As Anthony Patterson was getting his first taste of being involved in an England international camp over the weekend, yet more speculation about his future was swirling as the summer transfer window draws ever nearer.
This time, it was a story concerning rumoured interest from Leicester City and a hypothetical ‘cash plus player’ transfer involving Daniel Iversen, a player with whom we were linked with last summer before Alex Bass was eventually signed from Portsmouth.
Predictably, it caused a minor stir.
Was it mischief making from a notoriously scattergun journalist or something with a bit of substance behind it? Either way, it got the social media chatter going, with some claiming we should cash in and others highlighting him as a player we can’t afford to lose.
In any case, it’s something that’ll have to be addressed, if not this summer, then in the future.
I’m a huge fan of Patterson’s and I’d love to think that he could be part of a young, homegrown core of Sunderland players who successfully mount a Premier League promotion challenge.
Let’s face it, the idea of him eventually anchoring another promotion-winning team, having been on loan at Notts County as recently as last January, would be one hell of a romantic story. He did it at Wembley last May with a commanding performance against Wycombe, and there’s every chance he could do it again further down the road.
On the other hand, the fact that we’re now seen as a place where the development of young players can be accelerated rather than held back means that such speculation is to be expected. It’s also a seal of approval if Premier League clubs are eyeing up our players, especially after we’ve struggled to shift plenty of deadwood over the years.
Financially, there’s no doubt that any potential sale would represent a success story for the club, and the formula would be simple: cash in, reinvest, strengthen, and maintain a sense of continuity.
Patterson has his doubters, after all, and our scouting system is such that there’s a good chance of a replacement of equal or superior quality arriving.
On the other hand, surely one facet of youth development is that you take the players as far as you can before bidding them farewell, and I’d like to hope that his red and white rise will continue for some time yet.
For what it’s worth, I’d fully expect Patterson to remain on Wearside for at least another season, during which we can hopefully continue to progress and mount a serious top six challenge at the very least.
He’s not the finished article and his distribution, concentration and command of his area could certainly be better, but the fundamentals of his game are strong. Is he ready for Premier League football? No, not at this stage, but his ceiling is very high and patience is the watchword.
This summer, it’s crucial that we target a solid and ideally experienced goalkeeper who can deputise for Patterson when needed, but can also double up as a guiding hand and someone from whom he can learn.
What’s certain to help his development is a sense of urgency and a desire to improve with every training session and game. That could be provided by some genuine competition and less certainty over his place in the team, instead of him being a guaranteed starter every week.
Wes Foderingham’s performance for Sheffield United at the Stadium of Light a fortnight ago, one of authority, composure and quick thinking, was immensely impressive and that’s the standard we need to aim for.
Promotion-winning Sunderland teams in my lifetime have been anchored by a stopper who you’d bet the house on to make a big save when it really matters, such as Thomas Sorensen and Darren Ward. Patterson might not be at that level just yet, but he could certainly get there with time.
Hypothetically, If Jacob Carney is loaned out, Bass could easily fill in for cup games, which won’t be a top priority, with Patterson and ‘A.N Other’ vying for the gloves in the league. That would give us depth and could spur the youngster on to even greater heights.
It would be very hard to resist the overtures of a top flight club if they came calling, but as with any sale, the true acid test is now you replace the departing player.
Given our recent success to failure ratio in the transfer market, that’s reasonably encouraging and it shouldn’t result in a total sense of panic if and when he eventually leaves.