Gus Poyet's Sunderland squad for the big Premier League kickoff is taking shape, but it is a slow process, with the season's start less than three weeks away.
As the Fabio Borini saga rumbles on unresolved, only one of the four newcomers recruited so far, Patrick van Aanholt, has involved a fee -- a modest one, estimated at 1.5 million pounds. Billy Jones, Jordi Gomez and Costel Pantilimon all arrived on free transfers.
Van Aanholt's record is patchy, with five loan spells from Chelsea, where he had just nine senior outings. But there was a pressing need for new blood at full-back, and he just might be the man to help provide it. It would be disappointing, however, if the signing also represented a final nail in the coffin of hopes of bringing back one of last season's loan successes, Marcos Alonso, from Fiorentina, where he has been upbeat about a preseason switch to central defence.
- Kelly: The Borini dilemma
I always caution against attaching too much weight to speculation, given how agents, clubs and journalists tend to operate during each transfer window.
Do not forget the wise words of a former Sunderland bigwig who told me the vast majority of players linked in reports with a move to the club had not even been seriously considered, while most of those actually signed had never been mentioned.
Occasionally there's been some transparency. Both Liverpool and Sunderland talked openly and surprisingly early about agreeing to a deal worth 14 million pounds, add-ons included, for Borini.
That has made it all the easier to believe the subsequent blow-by-blow coverage of the player's depressing lack of enthusiasm for the move.
The latest talk is of another loan spell -- to take account of Borini's belief that he deserves Champions League football sooner rather than later -- though it is a moot point. At present, he's more likely to sample the Champions League while sitting on the bench rather than playing.
Sunderland supporters have cooled considerably toward the short-term fix of stuffing the side with players borrowed rather than bought. One complaint I have seen in the Borini debate is that the club has had to make do with the loan system for most of its best players of recent seasons: Jonny Evans, Danny Welbeck, Danny Rose, Ki Sung-yueng and Borini.
- Poyet: Hopeful of a deal
Against that is the plain if unwelcome truth that if Alexis Sanchez was unwilling to swap Barcelona for Liverpool but saw the lure of London and Arsenal in a wholly different light, Poyet is always going to struggle to persuade top players to commit to Wearside for more than a fleeting stay. Roy Keane tried to address the issue head-on during his turbulent but often exciting time as Sunderland's manager. "If a player doesn't want to come to Sunderland, then all well and good," he said in 2007. "But if he decides he doesn't want to come because his wife wants to go shopping in London, then it's a sad state of affairs. It's not a football move, it's a lifestyle move. It tells me the player is weak and his wife runs his life."
If the best Poyet can do is to act smartly on the fringes of the market and tempt decent players anxious for more first-team football, supporters may have to settle for that. They will have to rise above any feeling of resentment should Borini be among those acquired only on loan.
The word on another reported Poyet target, Atletico Madrid's Uruguayan midfielder Cristian Rodriguez, is more encouraging. His agent is said to have had talks with the Sunderland head coach; a swift move to sign him permanently would greatly boost morale.
More is certain to be going on unseen, which is just as well. The squad still looks desperately thin as Sunderland enter the playing sequence of their trip to Portugal with friendlies against Recreativo de Huelva on Tuesday night and CD Nacional 24 hours later. Poyet, by his own account, had hoped to be much closer to full strength by now.
Perhaps a high-profile signing or two -- there is room for another full-back and at least one central defender -- would be just the display of purpose to turn Borini's head once again.