As soon as the dust settled on the disappointing 20/21 campaign, thoughts drew to next season and what it might bring. For the fourth summer in a row, Sunderland will be planning a team and squad with the hope of gaining promotion from League One.
There’s nothing like a summer window to get the juices flowing among supporters. Speculation will go crazy in the next six weeks before the season starts. Anything and everything will be discussed from transfers to who the first fixture will be (we’ll find that out tomorrow).
Our large and passionate fanbase are always full of optimism before any season but the long time away from matches had made fans even more desperate for success. Here are some key issues we need to get sorted before the first game in early August.
Out of contract players
The key issue at the moment is the players that are out of contract. The club has already made a decision on the majority of players with some fan favourites such as Grant Leadbitter and Chris Maguire leaving the club.
There are three key players from last season, however, that haven’t committed to being at the Stadium of Light next season.
Luke O’Nien is very popular with fans for his committed displays and happy-go-lucky attitude. O’Nien strikes a chord with supporters who respect his effort every Saturday. He’s been hugely important in a makeshift defence, and his ability to play several positions has been very valuable.
He’s won a place in the team of the year but hasn’t committed to a new contract for next season. With persistent rumours of a move to a Championship club, it’s an issue that needs resolving and quickly. How long before Sunderland begin to plan for life without him? The current odds are on him exiting, but the uncertainty is arguably the worst thing.
Another one that needs his future resolving is Charlie Wyke. Wyke is also out of contract and like O’Nien is believed to have interest from a higher level. While his ability may be questioned and he may come up short in certain areas, his record speaks for itself.
With 30 goals last season in all competitions, he played a huge part in the victory at Wembley in the Papa John’s final, and it’s evident the club would have been nowhere near the play-offs without his goals. While the part of Aiden McGeady was crucial to his success (and he’s another who’s not yet signed on for next season), Wyke had to be in the right place to finish so many of his crosses. It’s the best scoring season in his career, and now might be the perfect time for him to leave.
Wyke’s departure would leave a hole in the squad, and again it’s something that needs to cleared up as soon as possible.
Inbound recruitment policy
Much has been made of the vast amount of players that have been out of contract this summer. While few will disagree that the squad needed to be changed and refreshed, it leaves us not just short in terms of quality but also quantity.
The club have already spoken about the need to improve on our sometimes woeful record with recruitment. Do we target younger players and try to develop? Do we look at more established players? Are there options to utilise the loan market again?
My belief is that we need to look at a younger brand of players that we can get the best out of and then potentially sell them on. It might seem negative, but the ‘Moneyball model of Brentford and the idea behind selling players at their maximum potential has served them well. It may prove key to our success in years to come – after all Brentford have just won promotion to the Premier League.
It’s easy enough to say ‘we need players’, but it is far more challenging to identify players who are firstly available and secondly who will improve the squad. For a team that’s short on numbers and needing some quality, developing the recruitment model is of the highest importance.
Appointing a captain
His popularity waned a little bit towards the end and his performances were never hugely consistent, but Max Power has left the club after three years.
It leaves the club needing to find a new captain and leader on the pitch. Power never really got universal acclaim with our supporters – some argued that he was a decent player at this level, some were of the belief he didn’t pull his weight.
Whatever the belief about him, he was still the captain and it leaves the club needing to find a new man. Other experiences players have left like the aforementioned Maguire and Leadbitter.
The captain is a hugely important figure within the club, not just on the pitch. He sets the standards throughout the club, he’s responsible for holding teammates to account and being the go-to man when the team is in need.
Another major position that Sunderland could do with sorting out is the goalkeeper. Lee Burge has been inconsistent at best this season and his part in Lincoln City’s goal in the first leg of the play-off final was as costly as it was painful.
While it’s clear that even the best goalkeepers make mistakes, it’s happened too often this season. It probably wasn't the right decision to leave Burge as the regular keeper and without any credible substitute.
Anthony Patterson is highly rated but he may be too young to thrust into the limelight as regular keeper.
In such a specialist position, the best teams tend to have a solid and reliable stopper. We have seen in recent times, particularly the 17/18 season, that a keeper constantly making mistakes can cost you dearly. On the other hand, get a good keeper and he can win you a lot of points by himself.
I personally think if we are to get promoted from this level, a new goalkeeper is an imperative. We have to give ourselves the best chance, and not gift the opposition as we did at Lincoln and at other times throughout the same season.