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Abdoullah Ba Signs For Sunderland AFC

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Window of opportunity: Time will tell whether Sunderland’s recruitment strategy pays off

Our squad is not perfect and is perhaps short in certain areas, but we have kept the core of last season’s group together and augmented it with some exciting talent, writes Phil West

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

As the final hours and minutes of the summer transfer window elapsed on Thursday night, it became increasingly clear that there was to be no last-minute drama on Wearside.

Admittedly, Wednesday had been a blur of activity, with the signings of three new players confirmed before and during the Rotherham game, but as the deadline approached, there was no need for any dramatic live reports from the Academy of Light. Indeed, the only rumour of any real intrigue concerned Vito Mannone, but that eventually came to nothing as the clock struck midnight.

And that was that.

Another summer of transfer activity done and dusted, leaving Sunderland, and Tony Mowbray, with a squad that contains as much potential as it does intrigue about exactly how effectively the players will take to Championship football, and whether the club’s new ethos will be vindicated.

As you look back over the past three months, the most noticeable point is that Sunderland have lowered the average age of their squad to a shade over twenty three years.

The older and wiser heads of Bailey Wright, Alex Pritchard, Danny Batth, Patrick Roberts, Corry Evans and Luke O’Nien form a reassuringly experienced core, but around that has been a major injection of youth and vigour.

Sunderland v Rotherham - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

That we have been able to strike deals with the likes of Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United, for the services of Edouard Michut and Amad Diallo respectively, illustrates that there is an altogether more structured and forward-thinking approach to our transfer business nowadays.

In addition, Abdoullah Ba and Jewison Bennette have arrived with significant potential from Le Havre and Herediano; Daniel Ballard was making a huge impression before being injured, and securing the services of Jack Clarke on a permanent deal was significant, too.

Sunderland Announce Permanent Signing of Jack Clarke Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Throw the promising Aji Alese and the big-game experience of Roberts into the mix, and what we have is as unique a blend of footballers as I can remember in my time supporting the club.

The scattergun approach of the League One years has been jettisoned in favour of a measured and balanced approach that has seen us cast our net wider in an attempt to unearth gems for both the present and the future. It is the full realisation of a vision that was born just under two years ago, when Kyril Louis-Dreyfus arrived at the club.

As for the negatives of this summer?

We did end the window without managing to lure a ‘physical midfield general’ to the Stadium of Light, and despite O’Nien and Anthony Patterson’s impressive recent performances, the addition of a rock-like central defender and an experienced number two goalkeeper might have set more minds at ease.

Sunderland v Rotherham United - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Fundamentally, it feels as though the club is placing a high premium on players who can fill different roles when necessary, and nowhere more so in forward areas.

Sunderland do seem to be following the trend for ‘hybrid’ attackers who can drift wide but also play centrally when needed, and given how well-stocked we are, it doesn’t feel as though goals will be hard to come by this season.

Overall, would it be grossly unfair to rate the window as a 7.5/10, with the footnote of, ‘generally very good, but could’ve been slightly better’? After all, very few of our Championship rivals have engaged in eye-catching transfer splurges, and there is no doubt in my mind that this squad could be safe in mid-table or even higher by the time the January window opens.

And what of the man overseeing the process, the man who had to deal with the departure of Alex Neil and who, to his credit, has thrown himself into the task of overhauling the football infrastructure with no shortage of effort?

Kristjaan Speakman is an undeniably divisive figure, but if we are to be brutally honest about things, the man does not necessarily need to be popular. He needs to be efficient, level-headed, and to take the decisions that benefit the football club. That he moved swiftly to replace Neil does suggest that the lessons from Lee Johnson’s departure have been learned, and that is encouraging.

Sunderland v Rotherham United - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Since his arrival, Speakman’s strike rate for signings who have contributed significantly is undeniably impressive (Frederik Alves and the ridiculous flirtation with Jermain Defoe aside), and although his unique and often-polarising style of communication is in sharp contrast to Neil’s and certainly Mowbray’s, on the pitch is where judgement should be made,

The club has stood firmly by its new approach and now they will turn it over to the players and the coaches in order to kick it into a higher gear.

Potential is useless without being fulfilled, and under the calm and experienced stewardship of Mowbray, there is no reason why this group of players cannot lead the club into an exciting new era.

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