The Black Cats had been in the division since their relegation from the Championship at the end of the 2017/18 campaign and the Scottish manager led the team to play-off glory after taking over from Lee Johnson.
Whilst the appointment of the now-Stoke City boss was crucial to the club’s success, you could trace the promotion all the way back to December of 2020 when Sunderland moved to bring in Kristjaan Speakman as sporting director.
He came in from Birmingham and immediately made it clear that he wanted to build a team around players the Black Cats have developed on the training pitch, telling the club’s official website:
“I have been tasked with delivering a best-in-class player development model from the academy through to the senior squad and given a realistic timeframe and budget with which to do so. It is an absolute honour to have been invited to do this at one of England’s biggest clubs.”
One of his first signings in charge of Sunderland was Northern Irish utility man Carl Winchester from Forest Green Rovers in January 2021. The midfielder was valued at £180k per Transfermarkt at the time of the move and he turned out to be a masterclass of a signing by the sporting director.
Speakman stated that he wanted to develop players during their time at Sunderland and that is exactly what happened with the versatile talent.
The gem made the step up from League Two football with Forest Green to playing for the Black Cats in League One and he enjoyed a solid debut campaign in the third tier, averaging a SofaScore rating of 6.76 in 21 appearances – starting 12 games.
Winchester then established himself as a regular starter in the team under Lee Johnson and then Alex Neil during the 2021/22 campaign. He started 39 times, playing 40 games in total, as he averaged a SofaScore rating of 6.80 in Sunderland’s run to winning the play-off final to secure promotion to the Championship.
At the end of that season, Transfermarkt updated their valuation of the player to £450k. This means that his market value soared 150% in just 18 months at the Stadium of Light.
Therefore, Speakman played a masterclass by signing the £3.4k-per-week gem as the player is an example of the player development model that the sporting director is striving to achieve with Sunderland.
Winchester improved during his time in the team and that is reflected in his performances and his valuation, which is why he was a terrific signing for the club.
He is currently out on loan at Shrewsbury after an injury hampered his chances of breaking into the team in the Championship and, hopefully, he will come back and continue his development on Wearside next year.