Back in the halcyon (that is to say crazy and surreal) days of 2013, did you keep a running total of the list of players who arrived at the Stadium of Light as we embarked on arguably the wildest transfer spree in club history?
Cabral, David Moberg Karlsson, Modibo Diakite, Valentin Roberge, Emanuele Giaccherini, Ondrej Celustka, and so on, and so forth.
So many players rocked up at the Academy of Light that you could barely keep up, as Sunderland went continental and attempted to overhaul the squad to such a degree that the narrow escape from relegation wouldn’t be repeated. Unfortunately, the results were less than magical, to say the least.
Fast forward to 2023, however, and we’re the same club with the same expectant fans and the same crest, but something is so, so different now.
We’re working efficiently and professionally on the football side, with clarity of thought, a definite plan, and a far more rational approach to recruitment. It might feel unfamiliar and almost disconcerting after the turbulence of recent years, but it’s something to embrace, rather than fear.
Gone are the days of rummaging in the bargain bin for free agents that nobody else would touch or offering paydays to ageing journeyman. This is recruitment for the modern era: progressive and exciting, with an eye on both the present and the future.
To say the least, the last fortnight has been fruitful for the club.
Extending the contracts of Trai Hume and Dennis Cirkin was an extremely prudent and fully justified move, and the signings of Nectarios Triantis and Jobe Bellingham were completed swiftly, with no hitches or last-minute snags.
On Sunday, another new face arrived on Wearside as Luis Hemir Silva Semedo made the switch from Portugal in a move that’s been on the cards for a while, signing a five-year contract and providing us with another exciting option in attack.
With an impressive goalscoring record for Benfica ‘B’ and the Portuguese Under 23 team, the nineteen-year-old fits the profile of the kind of player we’re in the market for. He’s not been signed with a view to ‘doing a job’ as short-term fix; he’s clearly here to learn, grow as a player, and help the club achieve its goals.
Looking at the bigger picture and to those who’ve overseen the cultural shift at Sunderland, whatever you might think of Kristjaan Speakman on a personal level is immaterial at this stage.
How he communicates and the language he uses in interviews matters little when he’s overseeing such forward-thinking transfer business.
He and Stuart Harvey have widened the scope of our search for potential signings, tapping into markets that we might’ve otherwise overlooked and by and large, it’s working extremely well. Very few of their signings could be classed as out-and-out failures, and many have made a huge impression in red and white.
I remember at the start of the 2004/2005 season, when Mick McCarthy expressed his belief that putting faith in youth was the way he wanted to go, because the potential positives outweighed the negatives- assuming his players would rise to the challenge.
By the end of that season, his trust had been vindicated and although there are no guarantees, there’s absolutely no reason why, with this group of players, we can’t mount another playoff challenge or even better during 2023/2024.
Think of it another way: within the space of two years, we went from cutting a deal for Laurens de Bock to securing the services of Amad on loan from Manchester United and Edouard Michut from PSG. If that’s not proof of the scale of progress, then progress simply doesn’t exist.
There are sure to be more incomings as the summer goes on, and slowly but surely, it feels like we’re honing and fine tuning what was already a very exciting squad. Tony Mowbray has often spoken about instilling values and ethics in his players, and combining talent and attitude is clearly what we’re looking to do.
Much is spoken about the club’s ‘ambition’, but I’d say that in recent weeks, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that ambition is at the very heart of what we’re doing. There’s still work to do, but it’s been an encouraging start to the summer, and anticipation ahead of next season is definitely growing.