Much was made about Sunderland’s “lack of business” over the January transfer window, and there have been growing concerns throughout this season that the prominently mentioned “Model” may not be working as well as some hoped.
I have found myself among the critics as well, especially in the wake of Tony Mowbray’s sacking at the beginning of December.
However, something intriguing caught my attention as I surveyed the transfer windows of the last couple of seasons since Kristjaan Speakman has been in charge. I recognised that our transfer windows accomplished three things: evidence of success in the next phase, ambition, and financial responsibility.
Allow me to explain each in turn.
Success at the next level
In the three transfer windows in League One under Speakman’s reign at SAFC (January ‘21, Summer ‘21, and January ‘22), the Black Cats have permanently added the likes of Ross Stewart, Alex Pritchard, Niall Higgins, Denis Cirkin, Trai Hume, Patrick Roberts, and Jack Clarke. This group not only played a role in Sunderland’s promotion from League One, especially in the case of Stewart, Roberts, and Clarke, but they also are players who have seamlessly transitioned into life in the Championship.
All of them were able to not only compete but thrive at the level above their original signing. Summer ‘22 added the likes of Abdullah Ba, Dan Ballard, and Aji Alese on permanent deals – all championship-ready additions.
Which, to me, begs the question: how could the subsequent three windows’ signings fare in the model of gaining promotion and being ready to succeed at the next level?
Players like Ekwah, Jobe, and Jason Seelt have already proven their worth at Championship levels, with additional players such as Aouchiche, Rusyn, Pembele, and most recently Leo Hjelde showing signs of the same.
What more could we see from the likes of Mayeda, Hemir, Triantis, Mundle, and Styles in the months to come? How might they develop and lead us to the inevitability of the next level? And what might be added to our wealth of talent around them?
These players aren’t merely pieces to help us push for promotion; they will be ready to make the jump with the Club when the moment arrives.
When I say ambition, I mean it in the sense that the kind of signings we’ve made under Speakman have been youthful, data-driven, forward-thinking signings. The players have been top academy prospects not yet given a chance, or wayward journeymen with immense talent looking for a place to shine. Clarke, Ballard, Cirkin, and Jobe have made fans of their previous clubs wonder what might have been had they been able to hold onto their prospects, and hopefully Hjelde and Mundle join that category.
Ekwah, Ba, Alese, Pembele, and Aouchiche led the charge in a relatively successful French invasion. These talented Frenchmen have come in and created a definite international culture that I believe will encourage future internationals to follow their lead.
There have also been examples of success at Sunderland translating to national team exposure and call-ups, as evidenced by Ross Stewart in his time on Wearside, Trai Hume, Dan Ballard, Nectar Triantis, and even on-loan Jewison Bennette.
Lastly, the ambition to take a chance on more established players who may have fallen from the heights their talent demands shows a diversity in the model and an understanding of the need for professionalism. Patrick Roberts, Alex Pritchard, and even Bradley Dack in his limited time have acted as a balance to the youthful model and brought a sense of opportunity to a different type of player that I believe paves a pathway to greater transfer success in the windows to come.
If this ambition persists and grows with our success, there’s no limit to the success we might achieve.
This may be the most overlooked aspect of the model thus far. It certainly was for me until I looked deeper into the numbers.
Since Speakman arrived, Sunderland have spent over £15 million on incoming permanent signings, and that figure does not include undisclosed figures spent. There has been criticism in Kyril Louis-Dreyfus’ time as owner that he has been unwilling to allocate appropriate funding for incoming transfers.
However, that £15 million exceeds the amount of revenue made on outgoing transfers in the same timeframe, about £10 million. I know people want KLD to spend as if we are already in the Premier League. But that just isn’t the case yet.
This type of financial ambition keeps us well within the framework of the rules that are in place for financial fair play, as well as shows ambition for the club’s desire to move forward, albeit without breaking the bank. Another note on that outgoing transfer figure: that £10 million incoming represents a 4000% plus return on investment on the assets of the likes of Ross Stewart and Alex Pritchard, etc.
All of us know that outgoing transfers are going to be a part of this model at some point, and if we continue to make shrewd deals that turn into massive fees on the return, then the model is working. It will represent income in the transfer market that will result in higher fees for incoming transfers as we continue to climb the ladder.
All in all, the evidence I see suggests that the current trajectory of the club has no limits. And if we as fans can stay patient and buy into this process, I doubt very much that we’ll be left disappointed.