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Opinion: Transfer targets should be champing at the bit to play for Sunderland

The biggest stadium, the best facilities, great coaching, talented teammates - ambitious players looking for a footballing home would be foolish to go anywhere else.

All of us would love to pull on a red and white shirt and walk out onto the pitch at the Stadium of Light to represent our club - you wouldn't need to pay us thousands of pounds a week for the privilege.

But professional footballers have, quite rightly, a mercenary quality - they need to make as much money from the game as they can in their short and precarious career, but also need to know that they will have the support and facilities to develop as athletes. They are also human beings, with lives and loves and families and interests outside of the game.

In a week’s time, a multitude of free agents will effectively be on the dole and their representatives will be touting them around prospective employers for new contracts at the best salary they can achieve. The agents, after all, will take a cut. Clearly many conversations will have been had over the last six months, and the club’s recruitment team will undoubtedly have their lists of suitable candidates drawn up.

But this is a competitive market place and we should be showing intent and ambition in our targeting of potential new recruits. On the men’s side, the relegated trio of Burnley, Watford, and Norwich City might be able to pay top whack with their parachute payments, but despite having a decent number of Premier League seasons under their belts, they’re hardly the most glamorous of locations and are yo-yo clubs at best.

Sheffield Wednesday v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Play-Off Semi Final 2nd Leg
That feeling of playing for this club must be immense...
Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

Momentum and a sense of purpose will give the Lads an advantage over the middling lot - the perennial EFL Championship sides who might have had a couple of years up in the top flight once upon a time, but are now struggling to keep afloat. The examples of other traditionally big clubs, Wolves, Leeds, Sheffield United, Southampton and yes, even Manchester City, who have used the centrifugal force of promotion to slingshot their way through tier two.

Both out-of-contract footballers and those who might command a fee will want to work for, be trained by, and develop their games under the top coaches around. In Alex Neil on the men’s side and Mel Reay on the women’s side, Sunderland has leadership in the dressing that other clubs at our level will be envious of.

Loan players can come here from across Europe’s top leagues and find the best facilities at the Academy of Light. A pool, a state-of-the-art gym, and an indoor training barn for when the winter on the shores of the North Sea becomes intolerable. The work put in by KLD and Speakman to reorganise and update this element of the infrastructure of the club is probably undervalued but will be crucial when getting footballers to sign on the dotted line.

On the women’s side, we’re in the interesting position of being a part-time side in an increasingly full-time Barclays Women’s Championship, but that can be to our advantage too as quality, experienced footballers with careers outside of the game can find a home here.

Alongside that the top young talent in the region knows that Sunderland have the infrastructure around the club to allow them to study and play at one of the top 20 women’s teams in England, with the new Under 23 side providing a chance for more youngsters to get experience playing against fully-grown women in the Durham Leagues.

Sunderland Women v Newcastle United Ladies: FA Women’s National League Cup Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

I expect one or two marquee signings to be added to Mel Reay’s squad too, which will bring a renewed sense of intent and purpose to our campaign in a division where the gaps between the top and midtable sides in a short league season are marginal.

Both the men’s and women’s squads are already youthful, full of technically gifted players with bright futures ahead of them, as well as sound and steady experienced performers who know their way around the leagues they’re playing in.

We as fans shouldn’t expect massive amounts of change in terms of personnel, just quality added where it’s really needed - the Lasses signings of Abby Holmes and Nicki Gears, for example, are exactly the kinds of strategic and well-considered acquisitions that will serve the club well over the coming season and beyond.

We are demanding of our club as a fanbase - and rightly so. We should have high standards as supporters of this great and historic club, and it’s reassuring that both Neil and Reay are top head coaches with great pedigree who expect the best from their squads. We should be ambitious, but also patient.

We shouldn't expect everything to come all at once, but we shouldn’t be surprised if we find ourselves in a really strong position after the first part of the coming season. What we cannot ever do again - what I’m sure KLD will be highly conscious of - is let standards slip and he and Speakman must take the necessary steps to rectify things if they are not going right.

On reflection, the ruthlessness with which Lee Johnson was jettisoned was probably what ensured the Lads finally escaped League One in May. A safe finish in the Championships, in both men's and women’s games, are the bare minimum this club should expect from 2022/23.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One - Play Off - Final - Wembley Stadium Photo by Steven Paston/PA Images via Getty Images

New players should come here knowing that this is not a club or a fanbase that will tolerate any more failure. That’s the pressure that being a Sunderland AFC player brings - and the best will embrace it rather than fear it.

Finally, and this is not a side note but something that is actually integral to attracting the kind of personality who will fit with our club, Sunderland itself is a fantastic place to live. No other English city has two beautiful beaches, plus a rugged coastline and rolling countryside on its doorstep like we do.

It is a place that is undergoing a cultural renaissance and is where, despite the deep and enduring poverty of some parts of the community, a sense of togetherness and solidarity truly does exist.

If you were a mobile young professional football choosing a place to settle, a place to call home for the long term, a place where if you work hard and embrace the city and its people you will be quickly embraced as one of our own, Sunderland is that place.

It’s time to talk up our beautiful, vibrant, quirky, and football-obsessed city and our wonderful, passionate, historic football club. There’s nowhere else quite like it, and that’s why we love it so.

Plane Enthusiasts Attend The Sunderland Airshow Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images
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