Martin O’Neill and his Sunderland cohorts jetted off to South Korea on Monday to compete in the Peace Cup as part of their preparations for next season. Such exotic preseason destinations are not something the Black Cats faithful are used to having become more accustomed to tours of Great Britain and Ireland but the club’s rising stature as an established Premier League side means they now have much higher standards.
It’s an ambition that former Chairman Niall Quinn, followed by owner Ellis Short, have been championing as they attempt to promote the club’s image but fan’s concerns appear to be far closer to home. While no supporter is naive enough to turn their nose up at increased revenue streams and global branding, many are far more eager for their beloved club to prioritise new signings than new sponsors. It’s certainly a delicate balancing act for the men in charge but it would seem as though Sunderland are trying to run before they can walk as they look to further their worldwide appeal before improving their playing staff. As it stands, Carlos Cuelllar is the only permanent signing made by O’Neill during his 8 months in charge and the Northern Irishman has suggested little will be done before they return from Asia next week.
Not exactly the news fans wanted to hear as they sift through endless pages of speculation in the hope of seeing some fresh faces. It’s no secret the club needs at least two strikers, a winger and some new fullbacks but many believe the majority of their first team are no better than squad players. With so much expected of O’Neill’s first full season in charge, the frustration in the North East is palpable given their continuing lack of transfer action. Sunderland’s league form towards the end of last season left many with a bitter taste in the mouth as it concluded a campaign that had petered out after O’Neill’s initial impact recovered Steve Bruce’s early failings. A 13th place League finish ultimately represented a step backwards in the club’s progression and yet they’ve sidestepped further investment to embark on their Korean tour without even taking key attraction Ji Dong-Won. The striker’s Olympic commitments cannot be helped but his presence was supposed to be the main reason why the club chose to compete in the tournament and it’s another signal of where their priorities lie as many believe they need to concentrate on improving the first team before they swan off around the world.
Not only are fans disappointed at having to wait another week or two, they also know how little time there is to blend any new players into the squad. The tour should’ve been the perfect opportunity but instead their youth team have been called upon, complimented by a handful of senior stars. Despite it being a useful training exercise, there’s also a £2m prize for the winners which Sunderland’s weakened squad is unlikely to bring home and this has further called into the question the merits of such a far flung tour. While some are prepared to be patient and trust O’Neill’s judgement, the manager’s coy approach to transfer targets means there is little concrete evidence that Sunderland are chasing anybody. Last season Bruce started early when bringing in over ten new recruits to the Stadium of Light and while a repeat of such an influx is not expected, some feel that other more active clubs are stealing a march in their quest for talent. The likes of QPR and Fulham have snapped up players many feel would’ve graced the Stadium of Light and while rivals Newcastle are targeting European stars, Sunderland fans have only an overpriced £10m+ move for Wolves’ Steven Fletcher to read about on daily repeat.
It’s not a situation that fans envisaged when Short insisted he would back O’Neill to invest in the squad but in his defence, the Texan billionaire also said they would be targeting quality not quantity. While many are desperate for new faces, the prospect of signing a player like Fletcher for £12-15m just to get him over the line quickly is not preferable to delaying a month and signing him for £8-10m. It’s a risky waiting game that may mean some of the Black Cats’ targets are snapped up by their bigger spending rivals but it certainly appears to be a logical approach from a side looking to maintain financial stability while competing at the highest level. Excuses made regarding last season’s woeful start to the season were pointed towards so many new players taking time to adjust and while such concerns will not be as prevalent this time around, many still feel it would be sensible to sign players as soon as possible so they have more time to prepare.
So far Sunderland are lagging behind in the transfer race but it’s a marathon, not a sprint and judgement should be reserved until fans have seen the team that crosses the deadline day finishing line before they criticise the club’s patient albeit procrastinatory approach.
Do you think Sunderland are right to bide their time in the transfer market? Should O’Neill be looking to sign players quickly so they have more time to adjust ?
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