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Sunderland v Luton Town: Sky Bet Championship Play-Off Semi-Final First Leg

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Roker Roundtable: Youth v experience - how might Sunderland’s summer transfer business play out?

The early signs would suggest that we’ll be bringing more exciting young talent to the club, but would it be wise to add one or two experienced heads as well? We asked our writers for their thoughts…

Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Andrew Smithson says…

The low average age of our squad was spoken about regularly last season and it brings many benefits.

It certainly beats some of our previous policies and at least we’re being brave and trying a different approach. However, it would be foolish to put all of our eggs in one basket and if the right deal comes along, I’d have no objections to bringing a couple of more senior heads in.

The rumours we’re seen so far suggest that the club are still focusing on young prospects for the time being, and the feeling is that these aren’t wild stabs in the dark, but moves that have been tracked for some time.

Personality seems to be as much of a factor as technical ability and perhaps those in charge are confident that the incomings will be able to take things in their stride without too much assistance.

There may also be an expectation on the lads that have been here for a few months already to start stepping up as well.

It’s not as if we’re without any experience, and with the likes of Lynden Gooch and Luke O’Nien now at a stage where they could be classed as ‘senior’ players, I’d suggest that any older players we do bring in would have to be special to make it worthwhile.

I do admit that the loss of Corry Evans was massive, but you could put a positive spin on it if you wanted.

The rate of improvement we saw in some players was excellent and who knows, maybe his absence actually sped up the development of the younger players? Some of them may have had to think for themselves a bit more or change how they did things, so although it was an issue at the time, there may be longer term benefits for one or two.

Dan Neil certainly seems to have added to his repertoire as a result of the extra defensive responsibility and he’s now in a sweet spot where he’s still young and fresh, but also has a fair bit of experience. That type of figure gives us an extra dimension that few other Championship clubs have and it makes a difference.

It would appear that age is just one consideration. There are indications that we’re trying to do our business early and I can’t wait to see where it takes us.

Sunderland v Luton Town: Sky Bet Championship Play-Off Semi-Final First Leg Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images

Andy Thompson says…

The investment in youth should continue, 100%.

This is the most exciting time to be a Sunderland fan and our squad is the most promising I’ve ever known it. That’s because we’ve targeted specific characters and qualities in young footballers and it’s the main reason we did so well last season.

These young recruits have been brilliant.

Their energy, enthusiasm and never-say-die attitude helped us finish in the playoffs and this recruitment model beats the days of recruiting players based on their reputations. That structure cost us enormously in transfer fees and wages, and more often than not, the players we signed weren’t actually that good anyway.

This model does require some balance, and for the moment I feel we’ve got it.

Batth, Pritchard, Gooch, O’Nien and Evans are the most experienced players in the squad and we saw the benefits of it last season. I feel they all have a part to play again in 2023/2024, with some players’ roles diminishing over time.

At some point, we’ll need to level up in terms of quality with these experienced roles, in our quest to become a Premier League team over the next few years.

The model is to invest in older players without an initial outlay, and I fear that a player with the kind of experience and quality we seek won’t come around very often, so when they do, we need to go all out to get them.

It might mean the model does change somewhat so that the club can obtain the right player for a fee whilst still being a sustainable business, and I suppose time will tell with that one.

Currently, the free agent market would suggest there aren’t a lot of players in terms of quality that we need or could obtain but I’m sure Kristjaan Speakman and Stuart Harvey will be covering that.

For now, I’d be happy for us to continue with exactly what we’re doing in the transfer market and I can’t wait to see what the next few weeks have in store.

Matthew Crichton says…

Another window of Kristjaan Speakman and Stuart Harvey recruiting wonder kids? Yes please!

People say you can’t win things with kids, which is true, and every team needs experience, but I’m more than happy to see Sunderland continue to recruit young and exciting talent as opposed to simply being a pay day for players who can’t go anywhere else.

For me, our current side is the most enjoyable to watch since the Roy Keane Championship season.

I feel like we’ve got a team of hungry players who are desperate to give their all and further their careers, and you can see the buzz between the fans and the Lads is the best it’s been for a long time.

Sunderland fans know all too well how far a club can fall when players on monumental wages decide to throw the towel in and stop caring, so I much prefer our new approach of seeking up-and-coming players at reasonable fees that we can develop.

Of course, the flip side is that we saw how open our midfield was without Corry Evans; the loss of Ross Stewart was critical and we probably would’ve beaten Luton with a fit Danny Batth leading the defence, but I think that was more a case of being unlucky with injuries rather than recruitment errors (striker depth aside).

There would be absolutely no harm in making one or two Evans or Alex Pritchard-type signings to add some extra experience and depth, but I’d rather see the majority of the business continue down the path which has already led to success in the short term.

Last season’s playoff finish, when all the odds were against us with injuries, was proof that the recruitment team are signing the right types of players and I think they’ve earned our trust to take it further.

A few years ago, I would’ve questioned the potential signing of a defender from the Australian league and a striker whose contract Benfica didn’t want to renew, but now I feel nothing but relaxed as our recruitment team have proven that they can get it right!

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