further substantiated this morning when several local news outlets added credence to it by reporting that we are indeed looking to bring the Fencehouses native back to the club.
Leadbitter has been long-linked with a return to Wearside, and Sunderland owner Stewart Donald himself confirmed that he was a player we were looking at in the summer, but for whatever reason it never happened.
And it’s easy to see why they’d want him - he’d be returning back to his boyhood club in his twilight years after a long time away gathering experience, and generally standing out as a top midfielder in the Championship during his time with Ipswich Town and Middlesbrough.
A lot of time has passed since the summer, though, and despite recruiting a number of central midfielders in the last transfer window we sit here near the end of January still looking to find the solution to our problems in the centre of the park.
As useful as the likes of Lee Cattermole, Max Power, Dylan McGeouch and Luke O’Nien have been, they are not players that I’d say have shown that they are capable of dominating games this season - which is presumably where Leadbitter comes in to Jack Ross’ thinking.
He’s not a young man, granted, but he’s presumably still got the legs to get about the pitch.
The two times I saw him against Sunderland for Middlesbrough last season he was the best player on the park and quite literally ran the game from his now-favoured deep-lying midfield position.
If he’s capable of that kind of performance on a regular basis in League One, he’d certainly be an asset to a team like ours.
Leadbitter has had to make do with appearances in cup competitions for Boro this term, but 32 appearances in the Championship last season shows that he was capable of coping with the rigours of playing regular first team football at a competitive level, under the management of a man who demands physicality and intense work-rate from his players.
I do worry about whether we’re directly addressing the real needs of the squad, though.
There’s no hiding from the fact that we lack any height in midfield, and it hampers us often against physical sides that don’t allow us to play our technical game by getting into us.
We struggle to defend set pieces - the proportion of goals conceded from them substantiates this - and our conversion record from our own corners this season has been, to put it lightly, absolutely awful. Bringing in players who can give us a range of options would, at this stage of the season, be preferable.
I must admit that when I heard Jack Ross talk about recruiting a number of players, I was hoping he had his sights set on signing someone in that mould of brute midfield enforcer, so hearing we’re after Grant Leadbitter does give me conflicting feelings on the matter.
Whilst we are desperate for some height and presence, we’re probably just as desperate for a midfielder who can put their foot on the ball and dictate. Players with both qualities don’t, unfortunately, grow on trees for clubs in League One to pluck them from.
It does make you wonder whether we’re likely to see some departures should we aim to bring on board a midfielder who is expected to start in the majority of games.
Despite his good early season form, Lee Cattermole has been poor for a number of months - and you can’t ignore his extortionately high wages for a League One footballer. Ethan Robson was expected to be a regular feature this season but has been injured, and now that he’s fit again it’d probably be wise to let him leave on loan in order to play regular football and regain some of the sharpness he will have inevitably lost from such a lengthy spell on the sidelines. And whilst Jack Ross denied he’d look to shift Bali Mumba out on loan, it’s certainly something that we should consider if a Football League side show an interest in giving him regular competitive first team minutes.
It’s easy to see how the club could trim some of the fat in order to facilitate the signing of another midfielder, even if Leadbitter is not the young, athletic player that many Sunderland supporters have been pining for. Ultimately, you can see some sense in signing him, even if youth and height is not on his side.
The owners and the manager have spoke repeatedly about the need for players at the club who ‘get it’, and as Sunderland fan who grew up coming through our system - showing how effective he can be when under the wing of Roy Keane as we hurtled towards a Championship title win from February 2007 onwards - you’d expect that Leadbitter is precisely the type of player you would want if your aim is to manage games better and provide an environment which, in turn, produces results and gets us the promotion that we’re aiming for.