It probably shouldn’t be for a variety of reasons, but I find myself as relaxed during this pre-season as have for as many years as I can remember.
It’s a pivotal season for the club with the aim of, at the very least, establishing ourselves as a Championship club and keeping on the path of instilling some of that stability stuff that we’ve heard so much about from fans who support other teams, but in the same way as the run-in to the end of the season I have found myself with a worrying excess of confidence and an alarming lack of worry or panic.
It’s a nice place to be, especially following the whole share distribution saga in the month following our Wembley exploits, which again didn’t really get me worried because I couldn’t see Kyril Louis-Dreyfus allowing his long-term project to go to sh*t just as it was getting somewhere.
The summer has backed up the theory that players have a desire to play for the club and we are an attractive proposition, with new contracts signed by Lynden Gooch, Anthony Patterson, Patrick Roberts and Bailey Wright that got the ball rolling.
It continued over the last week where we first confirmed the signature of 22-year-old Arsenal graduate Daniel Ballard, and then the rumoured ‘add-on’ fueled deal with Spurs that saw 21-year-old Jack Clarke put pen to paper on a four-year deal.
Both deals required persuasion, with other clubs also looking to take on two players with huge potential, players that inevitably come with hefty fees to soften the blow to Arsenal and Tottenham as they fear they may miss out on future gains for players who would unlikely have made a matchday squad throughout the season.
We’re pushing the boat out and look to be competing in the transfer market with some of the Championships big-hitters, which is reassuring, and it all goes into the mix of this odd feeling of liking what we see when it comes to a policy of recruitment.
In a bizarre way, even though we are moving up the football pyramid, I actually think our attackers, specifically Jack Clarke and Patrick Roberts, will actually prefer to be plying their trade in the Championship. There is less variety in how teams approach the game and with more sides wanting to be positive, especially with a lack of teams treating a trip to the Stadium of Light as their career’s cup final, may lead to more fixtures that are open that has the potential to allow these players to express themselves a bit more.
My feeling is that our squad is actually well suited to the Championship - we need a bit more strength in depth, but the quality is there.
The stadium of no light...
On the theme of positivity, the Lads kicked off their games in Portugal against Rangers at the weekend and even though it only lasted 45 minutes, we looked impressive and provided a little bit of insight on potential things we could look out for in the games to come.
Starting from the back, Trai Hume looked good at full-back and considering how highly-rated he was when we signed him it’s good to see him get more minutes under his belt and it will be interesting to see his progression this year.
Luke O’Nien in central defence was an interesting one. I’ve said previously how impressed I was when he moved back into that role due to injuries under Lee Johnson, but it was always difficult to tell just how good he was there in the grand scheme of things. We will see if this is a quirk of pre-season where player availability can sometimes dictate these things, but it could be one to watch.
At the other end of the pitch, our front line just looks and feels impressive. Pritchard and Roberts stood out and you can imagine these two providing headaches for opposition managers on how to deal with them during the upcoming season. With a summer of Alex Neil working with them on the training pitch, I’m looking forward to watching how our front line link up this year.
The Lads were all kitted out in our new gear and for me it looked pretty good during the game. In terms of replicas, I’ve never been one for buying the strip for myself so it’s difficult to talk about that side of things from an adult's point of view, but I doubt I will be getting one for my kids.
Being an exile means the price will be ~£50 for my 9-year-old - fifty quid for a top that suggests in the instructions provided for washing that it may well fall apart after removing from the washing machine following that first day they have run about in it.
With the choice of sponsor it also won’t have that on the kids kits, meaning that when combined with the ironed on badge, it begins to look like a “knock-off” top you see in markets during your summer holidays, but that you pay ~£50 for the privilege of ruining in a single wash.
It’s a shame because I was looking to take advantage of the positivity around our Wembley win and get their little one a load of Sunderland gear to boost his enthusiasm even further, but for weeks there wasn’t one top I could actually buy him from the club shop online.
I’d have been happy to spend a decent amount of money on a load of stuff but considering our recent promotion the options to buy online have been a bit of a disgrace over the summer. This might have had something to do with an observation during a recent trip back up to Sunderland where I saw Manchester United tops with Ronaldo emblazoned across the back and Manchester City tops amongst others, and I saw two kids wearing Sunderland tops, both wearing kits from more than five years ago.
It just feels like the club are missing a trick, but hopefully they can improve moving forward on this front.