Dear Roker Report,
There are four days to go before the Coventry game. So far, we have signed two centre halves, lost three out of four of pre-season friendlies against league opposition, and have been held to a draw by a non-league team.
It’s time for some brutal honesty: this is just not good enough.
I’m afraid that Kristjaan Speakman and the rest of his Birmingham City academy failures are simply out of their depth. People keep telling me that they are happy with the quality of the recent signings made by Speakman, but I just don’t see it.
Since he joined our club in December 2020, he has been solely responsible for the recruitment of players, and he has brought in numerous players either on loan, or as permanent signings. Apart from Ross Stewart and Nathan Broadhead (when fit) has any one of those players consistently stood out, game after game, as being too good for League One? No, they have not.
It has been crystal clear to everyone that, during the last two transfer windows, we desperately needed two strikers to support Stewart, and this became even more evident when Broadhead was injured last season. This should have been Speakman’s number one priority for the last year, yet here we are, four days before the new season starts and we are scrambling around to buy a striker. It’s just not good enough.
In my opinion, too much emphasis is being given to Speakman’s ‘data driven’ recruitment strategy. We need someone to make a footballing judgement: having watched the player, can he play at this level?
As a reward for the supporters’ loyalty and to minimise the likelihood of an immediate return to League One, I would have liked us to be looking at some sort of stellar signing, a leader with proven Championship quality, a player who can look after and improve the youngsters, and a someone that could help to stabilise us, and eventually lead us to the Premier League.
I’m not expecting them to spend a ridiculous amount of money on one player but having spent the majority of their careers at academy level, would the recruitment team have the ability to identify such a player?
I know everyone is going to say we were unbeaten for fifteen games, and he got us promoted, but I was not convinced by Alex Neil’s appointment, and his interview after the Accrington game set the alarm bells ringing for me.
In what was a poor-quality league, how many of those games did we win comfortably, how many of those games did we dominate for ninety minutes, and how many of those games did we look a different class to the opposition? Out of the fifteen league games played since Alex Neil took over, we won only two games by a margin of three goals or more.
According to Speakman, we recruited a coach based on their ability to get the best out of the players. However, Alex Neil, by his own admission, rarely picked the same team twice as he changed the team and formation to counteract the strengths of the opposition.
Forgive me, but this wasn’t the Champions League- this was League One. Call me old-fashioned, but why were we worrying about the opposition? Just pick your best team, play the system that best suits that team, and let the opposition worry about you.
When he spoke after the Accrington game, Neil was making noises about how the teams in the Championship play different styles, so it looks like he’ll be constantly changing the team and formation again, based on the opposition.
He also said after the Accrington defeat that it’s a hard place to come to, but with all due respect, they finished 12th bottom of League One. If we are to survive in the Championship, we should not be losing to Accrington. Neil also implied after that game that sometimes a defeat can be a good thing as it gives you the kick up the backside you need. Can someone please tell him that, prior to Monday’s game against Hartlepool, we had lost three out of our four pre-season games.
According to Neil, the Accrington game had no relevance to Sunday’s game against Coventry. Again, call me old-fashioned, but in your last senior pre-season game, one week before the season starts, you play the team you think will start against Coventry.
Too many times last season, we looked like a team that hadn’t played together, and that’s because they hadn’t. After Accrington, Neil talked about the Hartlepool fixture as being a chance to get playing time into the players’ legs. Most of the players who played against Hartlepool are key members of the first-team squad, yet they could only draw with a non-league team that made six changes at half time.
This is just not good enough, and I hope for the sake of my fellow supporters that I am proven wrong.
Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi Steve, and thank you for your letter. You raise a number of interesting points, and I’ll try to address as many of them as I can.
Regarding Kristjaan Speakman, I do think his time at Sunderland has been mixed. He has brought many players to the club who have made a significant impact, such as Alex Pritchard, Callum Doyle, Dennis Cirkin, and Danny Batth, in addition to the players you mentioned. He has overseen a significant overhaul of our transfer policy, and has put a much more sensible structure in place. That said, he needs to convince people that his vision can be fully realised, and that will require a lot of hard work.
Of course there is still a lot of work to do in the transfer market, and ultimately, Speakman should be judged by how strong the squad is when the window closes. A deal for Everton’s Ellis Simms looks to be in the works, and if we could also sign Nathan Broadhead, that would be an excellent double signing.
On the subject of the ‘big-name signing’ you referred to, I don’t believe that was ever going to happen. They might surprise us yet, with some time left in the window, but I would be amazed if such a player did sign.
It has been made clear that there is a new model in place now, and that money won’t be spent for the sake of it. It is a divisive issue, but if it leads to a brighter future, it will be vindicated.
Regarding Alex Neil, I believe that he has done a truly stellar job since he arrived.
He addressed the issues that were hindering us, made us harder to beat, and delivered the promotion that we all craved. I think his willingness to change the team and system when needed is a positive. It shows good adaptability, and there is no doubt that, in the Championship, we will face different kinds of challenges on a weekly basis, and Neil will continue to make changes wherever they are needed.
Dear Roker Report,
I’ve been a Sunderland supporter from the age of seven, and I’m fifty seven now.
In that time, I’ve seen some really good shirts, and some not so good. I know that our home shirts don’t change that much (we do wear red and white stripes, after all) but I’ve always looked forward to our away and third shirts being a bit more colourful and different.
Yes we’ve had some hits and misses with our away shirts too, but our 2022/2023 away shirt is so boring!
I’m not a big fan of it. Maybe I expected more, but I think we needed something better than we got (especially considering the price we pay for these shirts). That said, I will probably still buy it, as I’m Sunderland ‘till I die.
Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi Wayne, and thanks for getting in touch!
I do agree with you on this particular topic. We have had some stunning away shirts over the years, but for me, the 2022/2023 design is bland and somewhat forgettable, especially compared to the beautiful shirt we wore away from home last season.
Nevertheless, a lot of people gave it the seal of approval when it was released, so clearly it’s gone down well with quite a large section of the fanbase!