We’d all have loved a few more players in by now. I don’t think any Sunderland fan would disagree with that.
Lee Johnson certainly doesn’t, judging by his comments after the game with York on Wednesday.
I’m sure Johnson would have expected to have a stronger squad to work with at this stage of the pre-season; the defence in particular looks depleted, and we seem four or five signings – good signings – short of being able to mount a promotion challenge.
While having everyone in and ready to go on the first day of pre-season training rarely – never – happens, the longer players take to come in, the less time they have to gel. The less time they have to get used to tactics, formations, game plans. The less time they have to settle into the area.
If the season was starting tomorrow, we’d all be hugely concerned.
Some supporters are flipping their lid right now (take a glance at our letters pages, or at social media in general), others are a little more pragmatic.
Personally, I’m in the latter camp – but I can fully appreciate why people are growing increasingly worried about how our plans for the new season are rolling out.
Give us another three weeks of relative inactivity, and I’ll certainly be a lot more concerned than I am now.
This criticism and concern is magnified and fuelled by social media, and it’s not been helped by the noticeable lack of communication coming from SAFC since the club podcast Kristjaan Speakman did at the end of the season: yes, there have been interviews with Johnson as you’d expect, but in hindsight I would have hoped that, by now, Kyril Louis Dreyfus or COO Steve Davison would have appeared on a club podcast or done another sit down with the in-house media team, to provide an update on what’s going on at the club. However it is a fine line – the previous incumbents were roundly criticised for being too open!
We’ve heard in passing from Lee Johnson about the structural work going on at the AOL, but there’s been nothing official. We’ve had a new kit launch but the doors to the club shop remain steadfastly shut. We’ve had new player announcements wearing last season’s kits (a minor thing admittedly, but the small things matter). We’ve had season cards and match tickets go on sale without a fully functioning ticket office.
Across the globe, businesses are undergoing digital transformation and ‘self-serve’ is the key concept – reducing costs by getting customers to do things for themselves.
In such a relationally-driven business as football, however, it simply doesn’t work without it being supported by that human touch, that face-to-face contact that has been extremely difficult over the past 18 months.
The lack of transfer activity is intriguing really. We all know we’re doing things differently now – we’re not buying from the same pool as we were 12 months ago (the Danny Graham pool for past-it players seeking a final payday is, thankfully, well and truly off the radar) and we’re simply not going to be spending big, regardless of what the Daily Mail may have promised. We’re taking our time, identifying and trying to buy players to fit into the game plan and team ‘DNA’ that Speakman and Johnson have identified.
That doesn’t happen overnight. But it needs to happen soon.
Depending on where you sit on the ‘Sunderland scale’ (on one end KLD is completely failing because he’s just a puppet for Donald and Methven, on the other, KLD is quietly leading a behind the scenes revolution that is going to turn SAFC into a self-sustaining behemoth of English football thanks to data-driven recruitment in three seasons) we’re either missing out on targets left, right and centre because Stewart Donald is not willing to pay any money out, or we are smartly biding our time to get the exact players we want.
As usual, the truth rarely lies in the extremes.
I’m sure we have missed out on some players we want. I’m sure we are being prudent with the wages we’re offering. I’m sure there are players who we really want who are still to move. Do you stick or twist?
It’s always good to take a step back and to look at things with a bit of context.
If you’d said to any of us in November last year that in the third week of July we’d:
• have been taken over by a billionaire
• have a sporting director in place
• have a whole new (and very highly rated) recruitment team
• have established a footballing philosophy and the skills needed to succeed as a Sunderland player as well as in each position
• got rid of a number of players who’d failed to get us up three times, and
• just signed a player on a free who’d commanded an £11m transfer fee only a couple of years ago
... we’d have surely been pretty happy with that.
It’s what the club has needed – but it doesn’t happen overnight.
At this point in Steve Bruce’s first season, we were yet to sign Darren Bent, Lee Cattermole, Lorik Cana, Michael Turner or John Mensah – five players who were first-team regulars that season. And they didn’t do too badly (13th, ya kna).
Of course, there’s work to be done. The club could be doing more in terms of communication, ticket office and club shop. And signings.
Ultimately, we all want what’s best for Sunderland. We all want to be feeling that unequivocal pre-season optimism when we kick the season off – not watching in trepidation about the prospect of facing Charlie Wyke and Max Power.
There’s still a long way to go before we kick off against Wigan – but a good dollop of positive news over the next few days would certainly be most welcome.