Trai Hume arrived from Linfield last season in what was somewhat of an under-the-radar transfer by Kristjan Speakman in January 2022. The young Northern Irishman had been honing his skills in his native country and caught Sunderland’s recruitment team’s attention after breaking into the Linfield side during their qualification games for the Champions League and Europa Conference League during the 2021-2022 season.
Costing only £150,000, he was viewed as a long-term investment for a League 1 club. At the time of his arrival, he was considered the third choice behind the current starter, Lynden Gooch, and Niall Huggins. However, due to injuries, Hume was given his debut for Sunderland by Mike Dodds in a 2-1 defeat against Cheltenham, followed by a home draw with Wimbledon just days before Alex Neil was appointed.
Dodds clearly saw potential in Hume; however, following Neil’s appointment, Hume only made one more appearance for Sunderland during their promotion campaign. Despite this, Hume was able to integrate into the Sunderland side at his own pace and form good chemistry with his teammates, something that positioned him well for his debut season in the Championship during the 2022-2023 season.
As Alex Neil departed and Tony Mowbray arrived, Sunderland reverted back to a standard 4-2-3-1 formation, and Hume saw this as his opportunity to establish himself as a regular for Sunderland. Before long, he was featuring on a weekly basis for the Wearsiders.
Mowbray’s Tactical Change
Towards the end of the 22-23 Season, Mowbray began to experiment with his formations to try and sneak his youthful Sunderland side into the final playoff berth. In one of his earliest interviews with Nick Barnes, Mowbray mentioned his love of Pep Guardiola and his innovative tactical changes:
It’s no surprise that we’ve seen both of the two examples he talked about being deployed by Sunderland over the last 6 months. Trai Hume has arguably been the biggest beneficiary of this tweak and flourished in his now normalised Inverted Fullback role.
So What’s an ‘Inverted Fullback’ all about?
In its simplest form, an inverted fullback defies footballing norms by making underlapping runs and positioning themselves as an additional midfield presence to create overloads, as opposed to the traditional approach of overlapping the winger to generate overloads in wide areas for crossing opportunities.
In doing so, it provides small pockets for players to swiftly exchange passes and easily overcome opposition presses. By directing opposition players through the center of the pitch, it also creates a suffocating effect against counterattacks, which plays to Hume’s advantage due to his strong ability to read the game and intercept passes.
Hume’s confidence as a progressive passer and dribbler makes him a perfect fit for this role at Sunderland, earning him a new contract during the preseason.
By the Numbers
When examining Hume’s per 90-minute match data from this season, we can observe his standout statistics, highlighting his tackles, interceptions, and passing. Hume’s development in this role has been crucial for Sunderland, enabling them to shift from a counter-attacking team to one that favors game control and breaking down opposing teams.
Because of the attacking flair of Patrick Roberts on the right flank for Sunderland, Hume’s absence from the right side is not a loss. Instead, it creates more space for the ‘Mini-Messi’ to excel in his strength, isolating opposition fullbacks in one-on-one situations. This mutually benefits both players in the process.
There’s no doubt that Hume’s strengths align perfectly with the attributes of a ‘modern-day’ fullback. Therefore, Sunderland’s scouting team deserves yet another accolade for discovering another hidden gem.
Since adopting his new role under Mowbray, Hume has made significant progress, and at only 21 years old, he has a considerable potential that he has yet to fully realise.
Now a regular starter for Northern Ireland, he has secured his position both nationally and internationally. With a long-term deal that began with an initial fee of less than £200,000, Sunderland is certain to earn a substantial profit if Hume continues to attract interest due to his unique skill set.
He has never looked back since his move from Linfield across the channel and truly deserves his nickname, the “Cargan Cancelo.”