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Ipswich Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship

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Patience brings experience

“A clamour for experience is a common demand in football, and Sunderland sticking to the model is turning young players into experienced heads,” writes Paddy Hollis.

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Sunderland’s recruitment model has come under fire for not having much in the way of seniority. In the past two windows, the likes of Lynden Gooch, Danny Batth and Alex Pritchard have departed taking with them hundreds of first-team appearances.

The January signings and departure of Pritchard have taken our first team's average age below 22. Despite the fact we have some raw talent that is undoubtedly short on first-team experience we’ve built up a squad in the last two years that, by this point in the plan, are approaching or have already reached a level of experience we’d like from them.

Seven current Sunderland players have either surpassed 100 career appearances or have played over 50 matches for us. In some cases, it feels as though they have reached this number in double quick time, whilst others have carried on from good careers to bring their talent to Wearside.

Sunderland v Leeds United - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images

As I write this, Anthony Patterson, Luke O’Nien, and Dan Neil have all played at least 100 times for Sunderland. All three are regular starters and make up the spine of a squad that will be looking to compete around the top 6-8 of the Championship once again.

Other career centurions include Jack Clarke, Patrick Roberts, and Dan Ballard who have also become regular names on the team sheet. All six of these have developed during their time at Sunderland, and they are players who in most cases could not have progressed to this point without.

Another who has yet to reach 100 games on Wearside but is certainly going the right way about it is Trai Hume. Signed for just £250k, the Northern Irishman has been a near-ever present this season and was a regular in our first-season pack in the second tier.

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

On top of this, he is a fine example of our recruitment model at work. Recruited for a small amount, and progressed into a player that our backline can’t do without. Hume is just one of our success stories in the making, and the signings of Leo Hjelde and Romaine Mundle have real potential to follow in the success of Neil, Clarke, Hume etc.

Our players are getting experience in a tough division and are learning lessons week in and week out. Just because we don’t have many players around the late 20s/ early 30s region doesn’t mean we don’t have players with experience. Having an average squad age of under 22 but multiple players with over 100 senior appearances means that we’re not just ‘a team full of bairns’, we are on track to build a side of young, exciting players who will rack up appearances to no end.

Sunderland in 2024 is a case of being patient. Throwing money at players with no guarantee of success is what screwed us over as recently as five years ago. The data-driven approach to recruitment and bringing in players who have heaps of potential for small amounts is both low risk and potentially high reward.

I’ll keep on banging the drum for KLD, Speakman, and ‘the model’ because to me it’s a sign of the club building towards a future patiently rather than running headfirst into what could be an FFP nightmare further down the line. These lads are building a good name for themselves and the longer they do, the less need we’ll have to go out and bring in our seasoned players as we’ll have them under our roof already.

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