Forward planning is at the heart of our approach
Sunderland’s players return to pre-season training today, the best part of six weeks since we dropped out of the playoffs at Luton.
In the immediate aftermath of the game at Kenilworth Road, it looked as though we could be in for a bumpy ride. Tony Mowbray’s future at the club was being questioned, and a few players were linked with moves away.
What’s happened since makes me wonder if this is really Sunderland we’re supporting, or a different, properly-run club, because how we’re managing things off the field is light years ahead of anything I can remember in my forty-odd years of supporting the Lads.
However, this most definitely is the real life, and certainly not a fantasy.
Kristjaan Speakman and Kyril Louis-Dreyfus deserve enormous amounts of praise, because what we’re seeing now is planets apart from what they inherited.
Usually, we say ‘it’d be nice to get some signings in before pre-season training’, and we rarely do. This time, though, we’ve done what I imagine will be the bulk of our business already, because we’ve been planning well in advance.
Signings like Jobe Bellingham, Luis Semedo, Nectar Triantis and Jenson Seelt don’t just happen overnight.
These are players that have been identified and tracked for months and months and in Bellingham’s case, a couple of years. That should give us all confidence that they’re going to be not only the right players for the club, but the right kind of people, too.
Landing Bellingham is massive for us.
Yes, his reputation is elevated due to the path his brother has trodden, but he’s been linked with big, big teams both here and overseas, and he’s chosen Sunderland as the best place for the next stage of his career.
He’s been given the number seven shirt, too, and while squad numbers don’t matter as much as they used to, it’s a sign he’s being considered as a first team player from the off.
How many more players do we need? Not too many, and that’s a very, very good sign.
It’ll be interesting to see what we do between now and the start of the season, because I think we only need a goalkeeper to cover for Anthony Patterson, a central midfielder to provide cover for or to replace Corry Evans, and another centre forward.
If we manage to keep hold of everyone else, we’ll be in a very strong place come the start of the season.
Will we see Amad back in red and white?
Another player who clearly sees us as the best place for the next stage of his career is Amad.
Judging by his social media comments, he’s seemingly desperate to get back here for the new season, and really, who can blame him?
He’s going to be one we could well have to wait until after the season starts to land, but the key difference this time around is he’d hit the ground running. Last season, it really took him until November to hit his straps and in hindsight, it’s rather surprising he only started twenty seven league games for us last season.
If we land him, it could be the difference between automatic promotion or not, and I do think we’ve got a good chance.
He’s not going to be a regular at Manchester United, and he’ll want to play regular first-team football. The only thing that could scupper us would be a Premier League loan, but in reality, to get regular football that would be at a club struggling in the bottom half, and he’d be far better off here.
Is a permanent move out of the question? I honestly don’t think it could be ruled out- not under this ownership.
Fixtures offer the chance to improve our home form
While last season was great, we were judging it from a position of being newly promoted. This time around, our expectations will be different – and rightly so.
Our home form was one thing we ‘got away with’ last season, because we only won seven out of twenty three home games.
Relegated Reading won ten and of the teams who finished outside of the bottom five, only one team (Stoke, as it goes) won fewer than we did. Burnley and Sheffield United won sixteen each, and that’s what we need to be aiming for.
Our first five home games are against Ipswich, Rotherham, Southampton, Cardiff and Watford. With away games at Preston, Coventry, QPR, Blackburn and Sheffield Wednesday too, it offers us a good chance to get the season off to a good start, and build some confidence when playing at home, too.
Famous last words, of course!