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The State Of Play: Assessing where Sunderland finds itself halfway through pre-season

Could the fact that we haven’t joined in with the League One merry-go-round indicate that we are looking beyond that market, and that is the reason for the slowness in recruitment? David Holloway gives his views...

We are now past the halfway point in what has been a very short pre-season.

Last season ended late with our ill-fated play-off involvement, and our attention to all things Sunderland AFC has been punctuated over the last four weeks by the joy and despair of the England’s endeavours at Euro 2020. All seems very quiet at the Academy of Light.

However, we are now in pre-season friendly territory, and the first-team squad are short of the new blood, which is desperately required. Welcome progress has been made at U23 levels, with some encouraging additions to build on the excellent performances of that age group last year. We should remember that the purpose of the U23s is for a few of them to rise to the first-team squad, and in a departure from the past that must form part of this summer’s plans.

If that doesn’t happen, then what was last season’s work for?

As Sunderland fans, we are used to manic transfer windows. We crave and gorge ourselves on the inevitable glut of summer signings and then some - more usually arriving when the club are in full-on mad panic mode around transfer deadline day. We thrived on the hope that one or more of these windows would turn out well for years on end.

We are used to being fed rumour after rumour of incomings – we aren’t panicked by rumours of outgoings, as it is rare that anybody ever wants our better players. Indeed, ever since the Josh Maja shambles, we have been barely troubled by predators - further evidence of failed management.

So, this quietness naturally leads to concern. It creates a feeling of abnormality after the chaos which has engulfed almost every transfer window since Drumaville rocked up and signed six players on transfer deadline day in August 2006.

Now, we will all admit to the excitement which these mad splurges brought. They were thrilling and created hope which was invariably temporary. Usually, that hope was extinguished as we realised that the players brought in without due diligence either couldn’t settle or had injury problems, weren’t recruited for a specific role or merely came because we doubled their salaries – in many cases for all of the above.

Dare we hope that the current quietness is down to the fact that we are biding our time and picking our chosen targets more wisely? All we can do is hope and not panic. The absence of newspaper hacks linking everyone who may be available - in the main - reflects a lack of interest by the outside world in our current League One status.

It is also due to the fact that the England team have filled the information vacuum, but it may just be that the recruitment team are working in the background to secure their real targets quietly and professionally, like the well-run clubs do. We should pin our hopes on the latter for a while yet.

Lee Johnson has his own way of communicating, and his comments about a stagnant transfer market were mocked given the numbers of players that other league one teams have signed. However, could he have been referring to a different market? A market which is quiet - the loan market, the market for Championship level players or the market for overseas players. We don’t really know the answer to that, but Johnson knows that we are not fools and neither is he, so we can hope that was what he meant - sometimes I just wish he would say it.

Spennymoor Town v Sunderland - Pre Season Friendly Photo by Will Matthews/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

We will all have our views on how many players we need to mount a challenge - and should mounting a challenge be enough anyway? We are the biggest club in this league - by far - and we now, unfortunately, have three years of painful experience to know what we need.

Recruiting League One players should be easy for us – despite everything we are a draw and top-end League One wages aren’t an issue. Could the fact that we haven’t joined in with the League One merry-go-round indicate that we are looking beyond that market, and that is the reason for the slowness in recruitment?

That and the overdue promotion of younger players to the first team group – Embleton, Diamond, Neil, Younger and Patterson to replace injury-prone, overpaid journeymen. Almost all League One clubs would take them into their matchday squads.

It is difficult to be patient, god knows we have endured enough over the years but we can – at this stage - just hope that this new approach is better than the scattergun and desperate attempts at building a squad of what is now not just recent times.

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