In almost every transfer window there’s a rumour linking a player with a move away that takes you by surprise – one that you just didn’t see coming. And I think the recent speculation that Bailey Wright may be allowed to leave amid interest from Wigan would fit into that category. The fact he was left out of the team against Hearts at the weekend and York in mid-week would appear to add fuel to those speculative flames.
Generally speaking, many would consider Wright to be a key player in the squad – so would it be a good decision to let him go?
On one hand, we would be losing an experienced centre back with nearly 300 league games under his belt, including playing in the Championship. Playing in the middle of a back three during his initial loan spell and in the early stages of last season, Wright demonstrated his ability and was a major influence on the team.
On the other hand, however, Wright has always been a little one-paced for my liking and this is shown up when he plays in a defensive two – it makes him look clumsy and uncoordinated: combined with a lack of pace is a recipe for disaster.
It is no surprise that Wright has excelled when being supported by an athletic partner such as Jordan Willis, who could do all his running for him.
In terms of form, I do not think it is unfair to say that Bailey Wright struggled last season, particularly when he returned from injury. He looked a shadow of the player that we had previously seen, with his weaknesses exposed for all to see. The fact that he was our worst-performing central defender when that lineup included makeshift performances from Luke O’Nien and the departed and underwhelming Conor McLaughlin, speaks volumes.
Following the departures of Charlie Wyke and Max Power to Wigan, the question has to be posed about potentially strengthening our League One rivals. Wigan are swiftly becoming Sunderland B Team, akin to Stoke in our Premier League years, and if rumours are to be believed they could be looking to add a third with Wright (if only they could take Grigg as well – if you’re reading Leam Richardson, he’s class, promise). The last thing we would want is to have egg on our face with a team overtaking us using our previous failures, however, I do think that if we do not deem someone good enough or the right fit for our promotion ambitions then we must have faith, and not be concerned with what others do.
Tactically, I have seen enough evidence to suggest that Lee Johnson would like us to play a high pressing game, with everyone able to pass and move effectively. Wright has and would likely continue to struggle with this philosophy. His distribution is often found wanting, and he is simply not quick enough to survive a high press.
Ultimately, you also must accept that Wright is not a Johnson signing at Sunderland – although Johnson did sign him for Bristol City and appoint him captain. He also let him leave on loan to Sunderland, too. Johnson knows Wright better than anyone at the club, and he’ll know intimately whether or not he is capable of delivering what a centre back in our team needs to deliver.
His comments on Wright post-York certainly suggest he has high opinion of the centre back as a leader and a person, but accepts that his performances have not been good enough generally, without completely closing the door on the matter - whether this is simply bluster to usher in a transfer out or support for a player who has been linked away remains to be seen.
We are certainly in the process of revamping the squad after a number of departures, and it feels a bit s**t or bust time.
On the plus side, Wright would at least command a fee and is likely on reasonable wages given as he dropped down from the Championship to sign for us. Transfermarkt.com estimates that he is worth around £720,000, though I suspect this is way off the mark. Despite this, there would have to be some sort of remuneration and this can be reinvested in the transformation of our current squad.
Something that always worries me about anyone leaving Sunderland is our poor record of replacing them. We have had an uncanny knack over the years of failing to replace supposedly easily replaceable players such as Phil Bardsley and Josh Maja. The recent loan signing of Callum Doyle has filled me with some hope on this front and may give an indication of what we are looking for in that position. He is comfortable on the ball, can pass effectively and is commanding. Other links to Lewis Gibson and Charlie Goode support this thinking.
Lewis Gibson has played well at his level before for Fleetwood during their playoff run and has made appearances for Reading in the Championship last season. He is described as “quick and commanding” on Everton’s club website, and that would fit the bill for what we are wanting to achieve on the pitch.
Brentford’s Charlie Goode represents a different prospect. While perhaps not the most blessed player with the ball at his feet, his 6-foot 5-inch frame would give us some much-needed strength and dominance at the back, and with over 100 league games to boot provides at least some restoration to the experience we would lose with Wright.
A worry is the loss of another leader. Wright is a keen talker on the pitch and I’m sure he has good influence among the squad. The departures of Max Power and Grant Leadbitter, with possibly Wright as well, leaves some leadership holes and we need others to step up to fill the breach.
So, what does this mean for Sunderland?
I think the reality is that Wright has never really recaptured his form from his initial loan spell with the club – is this the impact of long-term injury, or just an average player suited to a three-man defence?
I believe that Lee Johnson should strike while the iron is hot and continue to revamp our defence with hungrier, dominant defenders and move out the players who’ve failed to get us promoted.
However, we must replace effectively, or it will all be for nothing.