When the transfer window closes, bringing silly season to a close with it, the work behind the scenes won’t stop.
Under Sunderland's new approach, players from across the country will continue to be scouted, analysed and their data pumped into analytic software ready to be used at any given second. This level of meticulous preparation is what separates sides come the end of the season, giving ourselves the ability to not be caught out by any unforeseen circumstances or curveballs a football season inevitably throws our way.
However, as part of the mantra of being prepared and armed with all the information a person would ever need, being proactive in certain scenarios is absolutely key. Prevention is better than the cure.
So, with that in mind, I believe it is absolutely imperative to maintain two of our rising stars by offering substantial contracts to both Elliot Embleton and Dan Neil. It’s important for so many reasons, not least the footballing ones.
Since their introduction into the side, these two young, Sunderland daft players have been a breath of fresh air on Wearside. With Embleton, we have an absolute star of the highest quality. Two-footed, agile and with a superb reading of the game, Embleton has finally flourished into the footballer we all know he could become and it’s an absolute joy to behold. With question marks lingering over his ability to stay fit, a relatively healthy stint at Blackpool, as well as a comfortable start back at Sunderland, has eased those concerned. His attacking ambition and fearlessness is a stark contrast to midfielders of the past, with Embleton showcasing the best of his abilities at the weekend, giving former Sunderland man Josh Scowen a torrid time in midfield. With goals and assists already this season, Embleton is thriving.
Slightly deeper is the teenage sensation that is Dan Neil. Rarely have I been taken aback by the supreme quality of a midfielder in a Sunderland shirt and less so at his age. Neil has everything to take himself to the top and plays like a player with 50+ games under his belt. He’s never flustered in possession and as fearless as his contemporaries, reading the game like a grown man reads The Gruffalo.
His first touch is sublime, and all facets of his passing, be it short or long, are second to none in a Sunderland side filled with technically gifted players. While admittedly there is a little bit of refining required with Neil, it’s easy to see how quick a learner he is with him already putting in top-quality performances at left-back and centre midfield – looking out of place in neither.
This is why, in my opinion, tying these two players down is absolutely essential, despite the clear modus operandi laid out over the summer. With Embleton and Neil we have two rarified quantities in League One and it cannot be understated how important to our promotion hopes they can be. What’s more, I’m not entirely sure how replaceable either player is – at least not for a commanding fee. My feeling on this very much centres around an idea that there are certain players you should be willing to sell and others you shouldn’t be, both to maintain quality throughout the squad and to allow the club as good a chance as possible to fulfil their aims for the season.
Embleton and Neil could well be the future of this club and a future in a division above this one, and while improved contracts may not be a foolproof way to ensure a player stays at a club, we certainly have to signal our intent to keep such rising stars. Especially when they’re our own.