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Roker Roundtable: How should Sunderland approach the summer transfer window?

Under Kristjaan Speakman, Stuart Harvey and Kyril Louis-Dreyfus, the club has overhauled its scouting and recruitment policy. Will it yield positive results again this summer?

Phil West says…

Ideally, I’d like to see us strike a balance between the level of experience you undoubtedly need for the Championship, and the kind of youth and vigour that was at the heart of last summer’s recruitment.

Yes, the balance was tilted slightly too far towards inexperienced younger players, but the model itself is the correct one, and it simply needs to be fine-tuned and honed this summer.

Fundamentally, we have changed the way of operating at the club, and it was long overdue, after years of scattergun transfer business and a selection of absolute flop signings who disappeared almost as quickly as they arrived.

Kristjaan Speakman has not been a total success in his role, but one area in which he has had a very positive impact is on the scouting and recruitment, one or two poor signings and errors notwithstanding.

For the first time in a long time, there is genuine rhyme and reason to our transfer business, and players aren’t being recruited on the basis that they’ll ‘do a job at this level. Instead, we are bringing players to the club who can contribute, add genuine value, and who are willing to buy into the club’s ethos and the team spirit that Alex Neil has fostered.

Neil clearly sees immense value in experienced players, so I would expect three or four signings in the mould of Danny Batth, for example- players who know the league, can be a positive influence on their younger teammates, and who won’t fear the challenge that playing for Sunderland will present.

On the other side of the coin, I wouldn’t be surprised to see players in the mould of Jack Clarke or Dennis Cirkin arrive this summer. If we can find some raw talent in the transfer market and turn that talent into something that is exciting and potentially game-changing, so much the better.

Squad depth is crucial, and balance is key, without a doubt. I’m confident that we will strike it, and if our business IS done in low-key fashion again, I have no problems with that, either, as long as we begin the new season with a squad that is ready to compete from the first whistle.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Play-Off Final Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Jack Ford says…

The key has to be getting the right blend of experienced known quantities and high potential youngsters. It’s not groundbreaking, but it may be slightly against the grain of our current recruitment philosophy and what Kristjaan Speakman and Stuart Harvey were brought to the club to do.

Under Kyril Louis-Dreyfus, we’ve never paid a fee for a player over the age of twenty four and this is something the vast majority of the fan base seem to support. However, I think it’s fair to say the lack of seasoned professionals in the squad very nearly cost us promotion last season, and it’s very clearly something Alex Neil is unhappy with.

I’ve always been slightly skeptical of the value of ‘experience’ on the pitch, as usually this is just used as a byword for knowing when to hoof it long rather than play a risky pass, or waste a bit of time on a throw-in.

However, when it comes to signing experienced players at Championship level, you would hope it means you know exactly what you’re getting.

Yes, it’s unlikely that a twenty-nine year-old who’s mostly played Championship football will suddenly become a world-beater- and we probably won’t make any profits from selling such players, but we have to be realistic about the fact that history has proven how hard it is to stay in the Championship as a promoted side.

There’s also a limit to how many young players you can have in the squad and realistically develop to the upper limits of their potential.

Players like Dennis Cirkin need to have a strong chance of starting the vast majority of our games if we’re to improve them and maximise their resale value, and we already have a strong core of talent that I believe could grow to be Premier League players- whether that’s for Sunderland or clubs who pay us for them.

Ultimately, there’s always a time and a place for short-termism when the benefits outweigh the costs.

I’d hope Alex Neil can persuade the board that money spent on wages and potential fees for players over the age of twenty four may appear to be sunk costs, but the potential revenues and time lost by failing to make the right investments and falling back to League One would be far worse for the club.

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

Will Jones says…

The main issue we have had throughout our immediate history is bringing in players who were previously on a big wage and on a downward trajectory. These types of players need to be left well alone.

Alex Neil has previously shown so far his desire to choose experience over youth, but I feel that’s mainly due to the fact that a) they weren’t “his” players and b) he’s not had a pre-season to coach the lads or been able to mould the whole squad into the one he wants.

I don’t see that being the same case next season. I think we will be looking for players with resale value, and the ability to grow with the team. Too many times did I think during our tenure in League One that once we got promoted we would have to rid ourselves of the majority of the squad, we cannot be thinking that short term.

If we are looking at players who are closer to the end of their career, they need to be the right characters. I want the team chemistry to be paramount, with no divides, and the new lads to help create a bond with the club, the fans and their teammates in equal measure.

The recruitment so far has been nothing short of exciting - we have brought in youngsters who have never played a first team game and smashed their first season, players who were brought for eight figure sums previously (on frees).

These statement signings are great in small doses, help build the team, show the quality and can help attract other players to the club.

Finally, I hope we decide to build in-depth, have a few versatile players as backups and loan out more fringe players and not feel we may have to rely on the U23s and be caught out like we did with Broadhead’s injury (potentially overplaying Rosscoe), and the sale of Tom Flanagan.

Speakman and KLD learning from their mistakes in January, and keeping to the strategy is good with me. I think we are onto something good and I’m looking forward to pieces of the puzzle slowly being put into place.

Andrew Smithson says…

There is a clear ‘type’ of player Sunderland seem to be looking at these days, and I’m all for it. Young, hungry players with the capacity to improve bring a level of energy and desire to the squad that fans what to see, and when you compare that to what went before you’ve got to hope it continues.

As has been suggested by others though, we cannot put our eggs all in one basket. Focusing solely on youth can be dangerous as you can never be 100% sure the new lads will settle quickly or be able to handle the expectation. It does appear as if the recruitment team will consider mental attributes and character traits as well as physical skill when scouting young prospects, but even still you have to put a few wise heads into the mix as well. They add a bit of know how and can be a guiding influence when needed, so there is certainly a place for a couple of wise heads.

Any money we spend will almost certainly be on potential though, and that can be broken down perhaps into two sub sections. January arrivals Jay Matete and Trai Hume were both playing senior football elsewhere in the leagues, whereas during the summer we managed to get a couple of highly rated Academy and U23s hopefuls – lads that were not used to first team action but had the benefit of working with some of the best coaches and players in the country when on the training ground.

It seems from the type of deals done last year that we have a decent relationship with one or two Premier League sides already, and the facilities on offer at Sunderland are of a standard that players are already used to or should be striving to attain for themselves. The environment we can give should make us an attractive proposition, and hopefully we’ll be seeing some new faces in the coming weeks that are ready to develop and move onto the next stage of their career.

Sunderland v Crewe Alexandra - Sky Bet League One Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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