Sunderland’s pro-active transfer plan deserves praise

Sunderland boss Paolo Di Canio
Sunderland boss Paolo Di Canio

SUNDERLAND’S summer spending shows no sign of abating after Jozy Altidore and El-Hadji Ba took the club’s tally of incoming players to eight.

As CHRIS YOUNG reports, Sunderland have had a definitive blueprint of where to strengthen and have pro-actively fulfilled that plan.

AGENTS looking to peddle their players to Sunderland have been given short shrift this summer.

The phone calls are ceaseless during these manic months, with managers told that every Tom, Dick and Harry is available and eager to join their club.

Martin O’Neill usually met these pitches with an “I’ll get back to you” before understandably turning his mind to something other than a player he had never heard of.

But the representatives haven’t even got that far under the new Sunderland regime.

A wall of silence has greeted those looking to speculatively get their players to the Stadium of Light.

This hasn’t been due to rudeness or sheer impatience at agents looking to hustle those from the furthest reaches of Eastern Europe.

Sunderland have simply had a list of targets and anyone not among that exalted company has been ignored.

Far from “waiting for the market to heat up” or seeing which cast-offs are available from the big boys once they have suitably splashed millions on a new signing or two, Sunderland have made the running themselves.

Director of football Roberto De Fanti and chief scout Valentin Angeloni have pro-actively chased – and invariably secured – those they pinpointed at the start of the summer.

Regardless of whether these players prove to be a success or not, Sunderland deserve enormous credit for drawing up a clear strategy and implementing it.

There has been no wishy-washy meandering to see who will be available.

Sunderland have gone out from the first whistle and done their business early – eight players already through the doors after the window has officially been open for a mere 12 days.

It’s a refreshing change after last summer.

O’Neill’s hesitancy saw only Carlos Cuellar added to Sunderland’s numbers during the entire pre-season campaign.

The season was already a week old by the time O’Neill made his two big summer purchases of Steven Fletcher and Adam Johnson and the lack of acclimatisation with their new team-mates cost Sunderland during those opening months and beyond.

Yes, the Black Cats were solid at the back, but there was never any fluidity going forward – something which would surely have been helped had Fletcher or Johnson enjoyed a few bedding-in friendlies with their new team-mates.

That will not be an excuse under Paolo Di Canio.

The Italian was clearly hankering for a huge overhaul at the tail end of last season and his hopes of a “revolution” have been realised.

Crucially, he now has time to mould the new players to his liking too.

There are still a couple of glaring omissions – both full-back spots and in midfield.

But with Gino Peruzzi and Emanuele Giaccherini closing in on moves to Wearside, there are becoming increasingly few missing pieces in the jigsaw.

Di Canio should have at least another couple of players at his disposal by the time Sunderland face their first game in the Barclays Asia Trophy, in Hong Kong, in 12 days time.

And that opportunity for players to work together in a game-situation will prove to be invaluable – relationships fostered and partnerships developed.

That was a clear deficiency of this Sunderland side last season, there were no on-field partnerships.

For supporters who have seen double-acts such as Quinn and Phillips, and Gates and Gabbiadini, it was a glaring omission.

Perhaps Sunderland should have been more pro-active in organising more friendlies to blood the new players together, although the club is hopeful of confirming a couple of games in Portugal next month.

But at least Di Canio has got time with them on the training ground.

Bringing in players early to complete a pre-season together is no guarantee of success.

Steve Bruce had landed nine players by mid-July in the summer of 2011 and yet Sunderland’s new-look side flopped to the extent that it eventually cost him his job.

Bruce was hamstrung though by his inability to land a natural left-winger or more crucially a goal-hungry striker.

It was left to Asamoah Gyan and then the equally languid Nicklas Bendtner to lead Sunderland’s line.

But with Tom Huddlestone identified for central midfield, Giaccherini to add creativity and Peruzzi and possibly Lucas Orban occupying the full-back slots, there are no obvious deficiencies.

What could possibly become more of a concern for Sunderland is offloading those who Di Canio inherited and has no desire to keep at the club.

There will surely come a time in a fortnight or so when Sunderland’s focus will firmly shift from recruiting to offloading.

But balancing the books is never a practice which captures supporters’ attention.

Signings are the currency for generating enthusiasm and Sunderland have done that in abundance over the last fortnight and look likely to continue to do so.

There have to be reservations over whether it is too much of a gamble to bring in so many overseas recruits.

As Newcastle have proved, keeping a domestic core can be pivotal towards success in the Premier League.

The signing of Huddlestone should help in that respect, while at least the likes of Modibo Diakite and Giaccherini have experienced the demands of Serie A.

But there is a widespread sense among supporters that it has been worth Sunderland gambling.

The old plan of signing players from relegated clubs or those rejected by the top six has not worked for the Black Cats. Why not try something different?

After Sunderland only escaped relegation by the narrowest of margins last season, there was clearly a need for dramatic changes too.

Bringing in relatively young players, with the hunger to prove themselves in the Premier League, has created a sense of genuine enthusiasm for the campaign ahead.

Following what was surely one of the dullest campaigns in Sunderland history, the upcoming season is already thick with potential plots.