‘[PLAYER X] is attracting serious interest from [CLUBS Y AND Z) and could be a potential target this summer. He has a lot of admirers in the Premier League and after impressing for Sunderland, he could well be set for a big-money move to the top flight.’
That’s a refrain we’ll hear often between now and the end of the summer window and when it comes to Sunderland, it’s generally guaranteed to whip certain sections of the fan base into a frenzy.
Are we nothing more than a ‘selling club’? Do we have ambition? Are our players simply being brought in with a view to ripening them up for an eventual big money move and thereby locking the club into a cycle that won’t lead to anything other than stagnation?
These questions aren’t new, but the fact is that there’s nothing to suggest that we’re seeking to become just another Championship club, and Kristjaan Speakman’s latest interview was evidence of that.
Last week, it was Jack Clarke’s turn to supposedly find himself on the radar of top flight clubs.
A frankly derisory bid of £9 million had apparently been mooted but as always, hearsay and rumour are hardly cause to lose faith in what’s been a largely successful restructuring of the club’s business model.
In any case, such a fee for a player of his ability is miles below the going rate, not least when you consider how much average Championship players often go for nowadays, and Clarke certainly isn’t a run of the mill footballer.
So, how to look at this?
In the first instance, the fact that Clarke is rumoured to be catching the eye of clubs in the top flight is testament to his hard work since arriving at Sunderland and the quality of the coaching that’s enabled him to evolve from a talented, if slightly erratic winger into a genuine all-round attacker.
This was backed up by the the fact that he racked up a combined total of over twenty goals and assists last season, and his ceiling is very high indeed.
If Clarke does leave, which hopefully won’t be for a while yet, it feels like a good bet that two things will happen: the fee will be as high as we can possibly drive it, and the money from any sale will be reinvested. That’s the name of the game. It’s how we become sustainable, and combining that with achieving the goal of top flight football is the balance we’ve got to strike.
The fact is that for all of the noise about ‘the model’, those making the big calls on recruitment have earned the right to continue down the path they’re currently on.
Overhauling what was fundamentally a broken system wasn’t easy and it hasn’t been universally accepted, but the benefits have certainly outweighed the drawbacks.
It’s easy to complain about being a ‘selling club’, but at a time when the finances of many Championship clubs are shaky, there’s never been a better time to think creatively and get smart in the transfer market, which is clearly what we’re doing.
Driftwood and mercenaries? No thanks. Up and coming players who are eager to improve? Step this way, and welcome to Wearside.
How many out-and-out failures have Kristjaan Speakman and Stuart Harvey overseen in the transfer market? Very few. How many gems have they unearthed; players who weren’t exactly box office when they arrived but are now central to our team? Plenty, and ultimately, that’s how they should be judged.
In addition to any potential outgoings, the fact that we’ve already been linked with moves for Birmingham City midfielder Jobe Bellingham, Benfica ‘B’ striker Luis Semedo and Central Coast Mariners defender Nectarios Triantis would suggest that the policy of targeting young talent from far and wide will continue.
That’s encouraging, not least because we’re clearly casting the net further than we’ve done for a long time.
Also, if these lads are signed, they’ll hopefully embrace the opportunity.p and like so many who’ve arrived at Sunderland since 2021, they’ll be joining a club where opportunities are plentiful and they’ll be given the time and space to develop.
On the other hand, if there are any attractive deals for experienced free agents who can make a worthy contribution next season, perhaps we’ll be in the market for another Danny Batth or Corry Evans-type signing, which wouldn’t be a bad thing at all.
Sunderland AFC and forward thinking have often been diametric opposites, but now they’ve been combined with a view to bringing about a bright future for our club.
It’s not a perfect process and perhaps it never will be, but it’s a lot more exciting and likely to bring success than the methods of old. Change can often be jarring, but in this case, it should be embraced.