As Sunderland return from an eventful preseason tour of South Korea focus now turns to their impending transfer business as manager Martin O’Neill looks to reinforce his striking options ahead of the new season. With his delayed transfer business becoming the main topic of debate in the North East, the Northern Irishman has announced this week that he will be looking to strengthen his side’s front line.
Names like Steven Fletcher have perennially linked with a move to the Stadium of Light but such is the coy manner with which O’Neill undertakes his transfer business that no Sunderland fan has any inkling of who is being targeted. In fact their supposedly inexperienced forwards look to be coming of age as three of them scored in a 3-2 win against Groningen on Sunday so the club flounders in their attempts to bring in established talent, perhaps the answer is lying right under the their nose.
Fraizer Campbell, Connor Wickham and Ryan Noble may not be a strike force that sends shudders down the spines of Premier League defenders, neither does Ji Dong-Won, but the variety of talent they possess as a group makes them a useful quartet that could save the Black Cats precious pennies in the transfer market. Campbell is fast and agile with a decent eye for goal, similar in many ways to Noble who is a few years behind the former Manchester United striker but has an outstanding record at reserve team level and has impressed in brief loan spells away from the club. If both players were given a decent run of games then they could easily become the Darren Bent replacement fans have been craving. Wickham and Ji may not be as nippy as their counterparts but their height offers the more physical approach favoured by O’Neill and they both have good technical ability as well. Both could be excellent foils for Noble and Campbell and were it not for their obvious inexperience, Sunderland could potentially have two little and large pairings already on their books. With so much nostalgia shaped around the success of Kevin Phillips and Niall Quinn, perhaps they do not need to sift through the overinflated fees being demanded by their rivals and should instead look to blood their current youngsters.
After all both Ji and Wickham played bit part roles last season when the club’s options were limited and only Nicklas Bendtner represented an established option. The Dane’s loan spell was inauspicious at best and bar a handful of classy moments, never persuaded anybody at the club to make his move permanent. In hindsight Wickham and Ji’s development would have been aided by greater involvement last season but instead of starting this season raring to go, both are still untested and unconfident playing at the highest level. Noble is equally inexperienced and Campbell, the club’s most senior forward, has been through such an injury nightmare that little is expected of him. It means Sunderland are now left with lots of potential but very little substance and thus O’Neill is searching far and wide for experienced forwards. The problem is any fee for their supposed main target Fletcher is thought to be over £10m and Sunderland attempts to find striking power elsewhere have been met with similarly overpriced demands from teams who are fully aware of their goal shy predicament. While fans have little faith in the club’s current forwards, there must be an element of consideration given to their potential development and despite many believing they need at least two front line strikers, the reality is it could easily cost them around £20m, the same as the money spent on Wickham, Ji and Campbell while hindering those player’s progress.
It was a difficult juggling act for O’Neill last season as his main focus was understandably based on keeping the club in the Premier League therefore he couldn’t risk the involvement of inexperienced rookies. This season will be even more difficult because he has the same inexperienced players who have made little progress during his tenure and are still a risky inclusion. Does he admit he’s unwilling to nurture them into the side and would rather invest in a better guarantee or does he appreciate the lack of value in the transfer market and see it as a reason to throw his youngsters in at the deep end?
As it stands Sunderland realistically need one striker, not two. Should they bring in two or more forwards then it will hinder the progression of their current starlets and render the money spent on them as being wasted. The potential they possess is exciting but unproven and top ten aspirations cannot be maintained while spoon feeding youngsters so the club must find a strong enough character to lead the line while also imparting his wisdom on the rest of the squad. If O’Neill can find value for money in a competitive market while also progressing the development of his young up and comers then he will be able to invest in a number of areas to compliment his squad and the future at the Stadium of Light could be extremely bright.
Does Sunderland need more experienced forwards? Can O’Neill afford to give his youngsters a chance to prove themselves?
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