Earlier this week, the Athletic published an interview with Kristjaan Speakman following Sunderland’s return to Pre-Season training. In a candid setting, Speakman discussed numerous aspects of life for Sunderland AFC ahead of the new season and reflected on some of the progress made by both the club and himself during his two-and-a-half-year tenure as the club’s sporting director.
So, what can be drawn from Speakman’s comments and what perception is Speakman aiming to present to a National audience?
Firstly, Speakman discusses the improvements made around the training facilities at the Academy of Light.
Speakman’s comments show us that he’s very conscious of supporter judgement and by demonstrating physical improvements to club infrastructure, it is a clear and well-documented piece of progress that fans can examine and acknowledge. Sunderland’s latest developments include a restoration of the canteen area at the academy and as Speakman further mentions, improvements to the stadium over the summer, the details of which are currently unknown however as the Pre-Season home friendly against RCD Mallorca rolls around, I’m sure we’ll learn more about.
The conversation then shifts to Speakman’s office and more about the model employed by Sunderland’s recruitment team headed by Stuart Harvey, Speakman acknowledges that the club have shifted in their ‘approach’ to player recruitment, drawing attention to the fact that of the 15 players Sunderland have acquired since January 2021, none of them have yet been sold for a substantial profit, making fans aware that the first to leave will inevitably be the most painful.
It’s taken in a light-hearted manner though, commenting on how he doesn’t feel Sunderland are underprepared for these instances and calls upon the fact that the club has evaluations for each of its players of what they feel is a fair and acceptable price for Premier League clubs to pay.
Interestingly Speakman also admits to the fact that some players will naturally fall behind the pace of others as the group develops, an example of this being that of the recently departed Leon Dajaku who spent most of last season away on loan at St. Gallen in Switzerland.
Powerfully though, when Speakman is questioned about whether he could retain players or be forced to sell some on the cheap - his simple response was ‘No.’
It’s clear that Staff have negotiating prices set amongst squad members and will hold their resolve when tested, a breath of fresh air when you consider players such as Bali Mumba and Sam Greenwood were able to leave for nominal fees, despite being major youth assets to the club at the time.
Importantly, Speakman highlights the requirement for balance in squad composition, despite being proud of fielding a team for the majority of last season having an average age of 22 he’s aware of the need to keep experience and senior squad members in amongst your core group.
He goes on to comment on Sunderland’s recruitment policy, placing huge importance on the fact that the types of players SAFC are looking to bring in are not just about age and potential talent, but most importantly player character both on and off the field.
Creating a sense of camaraderie within the dressing room through players with specific competitive traits but also desirable personality traits that help to ‘grow’ and develop a promotion squad naturally.
Finally, Speakman draws attention to the importance of mentality and the use of a new c-word this season, previously the club had very much operated under the idea of ‘consolidation’ back in the Championship following promotion.
This season, however, the c-word becomes ‘consistency.’
Sunderland must now look to become consistent in their approach to playing fluid and dynamic attacking football, with the implementation of good consistent stretches of play, Sunderland will find themselves comfortably within the playoff spots instead of having to chase the pack throughout the season.
He finishes by stating that Sunderland is slowly but surely gaining the ‘It Factor’.
So, how does this look to a National audience?
Overall, Speakman talks a very impressive talk and showcases to clubs up and down the country but also across Europe how the club plans to operate into the future. I think it holds a good projection by showcasing a structured and well-planned procedure with a clear direction for the future and a firm approach to asset management.
If Sunderland’s youthful exuberance didn’t catch the attention of the National media after facing Fulham in the FA Cup last season, the footballing world certainly have their eyes open to it now.