I’ve always had a real aversion to signing players on loan. I think it stems from our Premier League days when our club was frequently used to develop other teams’ players.
It smacked of short-termism. We weren’t bothered about next season, as long as we stayed up this season, come what may.
It was understandable to a large extent. Managers rarely lasted too long, so they weren’t overly concerned about how the squad would look in a year’s time, or how that promising youngster in our development squad had been progressed.
The likes of Danny Welbeck, Jonny Evans and Yann M’Vila, of course, came in and did a good job for us. Djibril Cisse started off well before fading badly.
Anthony Le Tallec and Adnan Januzaj showed little heart and zero effort and couldn’t get out of town fast enough.
In more recent seasons, Lewis Grabban did a good job on the field but off it was found seriously wanting. We already had the likes of Browning and Galloway stinking the place out, and as Grabban departed, the squad was supplemented by Ashley Fletcher, Jonny Williams, Jake Clarke Salter and Ovie Ejaria.
Since then, only Dion Sanderson and Bailey Wright have stood out from our raft of loanees that have included Jerome Sinclair, Kaz Sterling, Declan John, Marc McNulty, Laurens De Bock, Antoine Semenyo, Declan John and Jake Vokins. All bit-part players at best, absolutely crap at worst. Squad fillers signed without rhyme nor reason.
This season has seen a marked change in our loan strategy. Nathan Broadhead, Thorben Hoffmann, Leon Dajaku and Callum Doyle have all been signed to play regularly in the first team – only Fred Alves has been unable to secure a place, and will surely return to West Ham in January.
Eighteen-year-old Doyle’s been consistently impressive, serving up performances that belie his age with unerring regularity, while Hoffmann’s already shown he’s got all the attributes of a top keeper. Dajaku has had ups and downs but has been hugely impressive in recent weeks and it’s clear to every man and his dog that he has a boatload of potential.
Nathan Broadhead struggled to get into the team at first (something Lee Johnson called ‘embarrassing for the club, given his talent), and was unlucky to pick up an injury after impressing in a home game against Crewe.
Consequently, it’s only been the last few weeks in which we’ve been able to really see what he’s all about.
And it was worth waiting for.
Skilled in possession, Broadhead’s got all of the attributes to be a huge success here at Sunderland. He’s pacy, he’s inventive, he’s tricky and he can score goals. All types of goals. Outside the box, inside the box, left foot, right foot, header – he’s got everything in his locker.
He’s exactly the type of striker that does well at Sunderland – and hopefully Sunderland can do well for him.
Because Broadhead’s no longer a kid. He’s turning 24 in April and up to this season had barely played 20 professional games. We can debate the merits of the Premier League academies, under-23 football and stockpiling of players, and argue – quite rightly – that the number of games the likes of Gordon Armstrong, Gary Owers, Martin Smith and Marco Gabbiadini played at an early age were a contributory factor in them perhaps not realising their full potential – although they all had very good, long careers.
His inexperience has showed at times – on occasion he’s either released the ball too early or held on to it for too long – but over the past couple of games particularly it’s clicking, and he’s now showing his absolute class.
Broadhead’s going to have some big decisions to make soon, and hopefully they involve Sunderland. Although he signed a new two year deal in the summer at Goodison, the noises coming from Merseyside suggest this was a business decision rather than an entirely footballing one – meaning Everton can secure a transfer fee and/or sell on clause when he departs.
At his age, he simply has to be playing every week – there’s no benefit for him to be hanging around on the sidelines hoping for 15 minutes here, ten minutes there. Time’s ticking – and hopefully we’ll be the beneficiaries.
He’s settled into the team, and life at Sunderland it seems, nicely – and in reality (and accepting a certain degree of bias exists here) what better move could he get if and when he moves from Everton permanently?
We are, unarguably, one of the biggest clubs outside the Premier League. It looks like we’re settled off the field, with an ambitious long-term plan that’s focused on developing talented youngsters and getting back to the top flight.
We’ve got the ground, the infrastructure and the support to bring the best out of him – and judging by his performances so far, he’s revelling in that.
Credit too must go to Lee Johnson, who’s evidently helping get the best out of Broadhead – and consistency of management can’t be overlooked here. After all, Broadhead’s unlikely to sign permanently if he thinks we could sack the manager and rip the whole thing up again in a matter of weeks.
And this goes for every young player we target too.
We’ve got to provide a stable club, one with continuity, one that’s going to develop them as individuals and players.
Not one that’s only interested in the short term, schizophrenically lurching from result to result.
And so, as we approach the January transfer window, I’m sure talks will be planned to see what the chances are of Broadhead’s move becoming permanent.
It’ll be a big decision for the lad, one which won’t be taken lightly, but hopefully the development plans Johnson and Kristjaan Speakman undoubtedly have in place for him will hold sufficient attraction.
If he does join the club permanently, he could well be talked about in the same vein as Phillips and Gabbiadini in five years time – that’s how highly I rate him. (I admit that sounds fanciful, but just think about where both of them came from before they joined the lads.)
Becoming a critical part of a team on the rise, and a player who’s adored by a huge supporter base is the opportunity that’s right there in front of Broadhead now.
And I sincerely hope both he and the club see that!