Now that the season is over, one thing you can be sure of is that there’ll be plenty of speculation surrounding the futures of our key players.
In the absence of any genuine news to report but with the cycle never really ending, it’s an ever-reliable formula for generating clicks and a surefire way of whipping up a fanbase.
Combine a player’s name with ‘is on the radar of...’ or ‘is attracting interest from the Premier League’ and just watch those interaction numbers increase.
Most recently, it was Jack Clarke and Patrick Roberts who were tenuously linked with moves away from the Stadium of Light, and it feels like a safe bet that at some stage, the currently injured Ross Stewart will be mentioned in relation to a move to one of the two Glasgow giants for the umpteenth time.
However, as strange as it might seem, this speculation isn’t necessarily a bad thing and in many ways, it highlights the hard work that’s been done at the club recently.
In the first instance, it shows that we’ve got plenty of players who are attracting attention for positive reasons, not least after their exceptional efforts in finishing sixth last season.
Let’s face facts: for as long as anyone dares to remember, Sunderland’s record of selling players for a handsome profit (or any kind of profit, come to think of it) has been nothing short of lamentable.
In fact, it’s borderline pathetic and it stands as a lasting monument to the mismanagement at boardroom level that eventually set us spiralling down the football pyramid and into a gruelling four year exile.
OK, we allowed Darren Bent to move to Aston Villa in a move that undoubtedly made financial sense, but that was in 2011, a mere two years into Ellis Short’s time at the helm, and it feels like a lifetime ago.
Ever since Jordan Pickford left for Everton, player departures from the Stadium of Light have either been for comparative pennies, on the back of a cancelled contract, or under the free agent rule at the end of a contract.
Over the last decade, there were ugly wrangles involving the likes of Ricky Alvarez, Didier N’Dong and Papy Djilobodji, not to mention the tragicomic Will Grigg saga, and the whole sorry mess was a brilliant example of how not to run a football club.
However, things are certainly different nowadays, and the next phase of our new way of working- replacing key components if and when they depart- is sure to be tested at some stage.
That doesn’t make us a ‘feeder club’, because with the exception of a handful of apex predators who can sign players at will, every club on the planet is a ‘feeder club’ to some extent.
Instead, it simply means that we’ve got to be smart, always thinking ahead, savvy with our scouting of players, and willing to drive a hard bargain if offers come in.
Within our current squad, we have a core of players who would all be worth at least £15 million or more, based on the current market rate.
Anthony Patterson, Dan Neil, Dan Ballard, Stewart, Clarke and Roberts would all fall into that bracket and if he continues to improve at his current speed, Trai Hume is rapidly heading in the same direction.
That in itself is a huge change after years of filling the squad with driftwood and journeymen who we knew would be worth little if we ever decided to move them on.
The way we do business nowadays isn’t too dissimilar to Arsene Wenger’s well known ethos of ‘we don’t buy superstars, we make them’, and so far, it’s working well. Find hidden gems, allow them to grow, flourish, help the club progress, and potentially sell them when the time and the offer is right.
With all this in mind, let’s play devil’s advocate for a moment.
If Clarke was sold for, say, £25 million, and given that we’ve built the current squad for a fairly modest outlay, what would that fee enable us to do going forward?
If the money was reinvested wisely and quality players were added, there’s every chance that we’d be able to continue to move forward whilst retaining the central pillar of sustainability that’s now so key.
I was chatting with a friend and fellow Sunderland fan recently and we agreed that the club’s philosophy, in essence, seems to be that of buying players for modest fees and turning them into £20+ million footballers with good coaching and through allowing them the time and space to improve.
Is that not what a club such as ourselves should be doing, instead of being reliant on a rich benefactor who’ll shoulder huge losses until the day they decide that enough is enough and the taps are turned off? Given the perilous financial state of many Championship clubs, it seems like a no brainer to me.
Sunderland’s new way of operating has yet to be stress tested, and that’s fine.
We were something of an unknown quantity last season but we won’t be for very much longer, and I think it reflects brilliantly on the club if top flight clubs are rumoured to be interested in our players.
After making such an impact during their first season at Championship level, we should be excited and proud that our players are catching the eye of the wider football world. That proves that the club is heading in the right direction and those making the decisions should have enough credit in the bank to allow their plan to continue to take shape.