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Fan Letters: “If Sunderland can’t compete financially now, when can we?”

Thoughts on our recruitment strategy, Michael Beale’s tactics and Kyril Louis-Dreyfus’ ownership of Sunderland AFC are in the RR mailbox today! Got something to say? Email us:

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Dear Roker Report,

I’ve been a Sunderland fan for nearly fifty years, and have witnessed all sorts of ups and downs, from promotions to relegations, and millionaires to billionaires coming and going.

I’d hoped that the new owners were going to get us back on track, and so far, we’ve successfully dragged ourselves out of League One and had a good go at the Championship last season, only to fall towards the end.

We overachieved, but being so close without getting a striker in during two windows was worrying enough. However, it appears that once again, our strategy leads us to believe that we can’t compete with others in the division for attractive, ready-made and experienced strikers, be it through loan deals or permanent signings.

If changing the head coach hasn’t moved recruitment forward and if we can’t financially compete now, when will we?

Each season, wealthy teams will drop down from the Premier League, so using the excuse that we can’t compete seems a bit odd and worrying to me. The money from the sale of Ross Stewart should be used to show ambition and add an injection of momentum up front.

If this downward spiral is seen by fans, I worry whether our talent is seeing it too, and we do have plenty of players who’ll be looking to move on.

Having that money in the bank won’t help, as we won’t get like-for-like, ready-to-perform signings back in with the revenue from sales.

If Michael Beale survives, he’ll have produced an amazing turnaround, but if not, we need to look deeper into the recruitment structure and ambition of the club to genuinely move forward with sustainable quality performances from a motivated squad that puts smiles on the faces of the entire fan base.

I’ll have everything crossed that we improve on all fronts with additions coming in and the retention of players so that, as a squad, we’re in a better position until the end of the season.

Ray Wilson

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

The subject of spending, ‘ambition’, and the future direction of the club is one that seems to be endlessly debated, and the truth is that there’s no definitive answer.

Dreyfus and his people have made it clear that they intend to run the club sustainably and that we won’t spend beyond our means.

In my opinion, that’s admirable, but for some fans, the equation is ‘spending big = showing ambition’, and that’s where the tension seems to be emanating from. I don’t think it’s as simple as that, personally, as recent Sunderland history tells us.

The reality is that in order to be truly competitive in the years to come, we have to be working from solid foundations, which have certainly been put into place, and I also think that they deserve the chance to see their five-year plan through, and hopefully bring top flight football back to Wearside by the time we reach the end of that window.

Sunderland v Coventry City - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

This is my first time writing in, although I read Roker Report daily and I’ve been a Sunderland supporter for fifty two years.

I’d like to start by stating the obvious: the current owners aren’t as bad as we’ve suffered in the past, but they’ve made a mistake in appointing Michael Beale as head coach.

The focus on youth and player development is a noble idea and should eventually reap rewards for a club intent on nurturing youth and then selling players at a profit.

However, these young players need help and support on and off the field, and I suspect that Tony Mowbray provided this it. I’m not sure they’ll get the same from Beale, and already the players’ body language on the pitch reads all wrong.

One of the players I’d like to highlight is Jobe Bellingham.

I’m sure that he was brought to the club so that he could be nurtured and developed into a competent midfielder like his older brother.

However, he’s started every single game this season, and he now appears short on confidence and burned out. It begs the question: is his inclusion in every starting lineup down to the head coach or a deal Kristjaan Speakman made with Bellingham and his associates when he was signed?

His performances haven’t been anywhere near as good as they were at the start of the season, and the lad needs a rest before the crowd turns on him and his confidence is shattered; remember, he’s only eighteen years old.

If the coach was brave enough to give Bellingham a well-earned rest, then why not change the formation to four four two?

Play Jenson Seelt and Dan Ballard as the centre half pairing and move Luke O’Nien into the defensive midfield role, allowing Dan Neil the opportunity to move forward at will. Playing two traditional wingers would give us width, and why not try Jack Clarke on the right wing so that he can get to the byline and whip some crosses into the box?

Opposition defenders have caught onto Clarke now and realise that he predominantly cuts back onto his right foot and comes inside.

Playing with two wingers who are able to cross the ball into the box will only work if we play a centre forward, but why not play two?

Play both Nazariy Rusyn and Hemir together upfront, and they might just form a partnership as formidable as Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips did when they were getting regular service from wide players.

It’s time to be brave and try something new, because picking a team and formation to accommodate certain players isn’t working.

With the likes of Alex Pritchard and Bellingham to come on from the bench, it gives the coach options to not only change personnel but also tactics.

In the meantime, let’s get behind the Lads and give them the support they need and deserve on the field.

Lee Stevenson

Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Lee. Thank you for getting in touch.

On Jobe, it’s perfectly obvious that he’s running on fumes at the moment and it feels as though the fact he’s starting so regularly has as much to do with PR and exposure as it does with football. He needs a rest, but I don’t expect him to be given one when we line up against Stoke City.

On the subject of width, we’re simply not using any at the moment, and this was glaringly obvious against Hull City.

I’ve felt for a while that moving Jack Clarke to the opposite side for spells in games might be worthwhile, and as you say, it might also lead to better service for our strikers.

Nazariy Rusyn’s goal against Preston was a great example of getting the ball into the right area, and we really need to consider whether the current tactical approach is the right one.

Sunderland v Preston North End - Sky Bet Championship Photo by MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

Kyril Louis-Dreyfus has brought stability to the club, but we need someone who’ll put their hands up and say we need a good manager, and not the one we broke in, because he’s a ‘yes man’ who’ll put the club back years.

We need an owner to put their hand in their pocket and bring in someone who can buy players without Kristjaan Speakman’s permission.

If not, find someone who loves Sunderland to buy Dreyfus out, for the sake of the fans.

Joseph Coyne

Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Joseph. Thank you for getting in touch.

Although the idea of a Wearside native buying Sunderland AFC, much like Tom Cowie and Bob Murray were able to do, is a romantic one, the burning question is: who exactly is this person?

Unless we’re missing something, billionaires with a relaxed attitude to spending and a lifelong affinity for Sunderland aren’t exactly ‘ten a penny’, so the idea of simply changing the owner really isn’t as straightforward as it might seem.

Soccer - FA Barclays Premiership - Sunderland v Blackburn Rovers - The Stadium of Light Photo by Owen Humphreys - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

If we let Alex Pritchard go, it’ll be a disaster.

He’s a vital player to retain if we truly want to return to the top flight. We musn’t let him go.

Anthony Catterson

Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Anthony. Thank you for getting in touch.

At the time of writing, Kristjaan Speakman has revealed that the club has offered Pritchard a contract extension, so hopefully that’ll be accepted and signed pronto, because he remains a key player for us and he’s still got plenty to offer!

Sunderland v Newcastle United - Emirates FA Cup Third Round Photo by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images

Dear Roker Report,

With not long to go in the transfer window, another disaster looms as we fail to sign a goal scorer.

It doesn’t look like we will, so Division One, here we come again.

It’s time Kyril Louis-Dreyfus listened to what the supporters are saying, so come on, get on with it, and sign a decent goal scorer for the sake of staying in the Championship.

Ian Frame

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

Whilst I agree that we do need to add more firepower if possible during this window, I also feel that we haven’t given our current strikers a fair crack of the whip, and that certainly applies to Hemir and Eliezer Mayenda, both of whom we’ve barely seen in the first team recently!

If we can add another striker this window, great, but if not, I’d love to see one of the other lads given an extended run in the team. That’s the only way we’ll find out what they can actually offer.

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

Dear Roker Report,

I’m sixty two and still play five-a-side football on a Monday night, hitting the net a few times along the way. Do you realise if Sunderland signed me as a forward now, I’d only be one goal behind our leading striker?

We must’ve had more corners than any other team in our league, but never look like scoring, as more often than not, the ball doesn’t reach the goal area!

We don’t have any players at the far post either. Is that because we can’t kick the ball that far? That’s been the case for a long time, too.

I do hope that Michael Beale turns our team around, but I think not. His tactics are clueless and negative.

We have a good bunch of players but desperately require a forward (and a new head coach). However, would he be of any use if he never sees the ball?

I think if I were approached by the club, I’d stick to my Monday night football.

Chris Fowle

Ed’s Note [Phil]: Hi, Chris. Thank you for getting in touch.

This ‘non-scoring Sunderland strikers’ issue has become something of a running joke, hasn’t it?

After his goal against Preston, I really felt that it was Nazariy Rusyn’s time to shine, but he was inexplicably dropped against Ipswich before returning for Hull, so it was all slightly confusing.

As for Michael Beale, I agree that his tactics are leaving a lot to be desired, and we really do need to see an improved performance and result against Stoke City tomorrow. He’s already under pressure and every game that we don’t win will only add to that.

Sunderland v Hull City - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images


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