I daresay there is a wave of different emotions heading into this weekend’s opening match of the season against Wigan Athletic.
Are you weary, wary or whop-bop-alula about Sunderland’s prospects?
The opinions I’ve heard veer from the conspiracy theorists who believe Kyril Louis-Dreyfus is a front for Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven and the club remains in the grip of some Bond like villains, to those that are sitting back and prepared to let the transfer window run its course, quietly satisfied with what they have seen in pre-season, and a few in between.
I have to admit I’m feeling quietly optimistic but with a tinge of worry.
Kristjaan Speakman spoke to Phil Smith of the Sunderland Echo this week and told him how difficult operating in the transfer market has become post-Brexit and mid-Covid pandemic, and that is having an impact on the speed with which Sunderland have been able to work in trying to bring players to the club. He admits there is money to be spent even if thus far the wallet has remained zipped shut, but it’s not from a desire not to spend that money but a desire to make sure it is money wisely spent.
Clubs are holding out for the best deals in a difficult climate. Speakman also reiterates there will be no fear of elevating players from the Academy if the squad requires it.
As anyone who has watched the pre-season matches I think would agree, the nucleus of a good team is undoubtedly in place, but it’s the lack of strength behind that first eleven which is the main concern and my concern.
Speakman has admitted the search is on for full backs, a centre back and a striker and that is heartening to hear and with a good deal of the transfer window still open one has to remain optimistic those positions can be filled. In reality, they need to be filled.
Elliot Embleton, Callum Doyle, Dan Neil, and Ross Stewart have all impressed in the pre-season matches, and it would be a big surprise not to see them involved against Wigan.
Aiden McGeady has had an injection for tendonitis, which inevitably raises a question mark about his long-term fitness and availability on a regular basis, but we know what he offers and he should start the season.
I’ve been quietly impressed by Corry Evans, and Alex Pritchard comes with a good pedigree. Luke O’Nien is to play as an #8, which does for me highlight a concern for Dan Neil’s hopes this season of playing regularly - unless he nails it at left-back, which with the best will in the world, I don’t think he will. Not from any lack of tenacity, but it’s not his natural position, and it is fairly certain someone will come in at left-back, or Denver Hume will make up his mind to stay.
Though, if he does, it will be a while before he’s fit and ready to play.
The club appears to be adhering to Kyril Louis-Dreyfus’s demand for sustainability and not over-reaching itself in all departments, commendable as an ambition but one which has to be harnessed to lifting the club out of League One and into the Championship.
That is something which without question vexes a lot of fans and understandably so.
Inevitably, on the pitch we wanted to see new players in early to start the season for at least some semblance of security but at least pre-season has shown there is a team there which should be competitive enough to start the season well.
Clearly at the moment it is nowhere near strong enough for the demands of the season ahead, but at least in Kristjaan Speakman’s interview it is evident those involved in the decision-making process are well aware of that too.
The appointment of a Director of Football, chief scout and the revamp of the Academy were all applauded as the way forward, and we shouldn’t now start to complain that things aren’t happening quickly enough.
If I have one criticism it is the lack of communication at a time when fans are so impatient to see things happening, but Speakman’s interview has come at a good time, and at the very least offers some transparency on the transfer market which is vastly different to any known hitherto, with a heartfelt plea to reassure us that the new regime is a far cry from the old.
Arguably, now is the time to take a leap of faith and place our trust in Kyril Louis-Dreyfus, and with luck reap the dividends of a club which finally has a structure and some semblance of becoming a proper football club again.
It won’t happen overnight, but there are some blossoming signs even if there are still areas of concern. However, with a club the size of Sunderland, that is unavoidable.