With a clear (and so far) successful recruitment strategy in place, implemented by the initially divisive but now widely lauded Kristjaan Speakman, it can be easy to bury the scars left by the various transfer misdealings of former failed owners.
The Callum McFadzean’s and Will Grigg’s of transfer windows past are signings that are collectively and deliberately suppressed by the memories of Sunderland fans alike.
Scrolling back through the centre back pairings pre-last year’s partnership of Bailey Wright and Danny Batth it can become quite the traumatic ordeal, with names like Glenn Loovens, Joel Lynch and Jack Baldwin enough to spark a bout of PTSD.
Yet under Jack Ross, the one exception to the rule was Jordan Willis.
He was a redeeming anomaly.
There was a genuine sense of logic in the acquisition of his services from Coventry in the Summer of 2019 which simultaneously had a knock-on effect on our future centre back purchases, with the acquisition of the likes of Dion Sanderson, Callum Doyle, Danny Batth, and Aji Alese showing that we were prepared to be clever in the way we recruited defenders in order to bring in players that had a particular set of skills.
It was announced only yesterday that Willis had officially left Sunderland. After successfully rehabilitating following a two-year absence with an ACL tear, he had subsequently been training with the squad to regain fitness.
Although officially released at the end of his contract last summer, Willis heads for pastures new as one of few departing players to be universally rated and liked by our fanbase.
He’s a dynamic defender who combined traits we were in desperate need of before his arrival, and during his lengthy spell on the sidelines. Tall, athletic, aerially dominant, and technically astute, Willis was a player who at the peak of his powers in a Sunderland shirt looked destined for Championship football - something he’s been cruelly robbed of by a series of injury problems that are now hopefully behind him.
Naturally, there is an air of frustration around Willis’ time on Wearside and what could have been if his last eighteen months weren’t spent injury stricken.
With there being some doubt over whether he’d even lace up his boots again it’s great news that the 28-year-old can continue in the profession, hopefully with a prosperous remainder of his career ahead of him.
Having a pacy defender who enjoyed defending but was also very comfortable with the ball at his feet was a real rarity at League One level, attributes that will bode him and his agent well when looking for a new club.
After what seems like an eternity watching from the stands I imagine that it will be a refreshing sight to see Willis back out on the pitch playing competitive football again, wherever that may be. What’s for certain is that whoever gets him will get a model professional who gives it his all - something exemplified by the way he’s worked tirelessly to get himself back fit and in a position where he can play professional football.
Good Luck, Jordan - any club would be lucky to have you.