I’ve never really eagerly anticipated a transfer window as a Sunderland fan, particularly given the fact our plan up until the arrival of Kyril and Speakman wasn’t a plan at all - more a terrible and expensive habit you just can’t kick; a description you could apply to at least half our acquisitions for a good few decades.
It was similar to playing Guess Who for money, only instead of the cartoon features of the classic but utterly pointless board game you may be familiar with, you were faced with an array of Premier League and Championship journeymen and a smattering of dubiously recommended foreigners and young lads, presumably scouted by Stevie Wonder.
It was ridiculous for the most part and generally filled you with nothing but despair, something you would try to alleviate by convincing yourself at least one or two of these lads would come good here.
I tried so hard at times I may have caused lasting damage to both my body and my mind.
I don’t miss the days when Maggie Byrne would allegedly use her contacts and later control of the club to make profits from the largely average players on her books, something I occasionally forget when thinking about her time here due to that whole ‘covering for a nonce’ episode she was directly responsible for.
I don’t miss the likes of De Fanti and his hilarious but frightening ideas, the main one being “all this scarily average shite couldn’t be all that bad, could it?”.
Cast those nets wide and deep enough and surely something that spilled upon the deck of the trawler was bound to make a lasting impression, much like Roberto himself if you’ve ever seen a picture of the man.
Even prior to such messianic cult figures in modern football recruitment as Ellis Short and his band of overpaid court jesters, we were always very aware of our limitations as a club. Sir Bob Murray and Sir Tom Cowie before him were pretty well off by local standards but sadly lacked the deep pockets of their contemporaries. It’s fair to say they were lacking a great deal of foresight due to their inherently stubborn nature (and in many ways their own self belief), and they were also all too fond of putting their faith in some lad they just had a drink with.
Still, I found myself in recent years - a little while before we fell so predictably and dramatically - longing for those years back. The enthralling drama and genius of Denis Smith, the fantastic highs under Peter Reid - both men who were much more hands on with the people they wanted brought in during the days where signings were largely dependent on a brown envelope stuffed with cash and a decent pub lunch.
This longing continued through the Donald and Methven crisis, it was made worse by the infamous signing of a flame retardant Will Grigg - an ode to the recruitment standards of the late Martin Bain I believe - and until the arrival of KLD it just became quite unbearable.
Now we exist at a time where, with the exception of the Defoe madness of last January, we can genuinely get excited by who we might sign next.
As pointed out by Chris on our latest pod, the departure of Ellis Simms doesn’t so much cause worry as it does provide Kristjaan Speakman an opportunity to bring in yet another player nobody would’ve considered an option.
Spare a thought for Simms, by the way, as in my humble opinion he’s been thoroughly done over by Lampard and his parent club Everton - hopefully it’s not something that will impede his development significantly over the next few years.
Nothing the Sunderland recruitment team does now is without reason. Every player looked at is judged on what we need most right now at various levels, any skills or attributes we can actually utilise in the short-term, and/or value we can increase markedly to eventually profit from in the long-term. It sounds like something really obvious most clubs should do already but it requires a little bit of nous and intelligence from the people responsible for such matters.
In January of 2022 I was critical of the club - Speakman specifically - for the sacking of a manager who had got the Lads to third place in the division below, and I was less than convinced that the return of an almost fully retired striker was at all what we needed.
I was also slightly concerned with the lack of defenders given our lack of depth at the time, but within several months we achieved something we’d failed to do three times in as many years - dragging our way into the Championship with the sheer force of will by a bald man who eventually abandoned us for a bigger paycheck.
I conceded that maybe, just maybe, that Kristjaan lad there knew a few things I didn’t.
My confidence in his decision-making was bolstered yet further by the summer transfer business. The arrival of Dan Ballard, Aji Alese, Édouard Michut, Abdoullah Ba, Jewison Bennette, Ellis Simms, and the absolute baller that is Amad Diallo did wonders for the club and my confidence in those in charge.
So here we are in January of 2023, a Jaffa Cake-laden Tony Mowbray leading the troops as we sit just outside the Championship playoff places, all about to see what wonders if any can be achieved by our sporting director and head of recruitment, and here I am absolutely loving the excitement I mentioned above.
We do have the ongoing Ross Stewart contract negotiations to worry ourselves sick about, but much like Gav on our latest pod, I’m “pretty chilled about it all”. This isn’t an advertisement for the podcast but now that I’ve started, it appears I can’t stop.
The other thing about our business I love, I hear you ask?
Well I know within a few weeks of writing this I’ll be in love with yet another player, and while I don’t even know his name at this moment, I get the feeling I’ll be screaming it joyfully at the heavens for the next year or so as he makes the best of the opportunity the club and gaffer hands him.
This is the Sunderland of today and the more time passes, the less I miss the Sunderland of yesterday, so here’s to the future lads and lasses.
Ha’way the lads.