Sunderland’s sensational piece of summer business to sign Bailey Wright on a free following his release from Bristol City has proven to be an even better deal than first thought, with the defender now being likened to Liverpool star Virgil van Dijk by Black Cats icon Kevin Phillips.
Wright initially joined Sunderland on a half-season loan in January and made five appearances for the North East giants before the campaign was cut short, only to return this summer and sign a two-year contract following the expiration of his Bristol City deal as CEO Jim Rodwell got a deal over the line.
The Australian has proven an integral aspect of manager Phil Parkinson’s side since, with Wright starting all six of the Black Cats’ League One fixtures and captaining the Stadium of Light natives against Peterborough and Charlton Athletic.
Parkinson has been more than happy with the form seen from Wright, too, noting ahead of this weekend’s clash with Portsmouth how the 28-year-old is offering Sunderland a leader he feared the Black Cats would not be able to sign permanently.
“Bailey was a great signing for us in the summer,” said Parkinson, via quotes by the Northern Echo. “He was a player I’d been speaking to all through lockdown, although we weren’t sure we would be able to get the deal done.
“Credit to the owner of the football club for enabling us to do that, and also to Bailey as well because he was realistic. He can see the potential at Sunderland, and enjoyed his loan time here.
“He’s a very good player. He’s a leader, he’s been a captain at Championship level, and he’s a great influence, on and off the pitch.”
The praise for Wright has kept on coming, too, with Sunderland icon Phillips taken back by what the centre-half has brought to his former home.
“He’s been a great signing,” Phillips told Football Insider. “I don’t know the player, but I just get the feeling that he’s a leader and a voice in the dressing room.
“Sometimes the manager can only say so much and then you want of your senior experience players to pipe up and put a few people in their place and give encouragement and be a leader. He seems like that.
“The stats just show what an important player he is. He’s almost to Sunderland what van Dijk is to Liverpool at the moment with those incredible stats.”
Van Dijk is among the world’s best centre-halves with no better proof than in the Dutchman being named the runner-up to Lionel Messi for the 2019 Ballon d’Or, having already been named the PFA Players’ Player of the Year, Premier League Player of the Season and UEFA Men’s Player of the Year.
For Wright to be compared to a player of that calibre shows what Sunderland were able to acquire this summer, while the leadership that Parkinson and Phillips both laud the Australian for will prove pivotal to any promotion push as the Stadium of Light natives strive to avoid a fourth campaign in the third-tier.
One of the standout aspects of Wright’s game that warrants the comparisons with van Dijk is that the Sunderland ace is yet to be dribbled past in a League One fixture this term, something the Liverpool star has frequently been praised for by using his pace and strength to devastating effect.
Liverpool’s £75million man restricted just eight players into being able to record successful dribbles against him over the last three full Premier League seasons, with no single player able to get the better of the Dutchman on multiple occasions.
Wright has also stood out this term with an average 5.8 duels won a game in the league, plus 5.7 clearances, 1.2 tackles, 0.7 interceptions and 0.8 shots, though missed his best chance to score his first Sunderland goal, per SofaScore.