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Sunderland heading down?

Sunderland Oct 25, 2014
Read
Jul 20, 2014

Transfer Talk: Sunderland's summer so far

Jozy Altidore is in a race to get fit for preseason training with Sunderland.

With the transfer window in full swing, ESPN FC's Sunderland blogger Colin Randall discusses how the Black Cats side are shaping up ahead of the new season.

IN -- 

Billy Jones (WBA free), Jordi Gomez (Wigan, free), Costel Pantilimon (free, ex-Man City).

OUT -- 

Phil Bardsley (Stoke City, free), Jack Colback (Newcastle United, free), Craig Gardner (free, WBA), David Vaughan (free, Nottingham Forest)

Expected budget

Manager Gus Poyet and director of football Lee Congerton have a fund estimated at 15 million pounds, which will be more if money is raised from any future sales. Jack Colback, Craig Gardner and Phil Bardsley left for nothing, out of contract, but fees could materialise if Adam Johnson, Jozy Altidore or Connor Wickham left.

Dismal returns on the generous resources made available to former bosses Steve Bruce, Martin O'Neill and Paolo Di Canio will have left Sunderland owner Ellis Short unwilling to be stung again, but he knows failure to strengthen the squad significantly would almost certainly lead to another nail-biting scrap at the bottom. Progress, so far, has been slow.

Rate your business so far

3/10. The arrival on free transfers of Billy Jones, a solid defender from West Brom, Wigan's creative midfielder Jordi Gomez and the giant goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon, a former understudy to Joe Hart at Manchester City, must surely be filed under useful rather than spectacular.

Poyet can live without the wholehearted but limited Bardsley and Gardner, gone on free transfers, but Colback's defection to North-eastern rivals Newcastle United -- also on a free -- was a bigger loss. The absence, by mid-July, of any truly inspiring signings is a cause for concern but not alarm. But action, for team balance as well as supporters' morale, is needed soon. Poyet has said he wants most of his squad in place by the time they head off for training and friendlies in Portugal at the end of the month.

His problem is one all Sunderland managers face but supporters do not always appreciate: how to persuade seriously good players to move to an unfashionable area of England and play for a yo-yo club. High wages for targets at or near the end of contracts offer the most realistic option; loans, irritating as they are to fans, are next best.

Who should be sold?

The legacy of Di Canio and director of football Roberto De Fanti is a sorry one, their blitz of signings a year ago producing only three players worth keeping: goalkeeper Vito Mannone, attacking midfielder Emanuele Giaccherini and the obligatory "one for the future," striker Duncan Watmore.

Permanent deals ensuring the departures of Cabral, David Karlsson, Modibo Diakité, Valentin Roberge, Charis Mavrias and El-Hadji Ba would at least have the benefit of slashing the wages bill. Poyet may also sell Altidore, who would scarcely be missed after his wretched form last season. There is uncertainty about Connor Wickham's commitment to the club (or the club's to him) and Adam Johnson's future is under constant scrutiny.

Most supporters, remembering the debacle of Darren Bent's 2011 sale without hint of replacement, would insist on big new acquisitions being lined up before Wickham or Johnson could safely be allowed to leave. I would much prefer to keep both.

- ESPNFC.com's Transfer Center
- Transfer Talk blog

Sunderland manager Gustavo Poyet could still use some additions in defence and midfield prior to the close of the summer transfer window.
Sunderland manager Gustavo Poyet could still use some additions in defence and midfield prior to the close of the summer transfer window.

Who should be signed?

Fabio Borini, for whom a deal worth 14 million pounds, including add-ons, has been agreed to with Liverpool, would be a highly popular permanent signing after his impressive loan season in 2013-14. The signs were not encouraging -- taking Borini and his agent's public comments at face value -- even before Luis Suarez was sold to Barcelona, and the player is still reported to be unenthusiastic about the move. Persuading him to return to the North East, would be a major coup for Poyet.

Poyet clearly wants to sign another former on-loan player. Marcos Alonso was a star in the last half of the season and would be mightily welcome on a permanent transfer.

Steven Fletcher's return to fitness eases Sunderland's problems in front of goal but Poyet -- rightly -- seems intent on broadening his options. Ashley Williams used Sunderland's interest as a negotiating tool before signing a new contract to stay at Swansea. But how Sunderland supporters would rejoice if Max Clayton, after his trial period at the club, turned out to be the next Kevin Phillips. They would be forgiven for not, just yet, holding their breath.

Problem solving: What do you need?

Every area of the team featured prominently, for good and bad, in last season's breathtaking mix of great cup runs and constant fear of relegation. In the Premier League, bad generally triumphed over good until a glorious run of late form, with wins at Manchester United and Chelsea, brought salvation.

Goalkeeping was the least of Poyet's problems, Mannone deservedly ending a desperate survival campaign as player of the season. The signing of Billy Jones, and the attempts to bring back Alonso and another loan signing, Santiago Vergini, would settle issues at fullback. Seb Larsson, outstanding in the run-in, has extended his stay and can cover in that role when required. Wes Brown and John O'Shea must have at least one more season each to offer at the highest level, but both are injury-prone and Poyet will know he needs at least one more dependable centre-back.

Sunderland's midfield -- Lee Cattermole, Liam Bridcutt, Johnson, Gomez and Larsson -- still looks thin. Ki Sung-Yueng's form dipped after a strong mid-season, but despite being linked with Aston Villa, he would be welcomed with open arms by many of Sunderland's faithful. Perhaps Nigeria's Michael Babatunde, a reported target, would be a more viable solution.

Which leaves the attack. The market -- for buyers, not sellers -- is always crowded, suggesting that Poyet will have to make do with what he has plus a sensational discovery (Clayton?) and someone no one else in the Premier League wants but suddenly finds form at the Stadium of Light. Otherwise, another troubled season looms.