A new kit, a new sponsor, even a new manufacturer go with a fairly new regime at the Stadium of Light and yet it’s the same old story when it comes to Sunderland’s transfer dealings.
Martin O’Neill is the man tasked with curbing the expectation of the Mackem faithful but despite strides made to help Sunderland become more than just an established Premier League side, are fans preparing themselves for summer of transfer market disappointment?
Having seen archrivals Newcastle regain their place as the North East’s top side, it was thought the latest transfer window would signal a recruitment drive to aid O’Neill and his troops in their quest to compete in the top 10 again. Names such Carlos Cuellar, Keith Andrews and Louis Saha haven’t exactly set fans’ heart rates pulsing and rumbles from the Stadium of Light suggests that cost cutting is the main priority, not investment.
Like many clubs, Sunderland will fall foul of the new FIFA Financial Fair Plays Rules but given the amount of money wasted by previous managers Roy Keane and Steve Bruce, fans cannot understand why O’Neill, the man many felt would be the clubs saviour, isn’t being backed as heavily. The Northern Irishman may have a better history in the transfer market than his predecessors but his track record at other clubs is more than questionable. Despite receiving praise for his impact on players like Ashley Young, James Milner and Stewart Downing, Aston Villa fans hardly remember their former manager’s transfer antics fondly. O’Neill spent roughly £120m at Villa Park and while finishing 6th in the Premier League three times, he also brought the likes of Curtis Davies, Wayne Routledge, Steve Sidwell, Habib Beye and Fabian Delph to the club. No manager ever has a 100% market success rate but if Sunderland are trying to cut down expenditure then giving O’Neill free reign may not be the wisest idea.
The former Celtic boss’ history of wheeling and dealing is far from respectable and his overspending at Villa is made to look even more amateur when analysing his striking choices. Emile Heskey, Marlon Harewood and Chris Sutton are just a selection of ill advised forwards bought by O’Neill and the Black Cats are currently in desperate need of firepower having decided against the permanent signing of Nicklas Bendtner and lost the likes of Darren Bent, Danny Welbeck and Asamoah Gyan in recent seasons. Heskey is a player that has already been linked with Sunderland and if O’Neill decides to compliment his team with players of that ilk then it will speak volumes about the Black Cats’ aspirations for the future.
Regardless of Steve Bruce’s attempts to flesh out the side with a number of permanent signings last summer, the newly appointed Hull City manager was criticised for bringing in too many squad players and not enough genuine quality. It’s widely understood that Sunderland will require another overhaul of their squad but chairman Ellis Short told BBC Newcastle that he and O’Neill are looking for quality not quantity this time around.
“We don’t want to sign players for the sake of it, or if it feels they’re inexpensive. We want to identify players who are good and will definitely improve us.
“We’ve been talking all summer about what we’re going to do, the fans have a pretty good idea of what we need to do.
“Martin is looking at specific players that we might want, and then there’ll be a lot of work in trying to get those players here.”
While there’s little to suggest O’Neill will wantonly fritter away his transfer kitty, potential bargain basement free transfers were not what fans expected to hear about when their new messiah was appointed back in December. They let a quiet January window slip by because the manager needed time to assess his squad but now the team’s weaknesses have been highlighted by a poor end to the season and it’s time to buy strength in depth. After all Bruce spent £13.1m on Asamoah Gyan as well as £12m on Connor Wickham so the club’s hierarchy are clearly willing to spend when necessary. Hindsight would suggest both of these signings have been fairly unsuccessful but Gyan’s impending departure should recoup most of his initial transfer fee and Wickham could well mature into a talented forward. If O’Neill can find suitable reinforcements to build on foundations laid by Bruce then the club could easily push forward. At the moment they may have a team full of squad players but a few choice signings would take the pressure of stars like Stephane Sessegnon and help build a formidable team.
Ultimately it will come down to how much faith Short has in O’Neill. If the Texan billionaire allows him the freedom to spend then Sunderland could shoot their way back into the top 10 but unfortunately there’s a flipside, a lack of funds means the manager is forced to look for more bargains and fans could end up with Saha and Heskey spearheading their attack next season.
Do you think Sunderland should spend big this summer? Can they afford better than bargain basement signings?
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