Kyril Louis-Dreyfus, Kristjaan Speakman, Lee Johnson and co. have the opportunity to cap off a memorable campaign with ecstasy and bliss if they can manage to finish the job of getting Sunderland out of League One this season.
I have every confidence that they will, but the next month will be a vital piece to completing the promotion puzzle. These first steps will unfold at three levels over the course of the next month, each associated with one of the three key men at Sunderland AFC.
Kyril Louis Dreyfus
I’ve been widely supportive of and encouraged by KLD’s ownership of the club thus far. He has a background in the sport, business acumen, and seems to have the respect and support of those around him on the board and behind the scenes.
This January will continue to test his maturity as the owner of a major English club. His investment in the club to this point has been very positive. With upgrades in infrastructure, investment in the academy, and funding of the right kinds of transfers already done, this January window will need more of the same to show his intent on continuing to move this club forward.
I also believe that a strong investment into transfers and club infrastructure in January will help to win over some of Dreyfus’ critics. Which could be vastly important moving forward. Investment, in the right ways, is essential before the month is up, to maintain the forward progress of SAFC.
At this point, under the current regime, the recruitment and team philosophy have become fairly apparent to those paying attention. Attract players who are either, firstly, young with potential and not getting a look in at clubs higher up the pyramid (Broadhead, Huggins, Cirkin, Hoffman, Dajaku, Doyle), secondly, promising, budding stars in lesser leagues with good analytics (Ross, Winchester), or thirdly, massive talents who, for whatever reason, have lost their way but not their desire to prove themselves (Evans, Pritchard).
They also need to fit the attacking, high-pressing style of football that has been so refreshing to watch in the last year.
So far, this recruitment strategy has been hugely successful. Signings in all three groups, as listed, have shown the intelligence of those behind the scenes.
In January, more of the same is required, and in areas of weakness or lack of depth as they’ve presented themselves. Speakman will be well aware of what is needed to finish the job on promotion this year and what areas need strengthening the most. The goal in January will be to hold his nerve, stick to the plan, and not over-inflate the squad for the run-in.
As noted in my midterm marks, I believe Johnson deserves massive amounts of credit for the impeccable job he’s done in the first half of the campaign. However, the run-in will be a bit trickier and demands he step up his game to show he’s capable to continue to cope with the pressure of managing a club with our magnitude and prove he’s the right man for the job moving forward. All things, I believe, that are well within his abilities.
Johnson will have the main task of keeping this run of form going while reintegrating players returning from injuries, and getting incoming players worked into the system and team spirit that is so high at the minute.
Admittedly, a tall task indeed, but not an impossible one. The gaffer has dealt with his share of criticism, a poor run of form, and nothing short of an injury nightmare this season. With all that bearing down on him, he closed out 2021 sitting atop the league one table.
There’s something to be said for where the team is looking into 2022, and it’s very, very exciting. The task ahead? Make January another block in rebuilding this club. The outlook? Rome may not have been built in a day, but Sunderland may be rebuilt in a year!