Loan business has not been Sunderland’s strongest asset in recent years. In fact, if we take an honest look at it, it’s been the source of much embarrassment in the club’s recent history. However, much credit must be given to this year’s batch of loanees, as their contributions were essential to the eventual promotion the team won.
The uniqueness of this group is the players’ variety of when and how they have contributed. Early in the season, Callum Doyle and Ron-Thorben Hoffmann were standouts in a defense that was as forward-thinking and ball-playing as the midfield.
Leon Dajaku and Nathan Broadhead flashed brilliance when their season wasn’t being hampered by injury and illness. And, Jack Clarke helped us finish the season as ferociously as he attacked opponent full-backs in the season and the pitch’s final third.
Credit has to be spread all around for the success and development of these youngsters as well. Lee Johnson’s early-season, attacking style, played brilliantly into the skill set of our attacking-minded players. Early season bursts past opposing teams’ defensive backlines had us all intrigued by the potential of Leon Dajaku.
In addition, a strike partnership between Ross Stewart and Nathan Broadhead was something to behold when Broadhead could stay healthy and on the pitch. Hoffman and Doyle also looked more than adequate with the ball at their feet looking for runners ahead of them as we spent the early part of the season playing out from the back.
When the managerial change occurred, I would argue, the loan players’ development took an extra leap forward. With Alex Neil at the helm, everyone was tasked with thinking as much about their defensive responsibilities as they were with forward-thinking.
Nathan Broadhead’s link-up play took a step forward, Callum Doyle looked, in his few, brief appearances, more resolute in his defending, and Jack Clarke, after his inclusion to the squad in January, look very good tracking back and could be deadly going forward on his day.
Another individual that deserves credit in regards to our loan signings is Kristjaan Speakman. He’s received a fair amount of criticism in his time on Wearside, especially after a less than convincing January. But, he and his team have identified some really exciting, young talent, in these temporary signings in particular.
He’s also had the gall to make an admission of wrong (of sorts) in sending Freddy Alves back to West Ham and using that loan space for a more effective Jack Clarke. It may not have always been in the best way possible, but the result of the decisions made by Speakman and the backroom staff, deserve more than a little recognition.
As the offseason begins, the question now becomes, are any of these players deserving of a permanent move to the Stadium of Light?
Obviously, the parent club and players’ desire for a move would have to be taken into consideration, but let’s set that aside for a moment and explore whether or not each would be a good fit.
Leon Dajaku has already been confirmed as our first summer signing as his loan deal became permanent last week. Leon spent a large portion of his loan spell in the physio department but his time on the pitch was fairly successful.
In 22 league games, he contributed four goals and three assists, averaging a goal involvement about once every three games. This becomes even more impressive when you consider that he was deployed as a defensive winger in many of those appearances, which is a position I think he’d even be willing to admit, doesn’t suit his skills.
I think, when given license to stay further up the pitch, he can be a real asset at the Championship level.
“The Hoff” had an up and down season in the Northeast. He showed his quality on occasion while other times coming up completely anonymous. In fairness to him, there was a big adjustment to make to the English game and the defense ahead of him left him exposed far too often.
He still managed to turn in eight clean sheets from his twenty-three league starts, which is a respectable statistic. The number one shirt is young Anthony Patterson’s for the taking, but I don’t see why, at the right price, Hoffmann couldn’t be a welcome addition to the shot-stopping club, considering also that Lee Burge was amongst those released by the club earlier this month.
This one’s tricky, as Doyle seems to be highly rated by his parent club. I believe that in Doyle, we’ve gotten to witness the growth of a future England Senior International. I also believe that fact places us firmly out of the running for his permanent signature.
However, there were rumors upon his arrival, that there may be a two-year loan option available pending our promotion. Doyle seemed to enjoy himself in the red and white, he improved and progressed well enough, and we’re playing a league higher.
Hopefully, he can rejoin the ranks after a pre-season in Manchester and continue the good relationship that’s been built.
Clarke is the one that I’d personally love to see turned permanent above all others. His pace, creativity, and energy could be as good as anyone else at the next level. I also love that he’s nowhere near the top end of his potential yet.
His one goal and three assists in twenty league games gave us just a glimpse of that. It’s rumored that he’s available for in the region of 500k plus sell-on clauses. With the income that Championship football should bring us, this seems a no-brainer.
I think it’s safe to say, Nathan Broadhead was the most popular of the loannees this term. And with his thirteen goals in twenty-six games in all competitions, why shouldn’t he have been.
Not only was he lethal in front of goal, but he was always a man up for a big occasion or ready to pop up at the right time. Five of his ten league goals were winners, two of which being in dramatic fashion, deep into injury time.
If he’s available, Speakman and team should be making every effort to retain Broadheeeeeeed in all his glory.
I know the likelihood isn’t high, but I’d love to see us hold on to each of our loanees from the past season. None of them are “one of our own” but I’d gladly adopt every one of them for the job they’ve done and the potential they’ve all got.