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Grand designs of the Sunderland kind

The club’s new strategy is still not universally popular with some supporters, but as Tom Albrighton explains, it’s already produced some excellent results, and that’s very encouraging

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Kristjaan Speakman is an architect.

This seems like a rash statement to make, but when you consider his brief- to rebuild one of England’s grandest football clubs, that’s almost exactly what he is.

Much like an architect, Speakman is passionate, fastidious and single-minded, and at times to a fault. The ambition is simple, but also huge. To restore Sunderland to greatness will take years and this project, for all the work done so far, is still in its infancy.

To realise this, Speakman almost has no choice but to be restrictive; to be both uncompromising and determined.

Fulham v Sunderland: Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

This week has provided a unique insight into the state of play at Sunderland, and eight days on from Ross Stewart lying in an agonised heap on the turf of Craven Cottage, choices have had to be made.

Processes that took weeks of painstaking research and careful consideration had to be streamlined in order to satiate the need to fill a void that ultimately couldn’t be filled, not even partially.

Many have seen the lack of a forthcoming replacement as an abject failure, a disaster with the potential to derail an entire season. It’s a decision that Speakman will be judged on in time, but despite the fact that criticism of his actions is rife, he can’t be accused of inaction.

Ultimately, whilst almost oversubscribed on scintillating talent, we’ll finish the season with Joe Gelhardt as our only striker.

Sunderland Unveil New Loan SIgning Joe Gelhardt Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Such commitment to a process is seen by some as foolish, but you have to credit Speakman for his dedication to what’s essentially become a passion project of his own, albeit under the watchful eye of Kyril Louis-Dreyfus.

Although questions may arise, the work done so far in the shape of acquisitions such as Jack Clarke, Aji Alese, and Dennis Cirkin goes some way to suggesting that Speakman might be on to something.

In his pursuit of perfection, it’s become clear that he’s developed an approach that offers no respite for anything or anyone not of use.

As part of the plan, everything and everyone must have a purpose.

They must fit in not only with the squad, but the playing style, the club and the area. Every piece must intertwine with its counterpart. Yes, it’s ambitious but the rewards could be sumptuous, and to get these results, there can be no space for anything or anyone who doesn’t contribute.

As Tony Mowbray delivered his pre-match press conference on Friday, he insisted that he was happy to work within the confines of his squad and by extension, the plan sold to him when he took on one of the most exhausting but rewarding jobs in football.

Mowbray also alluded to a similar principle of complete disinterest in anyone that doesn’t contribute to the wider vision, and given that no striker was forthcoming, it was ultimately for a greater good.

Fulham v Sunderland: Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images

Whether pursuing the remainder of the season with only one fit striker is a wise decision or a risk worth taking, only time will tell. However, with that time will also come clarity, allowing more aspects of the wider goal to come into focus and allowing us to take in the bigger picture.

Nobody is wrong for being concerned or worried, but with Sunderland almost certainly safe and still so green, now seems like a perfect time to gamble- even if that means not rolling the dice just for the sake of it.

Where we go from here remains to be seen and although this decision will not derail the entire project, it’ll almost certainly provide clarity on where we are and where we’re going.

Whether Speakman and Dreyfus’ vision is accepted is another matter, but given the relative success that their cut-throat nature has brought so far, unmoved by injuries and managerial departures alike, it isn’t beyond the pale to suggest that this decision may prove to be the correct one, at least in the long term.

Much as they’ve placed their complete faith in this project, it’s not unreasonable for the supporters to place our trust in them.


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