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Fan Letters: An assessment of Speakman’s recruitment at Sunderland

In today’s mixed mailbag there’s praise for our travelling support, a big overview of SAFC’s recruitment under Speakman, and open letter to Alex Neil from RR reader Bob.

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

As an American SAFC fan one of the best parts of promotion to the Championship is getting to watch the lads on TV more regularly, so I was thrilled to get to watch both the Reading and Watford games live this week.

Of course the team is fun to watch and has so much heart and I’m thrilled with the results but I felt compelled to write in to praise the incredible away support. For 90+ minutes of both games the sold out away ends made more noise than the rest of the stadium. The chants were loud and clear and strong and a great reflection of who the club is.

To those of you who made the round trips and chanted your hearts out we hear you, we’re proud of you, and keep up the great work. While I know none of this is new to the club I still felt myself beaming with pride to support it.

Haway,

Max - Denver, CO, USA

Ed’s Note [Rich]: Cheers for your letter, Max, it’s always really good to hear from our readers and Sunderland fans around the world. As an exile myself, but only on the other side of Britain, I’m also loving the fact that the Lads have been the televised game on Sky so often already this season, a privilege that comes with being by far and away the best supported club in the EFL.

Our away support is always amazing, and it’s (almost always) a brilliant experience to be in amongst the however many thousand we’ve been allocated. It’s great that we’ve not got a side who are capable of providing more of those magic moments for the travelling fans.

Watford v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship - Vicarage Road Photo by Steven Paston/PA Images via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

I’ve been wanting to sit and go through his signings for a while now, finally got round to it. If this is too long for your letters feature feel free to steal it and make it an article with your own opinions, I just thought it would be interesting to get a full perspective of Speakmans reign. HAWAYTL!

Speakman has made mistakes but his positives gigantically outweigh his negatives

Kristjaan Speakman was appointed at Sunderland football club in December 2020, ahead of the imminent takeover by Kyril Louis Dreyfus. Days before he was appointed, Phil Parkinson took charge of his last game, a 1-1 draw against Fleetwood town with Danny Graham, Remi Matthews, Josh Scowen and Connor McLaughlin all starting and Callum Mcfadzean coming off the bench. Over the next 20 months the squad was transformed from one lying 8th in league one into one that currently lies 5th in the championship. Below is each permanent signing made by Speakman throughout his tenure.

1st Window - Winter 2021

On the 6th January 2021 Sunderland are 11th in League One, throughout the January window they make only 2 permanent signings due to the ongoing talks regarding the ownership of the club.

Signed:

  • Ross Stewart
  • Carl Winchester

Second Window - Summer 2021

Sunderland finish the season by welcoming back fans to the Stadium of Light for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this they go down 3-2 on aggregate and lose out to Lincoln City, forcing preparations for a fourth season in League One. This was the first window under the new owner Kyril Louis Dreyfus

Signed:

  • Dennis Cirkin
  • Niall Huggins
  • Corry Evans
  • Alex Pritchard

Third Window - Winter 2022

Sunderland had a brilliant December culminating in a 5-0 win over promotion rivals Sheffield Wednesday, this was followed by a tumultuous January which ended the managerial reign of Lee Johnson following a 6-0 defeat.

Signed:

  • Trai Hume
  • Patrick Roberts
  • Jermaine Defoe
  • Danny Batth
  • Jay Matete

Fourth Window - Summer 2022

Sunderland finally got promoted from league one, beating Wycombe 2-0 in the play off final. They now prepared for Championship football and how the squad would adapt to the added pressures and challenges.

Signed:

  • Alex Bass
  • Jack Clarke
  • Aji Alese
  • Leon Dajaku
  • Abdoullah Ba
  • Jewison Bennette
  • Daniel Ballard

The second part of this is opinion based, You can disagree but I’d encourage everyone to assess each of the permanent signings and to see whether in your own opinions there are more good than bad -

Ross Stewart - Monumental Success

How did we manage to sign that man with next to no competition. Easily the best signing we have made in recent years and is worth tens of millions of pounds in the current market. Fired us to promotion and is just a top striker. Unbelievable Signing

Carl Winchester - Success

Winiesta has filled in at full back, centre back and centre mid and has been pretty solid and reliable in all. Also had a blistering start to the 22/23 and couldn’t stop scoring. It’s a shame to see him depart for Shrewsbury on loan but he more than played his part in promotion

Dennis Cirkin - Success

To think we went from Callum Mcfadzean to this lad is amazing, getting him permanently was a massive coup. Looks right at home at championship level and it’s easy to forget he is only 20 years old.

Niall Huggins - Jury’s out

The versatile attacking fullback is not one we have seen much of in red and white, hopefully he can come back from his injury strong, but impossible to judge this signing currently

Corry Evans - Success

There were large parts of the fan base calling for him to be dropped when his form hit rock bottom towards the end of Johnson’s reign, probably rightly so. But since then he has become steadfast in midfield and now feels irreplaceable. Commands the young team superbly and is an excellent captain.

Alex Pritchard - Monumental Success

How did we sign him when we were a league one football club!? How!? He’s an absolute genius with the ball at his feet, routinely bamboozles defenders and creates chances, and even a premier league Arsenal team couldn’t get anywhere near him. Unbelievable signing

Trai Hume - Jury’s out

What we have seen of him in a Sunderland shirt has been positive, but he just doesn’t get any minutes. Probably isn’t helped by Gooch’s terrific form, another one where it’s too early to tell.

Patrick Roberts - Success

Signing any 24 year old from Manchester City as a league one club is going to raise expectations, but he can play Patrick Roberts. Was a huge part in helping us gain promotion and is starting to show his class in the championship

Jermaine Defoe - Failure

At the time there was a gigantic tide of pressure on Speakman, to this day I’m not sure why. Fans were absolutely baying for the signature of Jermaine Defoe. Speakman gave in to the pressure and it was a poor decision.

Danny Batth - Success

Really steadied us at the back and was hugely influential in Alex Neil’s watertight league one defence

Jay Matete - Jury’s Out

He’s had really good games, he’s had really bad games. He’s only 21 so perhaps consistency might come? Either way I think it’s too soon to tell, he could either kick on and become a decent championship midfielder or slip back into league one with a different club.

Alex Bass - Jury’s out

Bit of a Bizarre signing for me this, we needed a number 2 but I thought either an experienced GK or a young one with potential was the way to go. To be honest I’m still a bit upset we didn’t sign Hoffman who I thought was a perfect number 2 despite some of the stick he got. Either way he’s only played 1 game so jury’s still out

Jack Clarke - Success

So many pivotal crosses at just the right time, the one for Broadhead against Gillingham sticks out. Now seems to be adding even more goals and assists in the championship. A good signing.

Aji Alese - Success

I nearly put this as Jury’s out as he hasn’t played very much, but against Reading and Watford he was just really bloody good. A more than capable back up to cirkin and we might be thinking of ways to fit them both in the XI for Preston

Leon Dajaku - Jury’s out

Very similar to Matete, he’s been really good, he’s been really bad. There’s a player in there somewhere I think but it could go either way

Daniel Ballard - Success

Again a bit early to call it a success but what we have seen of him was very good and hopefully he can come back into the fold again at some point this season.

Abdoullah Ba - Jury’s out

Far too early to judge but Mowbray seems to like his talent

Jewison Bennette - Jury’s out

Still too early to judge but you just get the feeling there’s something special about this lad. His feet are rapid, can’t wait to see more of him. I was unreasonably happy to see this Costa Rican 18 year old whos been at the club a few weeks score his first goal, and I’m okay with that!

Conclusion

All in all I make that 2 monumentally successful signings, 8 success stories, 7 who the jury is still out on and only 1 real failure. Not bad for 20 months and four Transfer windows! It would be wrong not to also highlight the negatives, the circus that followed the Lee Johnson sacking was a big one, the Defoe signing, maybe he could have protected the club a bit more with the Alex Neil situation as well. But I think we’ve got a real gem in Kristjaan and his scouting of players seemingly unknown to other clubs is amazing. The club is better off for having him and hopefully it will continue that way.

Kieran O’Leary

Ed’s Note [Rich]: Thanks for such a long and detailed contribution, Kieran. I think the only one missing from your list of Speakman signings is young Edouard Michut who, to be fair, we’ve not yet seen on the pitch. However, I think he’ll be one who, as you say about Pritchard, we look back on in years to come and think “how did we manage to sign him in the Championship”.

The Sporting Director has made mistakes, that’s absolutely clear, but he and Stauart Harvey, with the support of KLD in the background, are implementing a recruitment plan for the men’s side that is evidently working. The kind of footballers we now have is a massive step up from those we’ve had even in our latter days struggling against relegation from the Premier League.

The really hard part comes when they start being picked off by clubs further up the pyramid of European football and the club cashes in on their investments. The only way of avoiding this is by ensuring that - whilst not getting ahead of ourselves - our stay in tier two is as short as possible.

Edouard Michut Signs For Sunderland AFC Photo by Ian Horrocks/Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

I attach a letter that I sent to Alex Neil c/o Stoke City Football Club. You will not be surprised to know, that I did not receive a reply. This shows the true measure of the man. He had no real connection to our club, and only became our manager to further his career, at our expense. Oh, and the money may have had something to do with it,

I would ask all our fans to get behind Tony Mowbray, who at least understands the area, and support the club in the only way that true fans can.

Dear Sir,

I would first of all like to thank you for achieving the aim of getting Sunderland promoted to the Championship. Having supported Sunderland for over 60 years, it is fantastic to see us one step from the Premiership. However I must express my disappointment at the way you left the club. I fully understand that you are a family man, and I have no problem with you moving clubs to be close to them. If, as is quoted, you have doubled your salary, then fair play to you.

I do feel that you should have waited after the Norwich game, and not left the club in the lurch. It was also galling to see you in the stand at Blackburn for the Stoke game, while you were still Sunderland boss. After all, you had just signed a contract 4 weeks earlier.

I personally believe that you will regret leaving Sunderland, as you could have become a legend, and had a statue outside the ground, like Bob Stokoe, and had 40000 fans cheering your name at every game.

I do however wish you the best of luck in the future, but do hope that we beat you at the Stadium of Light. I look forward to your comments.

Yours Sincerely,

Robert West

Bob West, a Sunderland fan for over 60 years.

Ed’s Note [Rich]: That’s a really nice letter, Bob. I think it’s actually the kind of honest and sober assessment of the situation that Alex Neil himself, on reflection, will probably agree with. I do hope he reads it and responds in the generous spirit that it was sent. He’s a football man, I’m sure he will understand the sentiment behind it.

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