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Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Play-Off Final

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Editorial: A busy summer ahead for Sunderland, but who will have the final say?

It’s only two short months until we start all over again, and this summer should tell us exactly what direction we’re taking and who is leading our way on the recruitment side.

Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

It’s been just over a week since it happened.

Since that moment when academy graduate Elliot Embleton drove forward from the halfway line and unleashed a shot that made David Stockdale look to make sure he wasn’t in the way.

Since that moment when Ross Stewart almost nonchalantly struck a shot with around ten minutes remaining, that was so good David Stockdale simply stopped to admire it as it rolled past him and hit the back of the net.

Since that moment when the final whistle blew and Sunderland fans everywhere released all the frustration that had built up over four years in League One, in the form of a wall of noise.

I think I have just about recovered. Just.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One - Play Off - Final - Wembley Stadium
Does it feel like it was yesterday or weeks ago?
Photo by Steven Paston/PA Images via Getty Images

Now to the practicalities of what might be ahead, and there are a few things to consider in our preparation to our vital first season back in the second tier.

For a start we’re not actually accustomed to taking part in the Championship in our recent history. Not that it really matters, but for someone like myself who was brought up with the Lads plying their trade almost exclusively in the second tier, it’s strange to consider that, as it stands, we have completed the same number of years in League One as we have in the Championship this century.

This means that the expectation levels are currently all over the place, I put this down to the fact we’re still basking in the plethora of YouTube videos of last weekend and we’re riding a wave.

There have already been predictions that we could go again and aim for the play-offs, there are others who want to focus on survival, where a season without the drama at either end of the table would be a more than satisfactory outcome.

But all of this comes without any knowledge of if or how we will strengthen the squad ahead of the new season. Now, here’s where our recruitment team really have their work cut out without any fault of their own.

Simon Grayson and Brendan Rogers in the technical areas as we took on Celtic in preparation for our last season in the Championship
Photo by Craig Foy - SNS Group\SNS Group via Getty Images

In terms of the regulation season, the season finished three weeks before our play-off final. It was three weeks where clubs who had already completed their season could get a head start in sorting contracts and confirming early signatures to add to next season’s playing staff.

Although I’m sure there was a certain amount of planning that occurred during our three-week play-off campaign, there is only so much that can be done with the uncertainty of either a step up to the Championship or an unimaginable fifth year in League One hanging over us.

We then have the pesky football calendar of 2022 to consider where we have to squeeze in a winter World Cup along with it’s trimmings of state of the art air conditioning, which means the season has been concertinaed to begin in the final week of July.

At the time of writing it means that it leaves just over three weeks before the squad returns for pre-season training and just under nine weeks before we take to the pitch in our opening fixture of the season. This isn’t a huge amount of time to make the changes required for an assault on the Championship.

New Sunderland Manager Press Conference
How different will the recruitment process be this time around?
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

So, not only do we have our work cut out in terms of timelines, but the summer should also give us an indication if we are continuing the philosophy that seemed to drive our recruitment last summer, when the emphasis seemed to be on adding younger players with potential to the squad.

This direction looked a little confused in January when Jermain Defoe signed on the dotted line and the other variable to throw into the mix is, of course, the new manager. Alex Neil’s stock is as high as any manager with Sunderland fans since probably the days of Sam Allardyce and with it brings a different level of power at the club.

Last summer the scales favoured the club and Kristjaan Speakman over manager Lee Johnson when it came to recruitment and the direction we were headed. That isn’t to say that Lee Johnson didn’t agree with the players that came through the doors at the Academy of Light, but after defeat in the play-off semi-final to Lincoln City, he may have not had the power to fully state his displeasure if he did disagree.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Play-Off Final
Alex Neil
Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Alex Neil has been there and done it when it comes to being successful in the Championship and will no doubt know the type of player he requires if we are to compete in the next level. This leaves a level of intrigue as to how the Kristjaan Speakman’s vision of strengthening the squad aligns with Alex Neil’s.

We’re in exciting times as we prepare for the Championship, and we can expect things to start moving pretty quickly, because in just two months time we’ll be kicking off our first fixture in the second tier for five years.

And by then, we are likely to have a clear picture on the direction we are taking as a club, and possibly where the power within the club now lies in terms of recruiting what we need for the season ahead.


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