The 2020/21 season was our third straight campaign in League One, and one which saw us recruit players to reflect the situation that we found ourselves in.
The summer window felt as though we were filling up the squad with quantity rather than quality, and the re-signing of striker Danny Graham for a second failed spell on Wearside was perhaps the prime example of this.
Add into this the acquisition of Callum McFadzean, who in my opinion is potentially the worst full back I’ve seen play for the club (although there’s stiff competition) and it’s easy to see why we were huffing and puffing in the third tier.
The list of incoming players during the summer window were underwhelming at the time.
Now, over two years later, they are downright depressing. The plan for recruitment at the club seemed to be non-existent, and it showed - watching the likes of McFadzean and Graham turn out for us when we weren’t allowed to attend games was hard to take.
We were 11th when the January window opened, but we would at least end the month with two of our better signings of the season. Carl Winchester and Ross Stewart joined and although the former looks to have played his last match for Sunderland, they are both still on the books for very different reasons.
The transfer revolution which got underway the following season and has continued on to the present day is nothing short of remarkable. Gone are the days of the club signing over the hill journeymen seemingly on the lookout for an easy final payday.
The policy of signing young and exciting prospects and giving them the opportunity to play with freedom and without a manager trying to imprint his own ideology on them.
The windows of the 2021-22 season were the first real steps towards this new model. Dennis Cirkin and Niall Huggins were arguably the first pieces of the jigsaw. The other pieces would soon fall into place. Jack Clarke’s loan has since turned permanent, and plenty of others have followed the same path.
@RokerReport I cannot imagine this being said by anyone when we were selling Josh Maja or signing Danny Graham.— Mike Stubbs (@JMikeStubbs) January 26, 2023
Even with Evans injury, I cannot remember being so excited about the second half of a season for many, many years pic.twitter.com/dsvWTQ4LiW
Just over a year ago we signed Trai Hume, a young defender who in recent weeks has staked a strong claim to the right back position with some great performances. In this window we also went out and brought in Patrick Roberts and Danny Batth - both of whom, 12 months on, are key players in a higher division.
The step up to the Championship did not sway us from the path of this new recruitment model. Ballard, Diallo, Michut, Ba and Bennette were a mix of long and short term additions to this new Sunderland. Not satisfied with this, we’ve gone out and added further to the ranks. Pierre Ekwah and Isaac Lihadji are both permanent and long term additions to a project which is turning us into a club almost unrecognisable to that of even two years ago.
Under the tenure of Kristian Speakman and his team, we have stepped up this move towards a model of purchasing, producing and nurturing talented players in an increasingly healthy environment.
We’re not done in the January window, and with Joe Geldhart set to be next through the door you can’t help but feel very excited for the remainder of the season and beyond.
The days of signing players with the calibre of Will Grigg, Danny Graham and Callum McFadzean of this world are over. A new era is here and Sunderland AFC is, for the first time in far too long, moving in the right direction.