It’s Wednesday and, for some reason, things feel somewhere close to normal again after months cast away from the realities of English football.
There’s Premier League footy on the telly again tonight, we haven’t seen the sun in a few weeks and there’s some actual footballing news for Sunderland fans to mull over.
No - we haven’t been bought by new owners yet... we aren’t that lucky - but the club have this afternoon confirmed that the fivesome of Duncan Watmore, Alim Ozturk, Ethan Robson, Jack Baldwin and Joel Lynch have joined Kyle Lafferty and Tommy Smith in departing Wearside following the confirmation that the League One season has been ended prematurely.
We still have no confirmation on the futures of Josh Scowen, Elliot Embleton and Luke O’Nien, though you’d imagine that the club are keen to retain all three. It was also revealed that Jon McLaughlin, Tom Flanagan and Chris Maguire have been offered new deals.
In truth, I find it difficult to find fault in the decision not to offer new deals to the five players that were named today.
Whilst the romantic in me would have liked to have seen Alim Ozturk stay, perhaps this is a sign that, despite never really letting himself down, we’re planning to sign players more in the mould of Jordan Willis this time around - defenders with a bit of pace that can carry the ball out from the back, play, and use their speed to get themselves out of tricky situations.
Ethan Robson’s departure spells the end of a lifelong career at the club for the midfielder, but for the benefit of his own career this seems like an appropriate time to leave. He turns 24 in October yet still hasn’t been able to break into our first team, finding opportunities scarce to come by under a succession of managers and with a number of long-term injuries blocking his path to the senior side.
Robson did well out on loan at Grimsby last season in League Two, and perhaps that will have given him the confidence to go out there and prove himself. The Premier League and EFL is littered with other players who weren’t given a proper chance to shine at Sunderland, and really that should be a key motivator going forward for Ethan - if he puts the work in and stays fit, there’s no reason why he can’t kick start his career and get things moving.
And after a seven-year stint with Sunderland, Duncan Watmore leaves and finds himself without a club - in truth, a difficult end to a tough period in his career.
After starting his time on Wearside with plenty of promise, breaking into the England U21 setup and Sunderland’s first team around about the same time as Jordan Pickford, two horrific knee injuries set the former Altrincham forward back years and his two seasons in League One haven’t been the kick-start to his career that all of us had hoped.
Nobody can blame Duncan for not achieving success at Sunderland, for had he not done his ACL the first time around in the Premier League I have no doubt that he would have made an impact either for Sunderland in the Championship, or with another Premier League club.
Shit happens and at his age he’s probably keen now to move on and start again somewhere. He’s not perfect by any means as a player, but as a person he’s a credit to himself and someone is about to sign themselves a thoroughly decent human being who gives it his best effort every single time he’s out on the pitch - I wish him nothing but the best of luck.
For the defensive pairing of Jack Baldwin and Joel Lynch, there isn’t really all that much to say. Lynch never really stood out all that much at this level, despite dropping a division, and I felt that he struggled playing on the left of a three. He’s still got enough change in the bank to ensure he gets another decent move next season, but I certainly won’t mourn his departure too much.
Jack Baldwin, unlike Lynch, started his time with Sunderland rather emphatically and there were even suggestions that should we get promoted, Baldwin would have been more than capable of carrying on for us in the league above.
Yet, he wasn’t quite able to capitalise on the decent start that he had and a series of blunders in important games towards the end of the 2018-19 season saw his stock fall dramatically in the eyes of the supporters, eventually losing his place in the side to Alim Ozturk near the end of the season following a nightmare display alongside Tom Flanagan at home against Coventry City.
Baldwin moved to Salford City on loan in the league below last season and ended up playing central midfield alongside Darron Gibson, which says a lot to be honest. Whilst defensively he’s intelligent, and he clearly reads the game very well, there are question marks over his character (i.e., his mentality being right for playing at a big club like Sunderland, in front of tens of thousands of fans whilst being capable of handling the pressure) and ability to find aggression in his game, and I’d surmise that’s probably a big reason why he’s never found success outside the third tier.
Ultimately, time will tell whether these were the right decisions to make.
Ordinarily I wouldn’t be overly concerned about a list of released players but the thing nagging at the back of my mind is that these owners want to leave as soon as they can, and this recruitment team have shown in the past two years that they’re simply not up to scratch.
How confident can any of us be in their ability to improve the squad with a far inferior budget?
It’s never boring at Sunderland, that’s for sure.
I’m sure that all of the players departing the club this summer leave with our best wishes, and should our paths cross again our fans will speak only well of them. Whilst the last two seasons in League One have ultimately been disappointing, we can probably agree that we’ve at least brought decent people in to the club who, regardless of ability, have mostly treated this club and these fans with the utmost respect.
Good luck, Lads!