As the season fast approaches, I think we need to take time to reflect on how things are in the real world, because it seems to me that the doom merchants are circling, despite all the great things happening at the club.
Let’s consider some of the doom merchants’ points:
KLD isn’t serious about Sunderland
Really!!! The lad has stumped up a lot of cash to buy his controlling interest in Sunderland and as such, he’s risking his own money. He can certainly make a lot of money, but plenty of people also lose a lot of money with football clubs. Donald was running the club with a skeleton staff because anything more was losing money every week, yet KLD has invested heavily in new staff as well as things behind the scenes.
A recruitment team based on analytics has been added, Speakman has been brought in as the man responsible for the long term development of the club, new staff have been recruited for the Academy, new players brought into the Academy, investment in the ground and lighting.
The list goes on and on, and while none of this is directly about the first team, it is all essential if Sunderland are to have a long term and successful future. I would argue that the evidence suggests the only thing that KLD is not interested in is a short term fix.
Everything he has done and said has been about long term sustainability and success. That in itself suggests that he is VERY serious about Sunderland.
Donald and Methven are still running things
I usually have to listen to Donald Trump speaking to hear such rubbish! Donald and Methven are minority shareholders and as such, have no effective input into the running of the club.
Donald and Methven are there for one reason only, and it’s money. Their gamble of investing in Sunderland didn’t quite pay off. They stabilised the ship and are now banking on the fact that KLD can take it to the next level.
Once the club has moved forward and is more valuable, you will see them sell up and take their profit. People may not like that, but it’s the way things are. KLD is in charge and to think Donald and Methven are still running things is lunacy on a Trumpian scale.
Speakman needs to be sacked
I think our doom merchants fundamentally misunderstand Speakman’s role at the club. He has NOT been hired to bring the club instant success; he’s been hired to develop and implement a long term plan. That means establishing an identifiable style of play, which has been missing at Sunderland for a very long time.
It seems clear to me that this style will be based on a high press. All of the moves we’ve made so far would suggest this is true and that we are adhering to this plan. It won’t happen instantly, but long term projects never do, that’s why they’re long term!
Quite clearly, these players have been working on this style of play in the Academy while in the U23 side and that is EXACTLY what we want, so that there is a seamless transition to the first team.
That is down to Speakman. It’s his job to make sure that the entire club is heading in the same direction and every member of staff is singing from the same hymn sheet. That is happening more now than it has in decades, and that has to be a major improvement.
I really don’t think we can judge Speakman until he’s been in the job for five years, precisely because his role is about long term planning and development. For now, all we can do to judge him is ask if there is now a coherent plan in place and are we working towards that plan?
In both cases, the answer from me is a resounding yes, so Speakman has been doing really well so far. Not being promoted last season was disappointing, but it wasn’t his fault because his job was never about the short term at Sunderland.
I would argue, it won’t be his fault if we don’t go up this season either, because long term plans take time, not a single season. All we can ask is if he’s taking us in the right direction as part of a long term plan.
The recruitment team are poor
Doom merchants seem to believe that just because we’ve hired a new recruitment team based on analytics, and they’ve been in place for six months, we should now have a Premiership standard team! I’m exaggerating a bit here, but the point is that this entirely new approach will take time to settle in and become completely efficient. That will take years, not months.
At this stage, all we can do to judge them is ask if they are doing their job based on our long term plan and vision? So far, I’d say that they are doing exactly that job. We may not have recruited huge numbers so far, but those we have recruited do seem to fit our plan.
I would rather not recruit someone whose career in recent years has been sinking faster than the Titanic, yet we have. The fact that someone in the dim and distant past made the idiotic decision to waste £11 million on him does not make him a good signing. I’d also rather not recruit someone who is so fragile he gets injured when getting onto the team bus, yet we have.
Nevertheless, in both of these cases, I can at least see the reasoning, and I can see that both players fit our newly adopted style of play. Having a recruitment team doesn’t mean they will get it right all the time, so I hope these considered gambles come off and I will support these players as well as our recruitment team.
While I’m on, I also can’t explain why we pulled out of the Gallagher deal with Liverpool. He was young, talented and we were getting him for nothing, so our risk was minimal, with the very real chance of making money at a later date.
I read that we pulled out of the deal because someone else became available, but as Gallagher was for a position where describing us as paper thin would be generous, surely we should have recruited them both.
We also need to remember that it takes two to tango. Just because we want a player, it doesn’t mean that the other club wants to lose them, or that the player wants to come. As Johnson pointed out the other day, we’re monitoring several players for each position. Our recruitment team needs to find the balance between being proactive about getting players, while also sticking to a budget and not getting sucked into a deal that doesn’t work for us.
O’Neil did that when he chased Fletcher and Donald did that with Grigg. In both cases we should have walked away, but we became fixated on a particular player and that never ends well. I don’t think the doom merchants would be good at poker, which is what the transfer market is like.
They will know the situation isn’t ideal, but I am greatly encouraged by the fact they’re not panicking, they’re sticking to the plan.
KLD needs to splash the cash
Have we learned nothing over the years? That kind of irresponsible behaviour is exactly why we’re in League One and more than most other clubs in the country, we should know by now that spending money isn’t the answer for us.
First of all, let’s be clear that there is a huge difference between being unwilling to invest in the club, and being unwilling to blindly throw money at a problem. It is perfectly clear that KLD is prepared to invest in the club and is prepared to spend when there is a strong case for doing so, but that doesn’t mean he should simply throw money at a problem and keep his fingers crossed it works!
He will spend when it is appropriate to do so and when it is in keeping with the club’s clearly laid out, long term strategy. Personally, I wouldn’t want him to do anything else.
This leads me on to another element of spending, and that is value for money. If Sunderland are to be sustainable and successful in the long term, we need to spend wisely and at the right time, on the right people. Let’s take Sanderson as an example. Like many others, I read that Wolves were wanting £2 million for the lad and many fans said we should just pay it.
I even read many fans’ comments that we should pay £3 million or even £4 million to make sure we got him, but that would be a ludicrous amount of money for a League One club to spend on any player. Instead, we’ve brought a young lad in on loan who appears to be as good as Sanderson and cost us nothing. For a League One club, that’s very good business and suggests that the recruitment team are doing an excellent job.
I’ve got some shocking news for these people: there are very few established players, if any, who are currently in the Championship or Premiership, who see Sunderland as a step up! League One is simply not an attractive proposition to genuinely talented players and they simply won’t come.
That means that if you do spend money, all you can realistically do is buy League One standard players, but if you’re then promoted, all you end up with is a squad of players who aren’t good enough for the Championship.
Even if we did attract such quality players by throwing money at the problem, do we really want yet more players coming to our club simply for the pay cheque? I’d rather stay in League One than have parasites like Rodwell at my club again! How many times has throwing money at a problem and paying huge wages actually worked for us? You could go back an awful lot of years and still struggle to use all the fingers of one hand!
Sanderson illustrates my point beautifully again. He was great for us last season, but it was obvious to anyone with an IQ in double figures that he was better than League One. He had plenty of interest from Championship clubs and ended up with a new contract at a Premiership club who clearly rate him and are aiding his development by loaning him out to the Championship.
Other than a ridiculously high pay day, what could we realistically offer him that could compete with that? If he’d sacrifice his career development just for a big pay day at Sunderland, would he really be the right player for us anyway?
Some of our supporters need to step into reality for a while. There is absolutely no point in spending large sums in League One, because all you will ever get is a League One quality player. The only exception to that should be if the data either suggests someone is underrated by other clubs and therefore undervalued, or if we invest in a young player who has shown the capacity to grow into a Championship or Premiership player.
These players are wise investments, and that is not the same as simply spending money to appease panicked and ill-informed fans. The situation is different once you get into the Championship, and while I expect us to still be prudent, I think we’ll see KLD loosening the purse strings a little.
The state of our squad
I keep reading complaints that all we’re doing is playing a youth team at the moment, so we need at least six new, first team players. This seems deeply ironic to me, given that most of us have been calling for youth to be given a chance for years. Now that they are being given a chance, the doom merchants are moaning about it instead of celebrating the switch.
One of the most ridiculous things I’ve heard over the last couple of years has been calls for many of our youth to be loaned out to League Two or non-league clubs, when just a few years ago, we were calling for these same quality players to be loaned out to Championship and League One clubs.
Like it or not, we are a League One club at the moment, and these lads are good enough for this league. The other day we played last year’s League One champions with a team that wasn’t just our youth players, many were our second string youth players. And we won!!!
Wayne Rooney broke into the Everton first team at 17 years old and he was an instant hit, but if he’d been at Sunderland, he’d have been loaned to League One and then sold for next to nothing.
That is EXACTLY what has to change at Sunderland, and I am hugely excited that we will be fielding such a young team of homegrown talent. They will have their wobbles, certainly, but the learning curve will be steep and they will improve. We will get stronger as the season progresses and our assets will rise in value.
Let’s take a moment to consider where we stand at the moment. Our first team squad currently comprises of: Patterson, Burge, Doyle, Younger, Wright, Flanagan, Xhemajli, Neil, Hawkes, Evans, Pritchard, Embleton, O’Nien, Gooch, McGeady, Winchester, Diamond, O’Brien, Stewart, Kimpioka and Grigg.
That’s 21 players, and who from that list has seriously not looked good enough in pre-season? I’m not for one second suggesting that there aren’t things I’d like to change. I’d like to see Patterson as our first choice keeper, but I suspect Johnson will go with Burge.
I’m not convinced about Flanagan or O’Brien, and I’m certainly not convinced by Grigg, so in an ideal world I’d like those players changed, but that’s just three out of twenty one! I also think that Xhemajli’s injury situation means we may need cover for him.
We desperately need full backs, without a doubt, and I don’t think anyone at the club would try arguing with that, but other than that, we really don’t need much at all. As I say, there are three I’d like to change, and I’d especially like Grigg to make way for a better striker, but fundamentally, we have a very strong squad here that needs tweaking and developing, not major surgery.
We have a squad that is mostly young, hungry, and has more pace than I can remember in a very long time. We have a squad that is playing to a planned style of play, and many of them have already been coached in that style last season. With just a few prudent additions, we have the basis of a squad that can certainly get promotion and could well be champions.
Fortunately, the doom merchants seem to be in the minority and many share my optimism. I am more confident now than at any point since dropping out of the Premiership, so let’s not give up to unfounded negativity before the season has even started. It’s a new season and a new start, with a new squad that is young, hungry and filled with our own.
We have a new billionaire owner who wants long term success and has a coherent, sensible plan to achieve that. This is an exciting time to be a Sunderland fan, so let’s embrace it, get behind the team, and give them the old Roker Roar every week, rather than caving into unfounded and unwarranted negativity.