RR: Patrick Roberts, then - is he any good?
Phil Spencer: In terms of ability, there’s no doubt that the signing of Patrick Roberts is a major coup for Sunderland.
As a player his talent that far exceeds League One level and possibly even the Championship, but if his recent track record is anything to go by there’s clearly something that needs to be addressed in terms of his mentality.
If Lee Johnson can get a tune out of Roberts on a consistent basis, then this may just be the signing that can push them to promotion.
RR: What do you remember about him signing and how that was judged at the time?
Phil Spencer: Signed by Jonathan Woodgate, Patrick Roberts seemed like the perfect technical player to add a touch of quality to Middlesbrough’s attacking unit.
Unfortunately, excitement soon turned into frustration as after looking very promising in his first three games, he suffered an injury ruled him out for several months leading into the suspension of the season in early 2020.
Upon coming back, it was clear that he wasn’t fully fit and so he never really got going under Woodgate, however he did shows signs of promise after Neil Warnock took charge and ended that season with a goal and three assists in 10 games for Middlesbrough.
It was clear that the club rated Roberts and so he was brought back in 2020-21 on a season-long loan deal in a switch that would hopefully allow fans to see the best of him, but sadly under Warnock the player found gametime limited and he was allowed to leave midway through the season without really making an impact.
RR: Would you say his time at Boro was a success?
Phil Spencer: I don’t think anyone can say that his time with Middlesbrough was a success overall, but fans certainly wanted to see more of him.
After showing glimpses of promise in 2019-20 as he struggled for fitness, the hope was that he’d kick on and become the club’s prime attacking threat after being brought back on loan, but Neil Warnock’s reluctance to play him stopped him from making any sort of impression.
Warnock blamed his lack of work ethic and inability to track back as the key reason why he wasn’t selected, however with Middlesbrough lacking any real creativity he was certainly a player that fans were crying out for as he clearly had something very special to offer.
RR: Were you disappointed that he never ended up signing permanently?
Phil Spencer: I was a little bit disappointed, but not at all surprised.
Under a different manager Patrick Roberts could have been a brilliant player for Middlesbrough and had all the talent that was needed to help the club to push for promotion, but under Warnock the focus was on what he couldn’t do for the team, rather than what he could do.
When his loan spell was cut short it seemed pretty inevitable but there was certainly a large number of supporters who felt that we had perhaps let a real talent slip through our fingers.
RR: Let’s talk about him as a player then. What sort of player is he?
Phil Spencer: A frustrating one!
But in all seriousness, Patrick Roberts is an out and out attacking player. Left-footed by nature, the 24-year-old is most comfortable playing on the right flank and cutting inside as he looks to use his trickery to create space for himself and others.
He’s someone who can really provide that x-factor in attacking areas and if given the correct role and responsibility, he’s someone who could really make a big impression for Sunderland this year.
RR: What are his biggest strengths & weaknesses?
Phil Spencer: Roberts is renowned for his vision, movement and dribbling ability that makes him an absolute handful for defenders who simply don’t know which way he is going to turn.
His attacking output is not in question, but defensively he’s not someone who will contribute much at all.
The inside-forward has the ability to be a match-winner but if Lee Johnson is banking on him tracking back and putting a shift in to help his defence then he has another thing coming!
There’s also a big question mark over his mentality.
Few can dispute his level of ability, but the fact that Roberts has played for eight clubs in his short career so far without really finding a home is definitely a concern.
Is it an application problem or has he just been unfortunate? I don’t know. One thing I do know is that a move to Sunderland on a permanent basis will be make or break for him if he’s to prove himself as a reliable player and not just be another high-potential star who didn’t have the mentality to fulfil his undoubted promise.
RR: Do you think he’s got what it takes to light up League One?
Phil Spencer: This will be down to Lee Johnson and the player himself.
I’ve already discussed the weaknesses in Patrick Roberts’ game and if Sunderland have done any sort of due diligence on him, they’ll know exactly what they’re getting.
Roberts is a talented player who has the ability to tear League One to shreds, but if Johnson doesn’t allow him to play his natural game then Sunderland fans won’t see the best of him, plain and simple.
As for the player himself, this is a massive opportunity to prove that he’s capable of performing week in, week out over a period that’s longer than a few months and so it’s on him to knuckle down, put the graft in and prove why clubs such as Manchester City and Celtic took such interest in him earlier in his career.
RR: How confident are you that Roberts, only aged 24 remember, can move forward from here and potentially even play in the Premier League again?
Phil Spencer: It’s a recurring theme in this Q&A, but where Patrick Roberts ends up is completely up to him.
In terms of ability, I’ve got no doubt that he can lead Sunderland into the Championship and prove himself as one of the best players in the division.
He is certainly capable of playing in the Premier League from what I’ve seen, but that will only happen if his head is right and he shows the sort of application needed to perform week in, week out over the next three or four years of his career.
If he doesn’t, he may end up being the sort of player who simply flounders in the EFL while never really living up to their potential.
RR: Finally – for anyone who isn’t sure about this particular signing, what would you say to them?
Phil Spencer: The signing of Patrick Roberts is a classic wildcard addition.
If the conditions are right, he’s backed by Lee Johnson to play his natural game and the player himself arrives determined to prove a real point then this could prove to be a real masterstroke.
Should Roberts fail to settle at the Stadium Of Light and struggle to show his best, the fact that he’s only signed on a short-term deal initially means that Sunderland aren’t tied and can move him on amicably at the end of the season.
I don’t see any down sides to this deal, to be honest, and for a huge club who are insistent on playing football on the front-foot as they challenge for promotion, I think that this could be the perfect fit to get Roberts firing both physically and mentally.