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Sunderland AFC v Hull City - Pre-Season Friendly

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Reasons to be cheerful (about Sunderland, of course!) - 1, 2, 3!

Hopefully a younger more energetic team playing a consistent and recognisable style of football will make us all cheerful most Saturdays - until May at least.

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

There have been precious few reasons to make us fans of Sunderland AFC cheerful in years. However, this summer - despite the valid worry and frustrations over the slowness of recruitment - there may just be three such reasons for cheer.

Firstly, the promotion of youth. For too long there have been questions about the productivity of the Academy.

Sir Bob Murray’s magnificent legacy, the Academy of Light, has produced some exceptional talent over the years as well as a steady stream of players who have graduated and carved out a career at various levels of the game.

Far too few of them have done this at Sunderland, however.

Back in the Premier League and Championship days this was - to say the least - frustrating. To an extent, it was understandable as we were constantly enduring a state of panic. This made the integration youth seemingly just too risky a strategy in those times.

Over the last three League One seasons, the rebuild should have been focused on the Academy graduates. Would we have been any worse off if in the League One campaigns the younger players had been given the encouragement, the opportunities and respect that those brought in from elsewhere had?

Many of them could and should have played much more.

King’s Lynn Town v Norwich City - Pre Season Friendly - The Walks Stadium
Bali Mumba left to join Norwich City
Photo by Joe Giddens/PA Images via Getty Images

With hindsight, this feels like a huge opportunity lost as the policy of recruiting the best League One players failed for three consecutive seasons, and some of our best Academy talent - from Honeyman to Hugill - have moved on. Significant sums for this level were wasted on so-called experience. We are now weaker at all levels as a result of this folly.

Thankfully, the signs are that young home-grown players will get a chance over and above journeymen recruited from outside. From what I have seen, we will not see a drop in quality.

This is certainly a reason to be cheerful. Dare we hope that - over time - we can enjoy the building of teams in the mould of 1964, 1973 and 1990, excellent teams which were built on locally produced players.

Reason to be cheerful number 2 is the trimming of the fat.

For ten years or more, our first team squads have been bloated by numbers. Too many players in unbalanced and muddled squads.

This was the result of constant changes of the manager and direction. Ill-suited and ill-equipped players being added seemingly on a whim, without a plan or any consistent philosophy.

The slow pace of activity this summer is deeply frustrating but maybe, just maybe there is a plan in place which is being adhered to. Time will tell if it is the case.

Sunderland v Lincoln City - Sky Bet League One Play-off Semi Final 2nd Leg Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

An oversized squad was also the product of what has been traditionally been - through desperation - the recruitment of broken players with inherent injury problems. From Jack Rodwell to Bailey Wright, this seems to have been the norm.

Each of these factors has led to an unbalanced squad making a style of play difficult to achieve.

How often have we moaned about seeing a square peg in a round hole?

How often have we stood in the pre-match pub and tried to understand why so and so is playing or why such a formation has been randomly thrown in?

Far too often compensating factors were inbuilt into such selections with players included just to cover a weakness elsewhere.

All of this made the sum of the parts much less than the whole.

Good squads achieve the opposite.

The trimming of the fat - a process that is not yet fully completed - will free up funds to allow an increase in quality and then make possible a consistent style and shape to emerge.

Sunderland AFC v Hull City - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

The sum of those fewer parts adding up to much more than the whole. This should bring more positive results.

Last but by no means least, the reason to be cheerful number 3 is the return of the fans. Most of us have not set foot inside the SoL since March 2020.

Come next Saturday we will be back.

Despite what the ill-informed say, the home fans are a huge asset to the team, the record book proves this.

Hopefully a younger more energetic team playing a consistent and recognisable style of football will make us all cheerful most Saturdays - until May at least.

Let us hope so anyway.

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