Navigating the transfer window as a Sunderland supporter throws up a range of emotions.
For me, usually, I’m totally content from start to finish. That hasn’t always been the case over my time as a Lads fan, but since the current regime was ushered in two-and-a-half years ago it’s made everything feel so much more relaxed.
That’s not been the case for ALL of us though, and I’m sure there will be people reading this who have, at times, panicked about where things could be potentially headed during any given transfer window. And for a range of reasons, but mostly because of what they perceive as a lack of action due to the club choosing to operate in the shadows.
This is exacerbated by social media clickbaiters, transfer gossip accounts and local journalists who add fuel to the fire and give people reasons to worry when the reality is that the complete opposite is the case.
It’s a sad fact of life, but there’s money to be made from making you worry.
I’ve always maintained that the time to judge a transfer window is once all is said and done, and we’ve got a finished, complete squad from which we can properly analyse where we’ve gone right and where we’ve gone wrong. There’s really no point in complaining about the state of play when it’s the middle of August and there are still a couple of weeks left to get any business done that we want to sort before the deadline has passed.
Even in the lead up to the final couple of days of the window there was mass hysteria and panic over what was going on from people with no influence over the situation.
In the final couple of days of August I had numerous conversations with people about the state of play. The theme of the conversations were largely the same - that the owner was dealing a bad hand to Mowbray, that we were understrength, and that our business had been poor. Some opinions were more extreme than others, but by and large that seemed to be the consensus from the everyday Sunderland supporter in the final few days of the window.
I still remained patient in the hope that there was a plan, and that things would work out in the end. And work out it did - we signed a clutch of players in the final few days of the window, shifted a few out the other way and then rounded things off by battering Southampton the next day in our final game before the international break.
Strangely, all of this was enough to dissipate the noise from the doubters.
And now we sit here with Sunderland’s final squad for the first half of the 2023/24 Championship season - with no fewer than 27 first teamers and then a bunch of capable understudies who will mostly support Graeme Murty’s U21s side over the coming months.
Suddenly it seems the world isn’t burning around us - we actually have a decent squad.
Time will tell if all of the players we’ve signed are actually any good, but I don’t think that there can be any doubting that we have a stronger group than we had when we came into the summer, and that’s despite the sales of Danny Batth and Ross Stewart.
We needed strikers - we’ve signed four, three of them permanently.
We needed additional resources on the wings - we’ve added a couple.
We needed better attacking midfielders - Jobe and Dack were secured.
We needed proper competition in nets - we snatched Bishop from Man Utd.
We needed more quality and depth in defence - we added several.
We also further reduced the average age of the squad, made more permanent signings than loans (which has huge implications down the line if we develop some of these players into top talents, and vultures start circling) and added height and variety all over the park.
We handed out new contracts to several important players.
Tony Mowbray’s contract was quietly extended, despite members of the local press stirring the pot where there really was no need to be concerned.
Oh, and we managed to hang onto the likes of Roberts, Clarke, Ballard, Neil and Ekwah, despite receiving interest from them from higher-placed clubs.
The only place where we possibly look a little light is in the centre of the park, but I suspect that with Matete returning soon and Evans coming back in the new year, we’re happy to keep things as they are for the time being - especially since we have a handful of players who can play in the middle of the park if things are a little desperate, like O’Nien, Bellingham, Pritchard, Huggins and Rigg.
All in all, I think it was a bloody brilliant transfer window, and the team behind the scenes deserve credit for putting a plan in place and enacting it without giving into the noise, doubt and panic that was going on around them.
The owners have put a team in place to specifically handle recruitment and the retention of key players, and they’ve trusted them to put the club’s best interests at heart. Kristjaan Speakman and Stuart Harvey in particular are the key reason why Sunderland’s squad and, therefore, league position has changed so much since they arrived just under three years ago.
Their job is to give the manager the tools to do his job, whilst also ensuring the long term health of the football club isn’t jeopardised.
For me, the squad we have right now ensures we’re futureproofed. We can carry that on in the windows to come, but the majority of the players Tony Mowbray has at his disposal have been brought here because the only way is up for them in terms of their career trajectory - hopefully at the same time as the club continues to rise through the leagues.
This is the best our squad depth has looked in as long as I can remember at Sunderland, and I think the work done off the pitch has been superb - and they’ve earned not only our respect, but our patience. Patience that will be tested in windows to come, just like it was in this one and the one before it, and the one before that.
They have a plan. Trust it.