Sunderland must axe more players while still recruiting

Costel Pantilimon
Costel Pantilimon

A DOZEN players have already left the Stadium of Light this summer, at the end of either their contracts or loan spells.

That has left sizeable gaps in Sunderland’s ranks for the start of pre-season training which will need to be addressed over the remaining eight weeks of the transfer window.

But as SportMail’s Chris Young reports, Sunderland face the pressing need to send several more players through the exit door while focusing on their summer recruitment drive.

BILLY Jones, Jordi Gomez and Costel Pantilimon will all come under Gus Poyet’s tutelage for the first time today.

The opening training session of Sunderland’s pre-season programme will inevitably see the trio of Bosman signings looking to make an immediate impression on their new boss.

But the free transfer arrivals are not the only ones making their debuts in a Poyet-led work-out today.

Danny Graham and Alfred N’Diaye both missed the rollercoaster of the Paolo Di Canio rebellion, cup runs and the Great Escape after being sent out on loan for the entirety of last season. They only met Poyet in person for the first time on Saturday when the players reported back to have their fitness levels assessed.

A further three - Modibo Diakite, David Moberg Karlsson and Cabral - find themselves back on Wearside temporarily; knowing they are surplus to requirements after spending the final few months of last season out on loan.

It’s a problem which cannot be brushed over.

The more impatient among Sunderland’s fanbase are groaning about the lack of incomings for the start of pre-season, when this squad so clearly requires another seven or eight additions before it is up to scratch numerically, let alone in terms of quality.

Admittedly, first-team coach Charlie Oatway indicated at the end of last season that Poyet would like as many pieces of the jigsaw in place as possible by this stage, so he could finely tune the Sunderland machine in the six weeks prior to the curtain-raiser.

But the transfer market always gets bogged down during World Cup years.

Sunderland have brought in some decent Bosmans and have undoubtedly tried to be proactive in terms of further additions. It’s often a test of nerve in waiting to secure targets for the right price or taking advantage of the domino effect from other deals.

Inevitably, the players WILL arrive over the next few weeks.

But what is just important is that some of the dead-wood from Martin O’Neill and Roberto De Fanti’s spending sprees are offloaded too.

Sunderland are not relying on selling these players for significant fees to fund a spending spree. If they were, they’d be shopping in Poundland.

The only one of that unwanted quintet where Sunderland would stand a chance of recouping a sizeable fee would be N’Diaye, with Poyet’s thoughts on the French midfielder made clear by his decision not to recall him in the January transfer window.

N’Diaye attracted some La Liga admirers during his loan spell at Real Betis during the second half of last season and Sunderland hope one of those will come through.

Betis cannot be expected to re-sign the 24-year-old though. While they have made all the right noises about wanting to keep N’Diaye, their budget after relegation from La Liga is akin to a top end League One side.

But N’Diaye-aside, any transfer fees which Sunderland can recoup this summer will be almost a bonus.

As seen with the club’s £1million asking price for Danny Graham - effectively wiping off £4m on the striker in just 18 months - Sunderland’s overwhelming priority is to remove these players from the wage bill.

In this era when Financial Fair Play has put far more stringent requirements on managing salary levels, it is essential that Sunderland’s books are not bogged down by players who offer no return.

Cabral, Diakite - and throw-in Valentin Roberge for good measure as he could also depart this summer - are all on big bucks after De Fanti offered them lucrative Bosman moves.

They made a total of 17 Premier League starts between them last season.

Sporting director Lee Congerton, understood to have been taken aback by some of the wages handed to last summer’s arrivals, knows these players need to go.

The challenge is to remove them with as little damage to the balance sheet as possible.

Yes, there will always be someone willing to take players on loan with Sunderland subsidising a hefty portion of their wages.

But can the Black Cats offload them permanently?

Can Diakite be used as a part-exchange with Marcos Alonso (never the most straightforward of deals)?

Can Sunderland convince cash-strapped Middlesbrough to spend a £1m on Graham?

These are questions of paramount importance for Congerton, chief executive Margaret Byrne and the agents Sunderland use as middlemen to offload those players no longer part of the manager’s plans.

It’s not a new problem for Sunderland. One of the side-effects of the conveyor belt of managers at the Stadium of Light has been the stagnation of players who don’t fit into the plans of the new regime.

Neither does it fill the significant - and obvious gulfs - in Sunderland’s ranks after the departure of 12 players during the summer.

But when such wholesale investment is required to supplement the threadbare squad training at the academy today, the strain on the club’s coffers clearly has to be minimised.