I can’t sit here and say that I’m actually disappointed with the news that a salary cap has been introduced in League One by the EFL, and it’s for entirely selfish reasons.
Frequent readers of Roker Report may note that I’ve been a proponent of intelligent recruitment at Sunderland for some time. The old-fashioned way of bringing players on board - using contacts, your ‘gut feeling’ and favouring experience over potential - is on its way out, for now with the introduction of a wage cap we have no choice but to be clever with how we source and sign the players who will fill out our squad ahead of another gruelling season.
Now, obviously that’s a lot easier to do without a salary cap, because you have a larger pool of players to pick from, but in truth I feel like this may end up being a good thing for our club ahead of the new campaign.
First off you have to look at the squad we have before the cap was put in place - it’s not the best, granted, but we still harbour a decent number of players who should in theory be good enough to get us out of League One. This is not like we’re starting from scratch - we have the bones of a half-decent side but simply need to recruit players who fit the style of play that Phil Parkinson wishes to play.
Under the previous recruitment regime I feel we will have struggled to get to grips with working within these constraints. Donald, Coton and Hill quite obviously favoured an ‘old school’ method when it came to identifying players, and to a large extent you have to say they got it wrong more often than not. The signings of Willis, Power and O’Nien aside, it’s hard to say that many of the players brought to Sunderland by the trio were hits, and we can’t forget about the amount of cash we splashed on signing Grigg and Wyke, or what it must have taken to lure Grant Leadbitter back to the club.
Now, with a fresh start upon us, we have no choice but to be smart.
Data-driven recruitment is the future, and whilst it’s disappointing that it has taken an enforced salary cap to send us down this route, we should now - in theory - see the club be more progressive and forward-thinking.
With all clubs on an even-keel when it comes to what wages they can offer, the sheer size of Sunderland, the facilities and the prospect of playing for a club that you can grow with will be exciting to young players looking to make that next step up to playing for a decent club.
We’re now basically going to be shopping around Premier League academies, League Two and Scottish Premiership clubs for players who can make a difference. They’re out there, but these players just need a club like Sunderland to take a risk on signing them.
The lower leagues are littered with young prospects who have fallen out of elite academies and have instead taken the chance to gain first team football elsewhere. Data-driven recruitment models can point you towards players who display all the attributes you’re looking for in a certain position, but prior to the salary cap you might not necessarily have taken a chance on.
To me, this is exciting. I want to see more players like Luke O’Nien at the club, and less of your Glenn Loovens’ and Will Grigg’s.
So whilst right now this might feel like a kick in the teeth to the bigger clubs who can actually afford to pay out more on wages, over the long term it will force the likes of Sunderland to be smarter. As a result, I’m sure we’ll see a whole host of players coming through the door who you might not necessarily have heard of, but it won’t take too long before you’re impressed. That, to me, is what football is all about.
Taking chances, developing players, and growing together.