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Fan Letters: “Sunderland’s striker situation represents a flaw in the model”

Thoughts on our issues at centre forward and a staunch defence of Kyril Louis-Dreyfus are in the RR mailbox today! Got something to say? Email us:

Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

The 2023 summer transfer window clearly demonstrated that Kristjaan Speakman’s model for our club is seriously flawed when it comes to strikers.

I accept that we’ve assembled a midfield and defence that look like they could be good enough to achieve promotion. However, no team will win anything without strikers that can score goals.

We’ve lost Ross Stewart and Amad and replaced them with unproven kids who’ve been playing at a significantly lower standard.

To put that in ‘Kyril Louis-Dreyfus terminology’, the Louis-Dreyfus family are very successful businesspeople and if one of their companies lost their Chief Executive and Managing Director, they wouldn’t replace them with graduate trainees.

The model can work with young midfielders and defenders as they can be integrated into the team and a lack of experience can be compensated for by their more experienced colleagues playing in a four-man midfield or defence.

However, it won’t work with strikers. You can’t teach a player to become a goal scorer. You can improve their positional play, but scoring is a natural instinctive ability, and they’ve either got it or they haven’t.

When the team is playing well, your striker will take the chances created and its game over. However, when the team isn’t playing well, your striker will get you a goal from nothing and you’re back in the game, and there’s no better example of that than Kevin Phillips.

Proven strikers are like gold dust. You must pay a premium for them, and you must pay premium wages to keep them happy. Under no circumstances should you voluntarily sell proven strikers unless you have an equivalent, if not better, replacement lined up.

In twenty years of management, none of Tony Mowbray’s teams have ever played without a centre forward. Even Pep Guardiola toyed with the idea of playing without a centre forward at Manchester City, before realising it was bonkers and promptly paying £51m for Erling Haaland.

In each post-match interview after we’ve played well but failed to finish teams off, you can see the frustration in Mowbray’s replies when all he really wants to say is ‘We did well considering we’ve got no strikers’, but he doesn’t want to criticise Speakman.

Who are we to disagree with more knowledgeable footballing brains than ours who suggested that if Stewart had been fit, we would’ve been promoted last season?

We know that the existing model is designed to generate funds over several years to reinvest in the club. However, as an alternative, may I suggest that the recruitment department buys a decent centre forward in January, we get promoted and we generate £80m of Sky TV money in one year?

If the current model doesn’t sort out the striker issue, we’ll end up selling Chris Rigg to Newcastle. In essence, we’ll become a feeder club for Newcastle United, and if that’s the case I want no part of that.

Steve Williamson.

Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Steve. Thanks for your letter.

In reply, I think it’s important to note that we didn’t actually ‘lose’ Amad as he was never our player to begin with and it was always unlikely that he was going to make an instant return this to Wearside summer. On a side note, the same is true of Ellis Simms, and Everton were well within their rights to recall him as they struggled for goals.

Furthermore, although the Haaland signing was significant, Pep Guardiola and Manchester City won the 2021/2022 Premier League title without an orthodox striker following Sergio Aguero’s departure. They scored a total of 150 goals in all competitions and Riyad Mahrez, a winger by trade, finished the campaign as their top scorer.

Fundamentally, I think the issue regarding our current crop of strikers is one of patience, something that’s often not in great supply but is absolutely needed as these players adjust to English football.

We’ve invested in potential and promise in Hemir, Nazariy Rusyn and Eliezer Mayenda, and although the demands for a ‘proven striker’ are unlikely to fade, it’s obvious that the club is taking a long term view and seeing the bigger picture rather than looking for the ‘quick fix’ option.

It’s easy for us as fans to demand that big fees and wages are spent on strikers, but it’s not our money, so the pressure isn’t anywhere near as intense. In my opinion, it’s far too early to write any of them off, and if we are to spend money on another striker come January, it’ll clearly be done on the back of player sales.

Time will tell, but I think these lads are worthy of patience and backing as they make their way in English football, and I do believe that the majority of Sunderland fans are willing to do exactly that.

Sunderland v Norwich City - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light Photo by Will Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

I’m writing in response to Bill Calvert’s letter on player wages, and I totally disagree with his opinion of our owners being greedy and not paying players what they want.

The owner’s family and the senior recruitment team have been involved in football for years and have far more experience of dealing with players, agents, and general negotiations than any of the fans.

If the value of a player is reached and they’re sold, so be it, as no one individual is bigger than the club and if the money gained is reinvested into the transfer kitty, it can only benefit the club for the future.

I’d rather we planned and were promoted than become a yo-yo club again.

Malcolm Donnison

Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Malcolm. Thanks for getting in touch.

It’s becoming a bit of a stock reply whenever I hear people talking about ‘ambition’ and ‘thinking like a big club again’, but ambition wouldn’t mean getting promoted, pocketing then TV money and then not worrying about what came next.

‘Premier League relegation? Who cares? We’re £80 million richer and that’s the main thing’

That’s a weak, small-time and completely unambitious mindset, and as you say, the aim has to be to achieve promotion and then look to progress in the Premier League, rather than stagnating.

If our last top flight spell taught us anything, it’s that if you don’t have a long-term plan, things will eventually fall apart. We simply can’t allow the mistakes of the past to be repeated and under this regime, I don’t think they will be.

Sunderland v Ipswich Town - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images


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