On the eve of Deadline Day, anyone venturing into SAFC social media would have been forgiven for believing that the club was about to implode.
Ross Stewart’s departure to Southampton already appeared nailed on. The reported price seemed to be a good deal for a player in the last year or his contract, who was yet to return to fitness after the second serious injury of his first Championship campaign.
But rumours were rife that Patrick Roberts would be helping him carry his bags to the airport, and flying south to join the Saints, alongside him. As this story developed, murmurings about Jack Clarke’s unhappiness at the club for not accepting £10 million from Burnley started to surface.
At the same time, Lynden Gooch was setting up a reunion with Alex Neil, the coach who, arguably, got the best out of him during his long Sunderland career, as the American helped propel us out of League One.
Speculation continued to swirl around the futures of Danny Batth and Alex Pritchard, and news broke of a surprise bid for Pierre Ekwah from Stuttgart, which was apparently quickly rebuffed.
Updates on incomings were almost nonexistent - Nazariy Rusyn appeared to be making his way on foot from Ukraine, and hopes of a revival of a fan favourite song were suddenly raised with the prospect of the second coming of Edouard Michut. The only other firm interest also seemed to be French - Adil Aouchiche, another young prospect who at least had a creditable number of first team appearances under his belt.
It was at this point that the paranoia that seems to so easily unsettle some of our fans appeared. Most turned their fire on Kristjaan Speakman - I hope no one ever shows him some of the comments a small but vocal section of our fanbase aimed at him. To read them, you would think we were going to turn out against Southampton with just Anthony Patterson, and Luke O’Nien filling the ten outfield positions.
Matters didn’t improve as Deadline Day dawned. Tony Mowbray’s comments about Elliot Embleton being an active member of the squad for Southampton were quickly followed by rumblings about Embleton departing on loan. It all looked a bit chaotic at that point.
Eventually, things started to become clearer. Ross Stewart was departing for Southampton, but would have to carry his own bags - Patrick Roberts would not be joining him. There was a brief flurry of concern about Dan Neil’s future, which very quickly dissipated.
The murmurs around Jack Clarke quietened, there was little apparent interest in Alex Pritchard and Danny Batth was apparently linked to half the clubs in the Championship.
And, as we have come to expect from this recruitment team, the surprises started. First, a player who was mentioned almost as an afterthought by Roker Report, Mason Burstow, was suddenly linked, appeared at the AOL and was announced as a loan signing. The acquisition of the highly rated Chelsea youngster appears to be something of a coup by the club and, at 6’3” adds to the aerial capability that so dogged us last season.
Rusyn had apparently managed to hitchhike as far as Paris, and his medical was completed, to confirm his arrival.
And then another French player slid in under the radar. As we prepared to bid farewell to one established right back in Gooch, PSG graduate Timothée Pembélé became the new name on everyone’s lips. Arriving with Aouchiche for his medical, it was yet another previously unheralded piece of work by the recruitment team.
Despite all the fears of being left with a depleted squad, the only players we have lost are Ross Stewart, Danny Batth and Lynden Gooch, and we are receiving fees for them all, a significant one in the case of Stewart. Elliot Embleton will continue his rehabilitation at Derby County. Despite the speculation, Patrick Roberts, Dan Neil and Jack Clarke remain Sunderland players.
Through the door, we have two actual strikers in Mason Burstow and Nazariy Rusyn, a versatile midfielder in Adil Aouchiche, and a talented right back in Timothé Pembélé.
So what conclusions can we draw from all this madness?
Firstly, despite all the social media furore, it appears that our recruitment team, yet again, have been working quietly and effectively to identify the right targets. The absence of speculation regarding Burstow and Pembélé is another demonstration of how the club prefers to do business.
Secondly, we were always going to find the loss of Ross Stewart painful. But the deal that has been done, coupled with the attacking options we now have - Burstow, Rusyn, Hemir and Mayenda should give Tony Mowbray enough options to make the most of the chances that Roberts, Clarke and Dack/Pritchard will create.
But the biggest takeaway from the end of the transfer window is that, for the first time in far too long, we have a squad full of players who are coveted by other teams. Looking back across this window, and the summer, the list of players linked to other teams includes:
How long has it been since there was such interest in the players we own?
That, I believe, is the reason why this transfer window has generated such angst among our supporters. For so many seasons, our only concern around these periods has been about who we might bring in. For a generation of younger fans, the concept of other teams being interested in any of our players has simply never existed.
The idea of Sunderland AFC turning down multi-million pound bids for players like Jack Clarke and Patrick Roberts is so far from the reality we have had to endure for what feels like a decade, that the idea of a fire sale at the first opportunity seems natural.
At the risk of sounding like a ‘happy clapper’, for me, this window is the first real proof that Kyril Louis-Dreyfus, Kristjaan Speakman and Stuart Harvey are full committed to ‘the model’.
Players will be sold, at the right price. Young prospects will continue to arrive. The promising aspect is that Rusyn, Aouchiche and Pembélé, along with Bellingham, Hemir, Mayenda, Seelt and Triantis are all players whose development will benefit Sunderland. Burstow is the only player we will be developing for another club.
Ross Stewart was always going to be a huge loss, but he had an opportunity to capitalise on a move, at a point in his career where he really needed to. I wish him well, and I will be forever grateful for the part he played in our escape from League One.
But now I’m excited to see the next stage in the evolution of this team.