How big of a hole has he left?
It all happened so quickly... yet here we are, four days into January talking about Sunderland needing to replace a departed player. A player who left us less than two days before a game - that player is Ellis Simms, the Everton loanee who has gone back to his side as they seek to improve their own fortunes in front of goal in the Premier League.
And whilst we could debate Simms’ ability til the cows come home, he leaves with our best wishes and my only hope for him is that this all ends up being worthwhile. Who knows - he could go back there, score goals for fun in the top flight and become a first choice centre forward for Everton. I certainly hope that is the case, and that he has a great career from this point as he certainly never let himself down in a Sunderland shirt.
I don’t know if it was the quick nature of the turnaround (you know what it’s like - sometimes these things play out in the press for weeks and cause a massive fuss) or whether it’s because we had a game so soon after he left, or whether it was because we’re pretty confident that we’ll be fine for the time being with what we’ve got, but it seems to have breezed by.
Yet despite having who I believe to be the best striker in the league on our books in Ross Stewart, you have to admit that we’re dicing with fate a little too much by only having one recognised centre forward around the place. We saw what happened when Stewart and Simms got injured earlier in the season - we got by, but it was a struggle.
Yet, even before Simms left I think most of us recognised that Sunderland needed to sign a striker in this window - now, we’re probably looking at bringing in two.
Permanent or loan?
Prior to January, you’d imagine an awful lot of work has gone in from a scouting and recruitment perspective to shape us up for this particular transfer window.
Simms was a loan - he wasn’t our player. As such, before his departure was even a thing I’d assume that we were looking at bringing in another forward on a permanent basis to add to what we already had, futureproofing ourselves for when Simms inevitably returned to Everton and we needed to look forward without being significantly weakened.
That remains the case. The club have been looking abroad for potential hidden gems, and the name of a young striker who plays for one of the top teams in Portugal that was given to me a number of weeks ago certainly suggested to me that we’re trying to be clever with the way we recruit in order to get a head start on the competition. Regardless of what happens with Simms, we needed that permanent option this month, and that still applies.
Whatever we were planning already needs to carry on. But, in terms of replacing Ellis Simms we have to probably look at the loan market again.
Some fans on social media have suggested Aston Villa’s Cameron Archer as a potential replacement, and he’s certainly someone I can see that we’d be interested in. He had a cracking loan spell with Preston in the second half of last season at this level and scored goals, but wasn’t allowed to leave Villa Park in the summer and has found opportunities in the Premier League hard to come by.
You’d imagine he’s available and whilst almost every club in the Championship would be happy to have him, Sunderland are in a favourable position to sign that profile of young striker in this window because we have the evidence to show that we are the best place to be for these lads who need the right environment to develop.
The strongest link at time of writing, however, has been to 24-year-old Nottingham Forest striker Sam Surridge, and yesterday it was reported by Keith Downie and Rob Dorset of Sky Sports News that Sunderland fancy the ex-Bournemouth forward on a loan deal.
The big issue is that our chief competition for his signing, according to Downie, are Burnley - the current league leaders. That said, Sunderland may still be viewed as a more attractive proposition for him based on playing style and the amount of game time he’s likely to receive here as opposed to at Turf Moor, but we’ll see how things play out - it could just be agent guff for all we know.
Surridge would be seen as a replacement for Ellis Simms. But Sunderland spinning plates - there’s others of interest too. No decision yet on the future of Ross Stewart but as previously reported he wants to stay #SAFC— Keith Downie (@SkySports_Keith) January 3, 2023
Whether it’s Surridge, Archer or someone else, you have to admit that we are well-placed to pick up some of the best players waiting in the wings at Premier League clubs.
Playing in front of 40,000+ fans, in an elite stadium, with an elite training facility, for a manager who gives chances to young players and wants to play attacking football, with a squad that has no real egos and where they all work for one another - it’s probably the best option out there for any young player looking for a move... but I am biased.
Height or pace... or both?!
One of Simms’ greatest attributes was his height - and whilst I don’t think he always used his size to his advantage, it meant that we had a presence in both boxes... something fairly essential when you look at our squad and note how many of them are under 6ft tall.
That said, I don’t believe signing a striker with height is necessarily a priority.
If anything, I’d like to see us sign a player who is maybe a little more nimble and can give defenders a hard time with their pace and movement - though, if I was being picky I’d like someone that has it all!
The key thing for me isn’t in bringing in a carbon copy of Ellis Simms, but in bringing in someone who suits the profile of the team. Ross Stewart’s greatest attribute is his workrate and for me, a striker will only push him and compliment him fully if they’re willing to try and work as hard as he does with and without the ball.
If they do, everything else will fall into place.
The model dictates the path we take!
Look, whilst I think we were probably taken by surprise when Everton decided to bring Ellis Simms back, I think that the current model behind the scenes at the club ensures that we prepare for all eventualities, and you’d like to think we were prepared for something like this happening regardless.
One thing’s for certain - we won’t be signing over-the-hill League One journeymen, nor will we be raiding the free agent list for whatever stragglers have been left behind.
The way we’ve recruited over the last few seasons has been seriously impressive and I have full faith in the ability of Stuart Harvey to find improvements on what we’ve already got. Ellis Simms did a fine job for us, but he’s certainly not irreplaceable and I’m actually expecting us to sign someone who will make us even better than we already are.
We’re in a far better position now than we were in the summer, because in the summer we were recruiting as a newly-promoted side from League One that nobody really knew much about. Now, we’re a team challenging towards the top end of the division that have proven we can play some cracking football - we’re an attractive proposition.
So whilst losing Simms has been an inconvenience, I’m sure we’ll be fine.