Sunderland manager Steve Bruce has been a very busy man this summer. The confirmation that David Vaughan has joined the Black Cats makes it nine players arriving at the Stadium of Light so far. Bruce seems determined to buy nearly a whole new squad ahead of the new season.
Since Bruce’s arrival in June 2009 he has signed a steady stream of players, so shouldn’t Bruce be expected to do better at Sunderland when he seems to have the freedom of the transfer market to mould his team?
Last season Sunderland finished 10th, a respectable finish but one marred by a terrible second half of the season that saw the Black Cats on the verge of a relegation battle at one point. They managed only three wins in 14 games from February onwards. Many blamed this mini-crisis on an injury hit squad and the loss of key player Darren Bent in the January transfer window.
In this respect Bruce can’t be blamed for a poor run of form and a terrible injury list that included Michael Turner, Lee Cattermole, Fraizer Campbell, Danny Welbeck, Nedum Onuoha and Craig Gordon. Very few managers could have steered a ship so badly hit by problems however many signings he had previously made. With this terrible period still clearly playing on Steve Bruce’s mind he has looked to immediately address the problem this summer and add depth to a small squad.
Wes Brown, John O’Shea, Sebastian Larsson, Craig Gardner, Connor Wickham, Ahmed Elmohamady, Ji Dong-won and Keiren Westwood have joined Vaughan at Sunderland. Brown and O’Shea’s former teammate Darron Gibson could also join the pair on Wearside soon if reports are correct.
This astonishing transfer activity from Bruce follows deals like Asamoah Gyan, Stephane Sessegnon, Lee Cattermole and Darren Bent in previous years. With big money and big deals surrounding the club, surely now is the time for Bruce to deliver at Sunderland and push away from mid-table security.
In Bruce’s first season Sunderland finished 13th so last season’s 10th was a small improvement. But with the huge player turnover at the club Sunderland must now be challenging for European places and aiming for a good domestic cup run to justify the money spent by Bruce over the last few years.
But I think Sunderland’s success in previous years and in the season to come may come down to the quality of the players Bruce invests in, rather than the quantity. Bruce has been a bit hit and miss with some of his signings in previous years. The likes of Gyan, Michael Turner and Cattermole were very good acquisitions, whilst Cristian Riveros, Marcos Angeleri and Matthew Kilgallon were less of a success.
Bruce may have taken note of that and this summer has gone for Premier League experience. Gardner and Larsson are both excellent captures from Birmingham whilst O’Shea and Brown add experience and young striker Wickham is an exciting prospect. The key for Bruce may be getting so many new players to gel together, though he has done his business early in the transfer window so pre-season should give the players a chance to work well together and the likes of Larsson/Gardner and O’Shea/Brown will obviously be familiar with each other’s games.
The fans and owner of Sunderland must now be rewarded with a finish that matches their readiness to dip into the transfer market. Anything less from Bruce and his army of new players will no longer be enough from a team who promise much in the summer but must now deliver during the season.