If Tony Mowbray wanted greater defensive depth this summer, something that was badly needed after the injury crisis that affected us so severely towards the end of 2022/2023, he’s possibly received it in the shape of Jenson Seelt and Nectar Triantis.
These are two young prospects with the potential to make a big impact once they're settled in and up to speed with how we want to play- even if they’re gradually phased into the team as the season develops.
Indeed, it feels like both signings were a result of some forward planning.
By bringing in the players of tomorrow alongside the first choices of today, we can ensure that we’re not caught flat-footed and therefore forced to scramble around in the transfer market when the time eventually comes for the older lads to move on. It’s sound practice and perfectly logical.
However, alongside that, the experience and commitment of the highly respected Danny Batth is not only a valuable asset; it’s something that losing without pulling an ace card out from somewhere during the remainder of the transfer window would potentially represent a misstep from the club.
Rumours are currently swirling about Batth’s future, with a move to Blackburn Rovers being mooted over the past ten days after he was supposedly told that he was free to leave Sunderland, along with fellow veteran Alex Pritchard and the long-serving Lynden Gooch (both of whom I'd also keep, personally).
Asked about the future of the former Stoke and Wolves defender in the wake of our victories over South Shields and Gateshead on Saturday, Mowbray was reasonably circumspect, insisting that his absence wasn't anything major and that he’ll be heading to America with his teammates next week.
Whether that’s enough to ease the fears of the supporters who’ve taken Batth to their hearts since his arrival in January 2022 is less clear cut, but one thing is certain: his departure wouldn’t be well-received and would certainly result in questions being fired in Kristjaan Speakman’s direction.
What you get with Batth, alongside his immense ability as a defender, are standards and leadership, and it’s undoubtedly rubbed off on his younger teammates as we’ve started to operate at a far higher level on the pitch.
He’s an old school defender- utterly dedicated to his craft, not interested in being the centre of attention and the sort of player for whom a missed challenge, a lost aerial battle or a goal conceded is a personal slight.
In a team comprised largely of dynamic and skilful players, he brings the perfect kind of counter balance and the fact that he won the supporters’ ‘player of the year’ award for 2022/2023 spoke volumes.
If Corry Evans sets the tone as our captain and Jack Clarke provides the attacking spark, Batth is a real presence, the kind of man you’d want by your side when things start to get tough.
Given that expectations for the coming season will be higher and the pressure to perform greater, players with broad shoulders and significant resilience will be needed, and Batth ticks that box and then some.
With Ali Alese still on the comeback trail, if Batth were to leave and no further defensive reinforcements arrived, it would put enormous pressure on Triantis and to a lesser extent Seelt (assuming the former has been earmarked as Batth’s long-term replacement) to get the hang of the Championship in as short a time as possible.
That’s not to say he won't, with patience and backing, but would it be asking too much of him to adjust to life in England’s second tier at a pace that might be quicker than he was expecting?
After all, it took the likes of Trai Hume some time to make their mark for us, and the last thing we need is for Triantis and/or Seelt to be overplayed and burned out, which is something we’ve been guilty of doing with plenty of defensive prodigies in recent seasons.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with long-term planning, and that’s clearly at the heart of what we’re trying to accomplish, but potentially losing the services of as key a player as Batth after just one season in the Championship feels slightly on the wrong side of premature.
Let’s hope that we can retain him for one more campaign at least, and that he can be the rock on which our backline is built once again.
He’s a wise old head and a towering presence in a team filled with exuberant youngsters, but he’s got a lot more to give and with any luck, he’ll do so in the red and white stripes during 2023/2024.