2020, like the several years that preceded it, were a disaster for Sunderland.
For a second season in a row, they failed to achieve promotion from League One and then to make matters worse, an EFL salary cap was introduced.
The Black Cats have bigger financial muscles than almost every club in the third-tier but it’s now increasingly difficult to flex them.
Thus, Sunderland only have room for one more player over the age of 21 to bring in during January. That’s not particularly very good news, but fortunately, Lee Johnson can call on the academy.
It’s a rejuvenated part of the football club and the U23s have gone from winning zero games last term to winning five in 2020/21. The academy has been a contentious talking point at the Stadium of Light in the last few years and to say Stewart Donald managed it terribly would be putting things lightly.
He was the one that oversaw Josh Maja’s exit to Bordeaux while Joel Asoro also departed for Swansea. However, there are a number of other academy stars from Sam Greenwood and Bali Mumba to Luke Hewitson, Morten Spencer, Joe Hugill and Logan Pye.
Keeping their rising stars has not been a priority in recent years but under their new ownership, it could be about to change.
That’s because it’s expected that Kyril Louis-Dreyfus will target promoting from within and improving the academy. It’s a strategy that makes perfect sense when you consider they have Kristjaan Speakman acting as the newly appointed director of football.
He was in charge of Birmingham City’s academy when they brought through Demarai Gray, Nathan Redmond and Jude Bellingham so he has already achieved plenty at that level.
In a Q&A on the Sunderland Echo this week, journalist Phil Smith revealed that the academy had been left severely “underpowered” during Donald’s reign but that was about to change. He cited that Dreyfus aims to plough significant investment into the academy and is hoping to appoint someone to manage that side of the business.
This can only be a good thing, especially with the finances dwindling at Sunderland the longer they stay at this level of the football pyramid.
It feels like Dreyfus and Speakman are incredibly keen to make up for one of Donald’s biggest neglects and that can only be a good thing.
If they manage to get everything sorted, Sunderland could well and truly begin the New Year with a bang.