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Fan Letters: “Could Luke O’Nien help to shore up Sunderland’s misfiring midfield?”

Thoughts on moving our skipper into a different position, the club’s long-term plan, and possible attacking signings are in the mailbox today! Got something to say? Email us:

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Dear Roker Report,

Whilst I agree that we need reinforcements in certain areas of the pitch, we have a defensive midfielder playing at centre back in Luke O’Nien.

Why not simply play a defender in defence and move our midfielder into midfield, or is that a little too radical for a club that prefers square pegs in round holes?

Steve Poolton

Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Steve. Thank you for your letter.

O’Nien would certainly add some strength and tenacity to our midfield, and as we’ve seen before, he’ll play anywhere for the good of the team, but he’s now established in defence (a position in which he’s generally been very solid) and I’d be very surprised if he’s moved into midfield any time soon.

That said, it is a problem position at the moment and hopefully we can dip into the transfer market this month and bring in a strong defensive midfielder to provide us with some much-needed steel in the engine room.

Sunderland v Coventry City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

I’m getting a bit tired of the club, the ‘happy clapper’ brigade, and various journalists banging on about it all being OK if we stick to the plan.

What plan would that be? The one the club would like us all to believe, or something else?

Let’s consider two alternative plans, both of which start the same way.

Stabilise the club, implement the ‘director of football model’, bring in young players to develop, build the infrastructure, secure the assets (players), achieve promotion to the Championship, then sell some of those assets.

They then diverge and ‘Plan A’ continues, with most of the player sales’ revenue reinvested into significantly strengthening the team in the short term, with some of it spent on the infrastructure, therefore achieving promotion to the Premier League within a two to five-year timescale.

In ‘Plan B’, the aim isn’t continuity but to sell the club for a significant profit in perhaps one or two years’ time.

Player sales revenue is reinvested mostly into infrastructure and also into low cost assets to develop. The aim is not promotion but if we happen to fluke it, a quick sale will deliver an even higher profit.

‘Plan A’ is the plan the club promotes, and most supporters seem to buy into it, but might they support the alternative?

The first point concerns Juan Sartori.

Is he really prepared to hold his significant investment until we reach the promised land, or does he plan to cash out within a shorter timeframe?

The second point is that getting into the Premier League and making a decent fist of it when we get there will require significant investment in players. Maybe the current regime isn’t willing or capable of making that investment.

Key decisions taken by the club seem to be based on the cheapest option rather than the best available. That’s not how a well-financed club behaves.

There’s also no evidence that most of the money generated through sales will be reinvested in players that significantly strengthen the squad in the short term. It’s true that the only major asset sold to date is Ross Stewart, and that wasn’t for a huge sum so we’ll have to wait and see.

The focus on infrastructure makes sense within ‘Plan A’ but it’s particularly important for ‘Plan B’. If the club is to be sold, the bean counters will get involved and they love tangible assets and structure.

Personally, I’d like to believe in ‘Plan A’, but I’m starting to believe it’s ‘Plan B’.

The only argument I can present against it is the state of the commercial off-field activities. Any purchaser would be interested in that income stream and currently, it’s a disaster area.

To finish on a positive note, the club is in a far better place than three years ago, and for that, I’m grateful.

If the club is sold, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, although high risk for those left behind (you guessed it - the supporters). It’ll soon become clear, and actions speak louder than words.

Little Phil

Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Phil. Thanks for getting in touch.

At the risk of simplifying it (possibly too much), the reality is that nobody other than the decision makers know how things will pan out at Sunderland during the coming weeks, months and years, and what steps they’re going to take in order to achieve their goals.

That said, I’d argue that the next six months and beyond will be key, particularly if we aren’t promoted and players do leave for top flight clubs.

That would be a major stress test for our current way of operating, and whether we could reinvest the money from the sales of players such as Jack Clarke, Dan Neil and Dan Ballard would be intriguing, so I’m keen to see how it pans out if we’re planning for the Championship next season.

Ultimately, no businessman wants to fail, and if Dreyfus and company do eventually decide to sell up and move on, we’d have to trust that they’d find a buyer who could continue to build on what they’ve put in place. It’s in the lap of the gods at this stage.

Sunderland v Birmingham City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

It seems clear at this early stage that it’s almost certain that Michael Beale will be a failure at Sunderland.

The negatives are numerous and whatever you thought of Tony Mowbray, he had empathy with the background of our club, its history, and of the city and the county of Durham.

The shipyards of Sunderland and the coal mines of the county defined a vision of graft, determination and fortitude. Is it any wonder the fans love a tackle like those of Trai Hume or Kevin Ball? Is this relevant? I think so.

Beale, on the other hand, is from Kent- the ‘garden county’ of England- and whilst this alone doesn’t preclude his understanding of the region and its support structure, it definitely doesn’t help him.

To date, his appearances in front of the media have been bland, repetitive, and dull, another version of the Lee Johnson-type diatribe. In addition, his game management is distinctly unfathomable.

I think we need ‘a roll-up-your-sleeves’ type of coach who possesses football acumen and can instil pride, endeavour, and fortitude into our undoubtedly talented players.

The early evidence is overwhelming: this appointment is doomed to failure. I’d love to be proven wrong.

Arthur Gray

Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Arthur. Thank you for your letter.

I agree with your comparison between Mowbray and Beale, and I think that’s why people haven’t quite taken to Beale in the same way they did to Mogga.

Sunderland is a difficult club to manage at the best of times, and I do feel that you need a certain type of personality in order to be a success in the Stadium of Light dugout.

Time will tell whether Beale’s football can win people over, but it’s difficult to overlook the idea that he’s not suited to this job, and that leading a club of our size could be too big a challenge for him.

Ipswich Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

We seem to be going backwards at a rate of knots and there’s been no improvement whatsoever.

Regarding the striking issue, Sydney Van Hooijdonk would be the ideal striker to buy and to be part of the team for the future, as he’d give us a realistic chance of fighting for promotion.

Malcolm Donnison

Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Malcolm. Thanks for getting in touch.

As I recall, we were linked with Van Hooijdonk last summer, but obviously the club had other targets in mind and nothing came of it.

Personally, I don’t see us making that kind of marquee signing during this window. If we are to bring in another striker this month, it certainly won’t be for the kind of fee that was bandied around for Van Hooijdonk last summer.

Nevertheless, he seems to be a talented and highly-rated striker, and maybe it’s one we could look into later in the year.

FC Internazionale v Bologna FC: Round of 16 - Coppa Italia Photo by Francesco Scaccianoce/Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

I’ve been reading the letters and there are some very frustrated fans on here who are absolutely spot on.

When Tony Mowbray was sacked, I thought they would’ve had someone more experienced ready to be brought in, so is it time to change the formation to a 4-4-2 just to see if it can work?

Also, is now the time to find a striker during the window? Kieffer Moore’s being mentioned, and he’s not playing a lot for Bournemouth, so he could do a job here.

I know we’re sitting seventh so let’s get some quality in and push to make sure we reach the playoffs.

Dave Martin

Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Dave. Thank you for your letter.

Moore is a striker we seem to have been linked with for quite a while, and he does tick a lot of boxes: an experienced forward with a good record at this level and who could be a good fit for our style of play.

That said, if recent rumours are to be believed, wages could be the stumbling block, and given how strict we are with our wage structure, I’d be very surprised to see us make an exception, even for a player like Moore.

Queens Park Rangers v AFC Bournemouth - Emirates FA Cup Third Round Photo by Robin Jones - AFC Bournemouth/AFC Bournemouth via Getty Images


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