The January window of 2019 was a torrid affair for Stewart Donald and Sunderland.
The Mackems approached the New Year period in desperate need of finding a striker to lift the burden from Josh Maja’s shoulders.
However, after Maja’s agent convinced him to move to Bordeaux, the Black Cats were quickly left without a goal scorer. It took a considerable period of time for Donald to find the right man but as things moved closer and closer to the deadline, Sunderland were in limbo.
Clubs they negotiated with knew they needed to sign a forward and thus, they could ramp the price up.
With Maja no longer at the Stadium of Light, they now needed two forwards but they ultimately signed just the one; Will Grigg.
As Tony Coton and Donald squared off in the Sunderland board room, the latter eventually ended up paying £4m for Grigg’s services. That was after having a number of bids knocked back.
He is now on loan at MK Dons after scoring only eight goals in 61 outings for the north-east outfit. It’s fair to say he was a colossal waste of money.
At the same time, Sunderland happened to miss out on John Marquis. A phone call from Coton led to Doncaster telling the Mackems their valuation of the forward was at around £10m.
Completely stunned by the news, they submitted a much lower bid that was ultimately rejected.
Paying such money for a player like that in League One would have been madness, but had they not spent such a seismic sum on Grigg, they could have afforded him a few months down the line.
That’s because Portsmouth paid £2m for his services in the summer of 2019. That came after a season where Marquis had netted 26 times in all competitions. He has subsequently found the net on 28 occasions since moving to Pompey.
Their inability to identify the correct target, therefore, has clearly wreaked havoc with Sunderland. Had they signed a striker of Marquis’ ability and he’d hit the ground running, the Mackems may well already be in the Championship.
Dubbed a “proven striker” by Kenny Jacket, this was precisely the type of player that Donald should have brought to the club.
Of course, they now have 26-goal Charlie Wyke in their possession, but if Sunderland fail to go up again, new owner Kyril Louis-Dreyfus may just rue the day that Donald spent £4m on Grigg.
At the moment, it feels like now or never in terms of reaching the second tier for Sunderland. Fall short of promotion again, and they may just be thinking about 2019 again as a period of ‘what if?’.