During a curious period from 2008 to 2016, Sunderland became something of an outpost for ex-Tottenham Hotspur players.
If my knowledge of the club’s recent history is accurate, no fewer than ten former Spurs players washed up on the sunny shores of Roker Beach during that time.
From Steed Malbranque and Teemu Tainio, to Jermain Defoe and Darren Bent, ‘the good, the bad, and the indifferent’ is arguably a fair assessment of much of our recruitment from North London.
In recent times, the club seems to have rekindled its former fondness for recruiting Tottenham youth prospects, this time in the shape of Jack Clarke and Dennis Cirkin.
After glowing reports from dismayed Tottenham fans following the departure of a player they had deemed a ‘hot prospect’, the young defender certainly demonstrated flashes of ability during his first season in red and white, but often lacked consistency, and it was mismanagement that led to him and several of his teammates burning out during the winter months of the 2021/2022 campaign.
When Alex Neil took the reins, however, Cirkin began to regain some of his early-season form during the build-up to our eventual playoff triumph.
Despite that, doubts were cast over his suitability for a more demanding league, and murmurings of potential left-back recruits were ever present in conversations amongst fans during the summer.
In the early weeks of 2022/2023, Neil has utilised a formation that has seen Cirkin deployed at left centre back, alongside Danny Batth and Daniel Ballard/Luke O’Nien. After five league games, and on the evidence of what we have seen so far, it would not be unfair to suggest that he has been a revelation in his new role.
It goes without saying that the Championship is technically superior to League One, and is home to a style of football that has suited Cirkin well.
The reliance on footballing prowess outweighs the sheer dependence on physicality, whereas last season it was the opposite. This undeniably contributed to Cirkin’s dip in form and his struggle to adapt to such a physically demanding league.
Thus far, he has been a constant and assured presence at the back, and his confidence, both in and out of possession has improved significantly. Playing alongside the likes of Batth and Ballard has helped him to improve defensively, and the issue of often being exposed has been remedied, as he has fortified the left channel with Jack Clarke at left wing-back.
During last Saturday’s win away at Stoke, Cirkin was exceptional and was unquestionably the best player on the pitch.
He made tackle after tackle, broke up the play, and was always seeking to carry the ball out from the back. Essentially, he’s now beginning to look exactly like the player we hoped we had brought to the club.
As deadline day approaches, many clubs (ourselves included) will be attempting to acquire reinforcements.
Kristjaan Speakman and the recruitment team will be quietly confident that if Cirkin’s initial displays are anything to go by, the addition of another left-back will simply be an insurance policy. Indeed, if Neil is planning to stick with a back three, there may be an argument to suggest that another left-back will not be signed at all.