Despite some concern regarding Sunderland’s transfer situation during a dormant June, the squad for 2019/20 season has finally started to take shape.
With Lee Burge arriving as back up to last season’s breakout star Jon McLaughlin, his namesake Conor and most recent addition Jordan Willis add a sense of physicality to a back line often found lacking it in last season’s crushingly-abrupt crescendo.
With rumours of more arrivals on the horizon, Jack Ross has confirmed he is managing a balancing act of moving players out of the door, and that process has begun in earnest.
Undoubtedly the main headline of the summer so far - Lee Cattermole’s decade long run at the club ended as suddenly as it did unceremoniously. A brief statement from the club and the player himself confirmed the end an association that seemed to last a lifetime. Not many have divided opinion as much as Lee - he’s akin to a serving of Teesside Marmite, and you either loved the man, or, well, you didn’t.
Like saying goodbye to your first love, first car, or an old pair of socks with more holes in them than Lee Camp’s goalkeeping, there was definitely a sense of unease amongst the supporters when the news emerged. Whilst there’s never a ‘right’ time to say goodbye, this was probably as close as you could get to it.
Emotion aside we managed to get a huge earner off of the wage bill which, in all honesty, did not match his contribution, leaving the club in a much stronger financial state. Catts leaves with well wishes, though perhaps not as he would have liked it, as a win at Wembley would have been a sweet end to a career forged on winning multiple battles, only to eventually succumb and lose the overall war. Thinking out loud, a last minute defeat at Wembley to consign Sunderland to their lowest ever finish is probably as fitting a tribute as could be.
So what next? As luck would have it, another cruel twist of fate. Whilst it looked likely that he’d join Steve Bruce at Sheffield Wednesday, the possibility of Bruce ending up at Newcastle United leaves Cattermole at something of a crossroads.
But could it work to his benefit? His best performances in red and white have been against the likes of Chelsea, both Manchester clubs, and Liverpool. I wouldn’t be too surprised to see him handed a one year deal at Sheffield United or Aston Villa. Whilst many claim “his legs have gone”, if managed correctly and consigned to a bit-part role Cattermole could still prove an asset in those types of games where you need to dig deep, pull your socks up (and shorts!) and try to grind out results.
Getting rid of Love was brilliant business from the club, a player who came highly recommended when we were still a Premier League side having signed him on the back of his own stint as a first-teamer with Louis Van Gaal at Manchester United.
A player who has offered very little in his three years on Wearside, he was rumoured to be receiving in the region of £8,000 per week (nice one, Moysey) but has finally moved on to pastures new at Shrewsbury under the guidance of Sam Ricketts.
It’s another half-a-million quid saved - Sunderland can claim a massive victory here.
So... who’s next?
Another Davey Moyes masterstroke. I’m no football manager, but if I was, I wouldn’t be spending my whole January transfer budget on a left back.
Rumours that Oviedo will leave the club this summer are another reason to celebrate. The Costa Rican performed well at the back end of last season, but in no way did it justify his huge salary - which is reported to be around £46,000 per week.
You can’t sustain a club at our level with such outgoings, and this man is no exception.
His presence also stunts the progress of Denver Hume, who showed real promise in the opportunities he was afforded last season. If the mantra of developing young players to take the club forward (be it to keep them on the pitch or sell for a huge profit and then reinvest) is to come true then Hume is a player in the bracket.
But, to realise this, he must play games. With Reece James gone a replacement will be required - though whether that’s as a starter or a backup remains to be seen.
We’re led to believe that Oviedo already has a new club lined up but there’s still discussions underway regarding his pay-off, with neither side able to come to an agreement just yet. That said, it’s likely that a conclusion will be reached soon, and that we’ve likely seen the last of Bryan Oviedo in a Sunderland shirt.
“What, he’s still here?” - yes.
“He’s getting paid actual money?” - yes.
Rocking up at South Shields Thursday gone would have caused some vivid flashbacks, notably the red card at Fratton Park, proving that you’re never truly over the past.
Since December, Loovens could have been scaling Everest or paddling boarding in St Lucia and we would have been non the wiser.
Like The Little Mermaid is under the sea, Loovens is over the hill - though unfortunately he doesn’t have his own theme tune. If he did, at least he would be contributing something.
All joking aside, Loovens is another man who is being paid to contribute nothing - money that could be better spent elsewhere.
On the fence
Baldwin was an early season defensive mainstay upon signing last summer from Peterborough United, but some absolute howlers across an array of League One games put paid to that.
I’m sure Jack feels he still has something to offer, and he has shown over many years that he can play at this level. But, for Sunderland at least, is he nothing more than dependable back up? Consigning him to such a role is probably the best route for both parties.
Baldwin is unlikely to ever play for a bigger club, is probably receiving the best money that he ever has, but not enough to compromise the club’s future.
With a year left on his current deal it’s unlikely that Sunderland would be able to command a significant fee from a buying club, and can cut all ties with the player this time next year. That said, if somebody does offer cash - small or large - Sunderland would probably be inclined to sell. They’d be right to.
Controversial. I know. After McGeouch opted to activate his own contract extension he’s now one of the highest earning midfielders in Sunderland’s squad. His past record clearly shows he has the ability to be a success in League One, and when fit he can definitely offer something to Sunderland - it’s just whether the club would rather have him, or bring in someone new in his position that might offer something different.
With that in mind, it’s now or never in what is likely a make or break year for both the club and the player. A key starting role and promotion will likely see a new deal, but if either of those fail to materialise McGeouch will likely end up back up north of the border to live out a career of mid-table mediocrity with the occasional cup quarter final defeat to Celtic.
Sunderland’s interest in George Dobson is well known, but that move won’t be sanctioned until one more player in his position is out the door.
Power and Leadbitter are considered too valuable to go anywhere, Robson and Mumba are young and have resale value, whilst Luke O’Nien is a valuable asset who can cover varying positions.
It looks more and more likely that if a central midfielder is to depart McGeouch will be that man - and if he stays we’ll probably have to accept that there won’t be further additions to Sunderland’s midfield this summer.