Others clubs are doing business and when that happens, and your own is – publicly – doing none, it is natural to wonder what is going on.
I have argued repeatedly over the years since Roy Keane led Sunderland back to the Premier that the best thing to do with most transfer speculation is to ignore it.
There are exceptions. Jordan Henderson’s departure was well flagged for some time, as were the pursuits of Steven Fletcher, Adam Johnson and – though it ended unhappily – Fabio Borini. No journalistic hype was necessary to keep readers, listeners and viewers informed with what turned out to have been reasonable accuracy.
But often enough, we simply do not know what – in our case – the sporting director Lee Congerton and head coach Dick Advocaat – may be up to, with regard in inbound or outbound players, and that is surely how it should be.
The wisest option is to disregard most rumours linking us with named players until something is said that makes us realise it’s serious. I would accept that a deal to sign Sebastian Coates permanently is probably in the offing, as reported, and that we are genuinely trying to sign Stewart Downing. As for the rest of what we’ve read, best taken with a lorryload of salt.
James Hunter drew some flak when he made a similar point in the Chronicle. It was a short and somewhat inconclusive piece but the essence, citing the case of PSV Eindhoven’s midfielder, Georginio Wijnaldum, was that supporters should always be wary of “smoke and mirrors”.
The point, missed by Hunter’s detractors, is that agents and clubs play a full part in fuelling speculation, with enough touting, floating and steering to make media extravagance with the truth seem almost innocent. That, at least, is my impression.
Sunderland have often been the victim of such tactics used by others to obtain better/geographically more agreeable deals elsewhere. But I dare say thoughts are also planted in the right places from time to time by club sources wishing to alert everyone to the availability of this or that surplus player.
I wrote about this the other day at ESPN:
Sunderland’s official club website used to offer a series called “rumour mill” which helpfully pulled together all the newspaper, broadcast and online speculation about potential ins and outs.
There was no hint of how accurate any report might be, and most of us know from experience how much doubt to apply to the bulk of the gossip.
It was still an interesting if rarely dependable guide for supporters, but there was also a suspicion of hypocrisy and this probably led to the feature’s demise. After all, football managements generally adopt a public position of disapproving of speculation that is most commonly the product of agents’ strategy for getting the best deals for players, journalistic invention or the clubs themselves.
I mentioned that we have been told of Sunderland’s interest in, among others, Downing, Liverpool defender Tiago Ilori, Wijnaldum, Fenerbahce forward Moussa Sow and Roma’s centre-back Davide-Astori.
Any or all, I suggested, may or may not be genuine targets. Should we necessarily discard Ilori because his dad – also his agent – notoriously said Sunderland was a “cold city”? How can we be sure even that wasn’t a ploy, a hint to Congerton that he should get our owner and chief executive, Ellis Short and Margaret Byrne, to foot the bill for his thermals, gloves and a decent central heating system at home?
Someone on Twitter saw the item and replied:
— Deano (@seventy3ftm) June 25, 2015
No problems with that, though you’d need to be blind and/or deaf not to know some fellow-supporters are, as I had noted, impatient for transfer news. “Nor am I,” I assured Deano, “but some are. Maybe I should run a poll.”
I confess to looking on in some envy when I see others – even newly promoted clubs – quicker off the mark, and to worrying in general about the difficulty all SAFC managers face in attracting good players to our part of the world.
But I see no reason for panic or even real concern. Advocaat’s respect in the game should count for something; we may well have learned from Swansea’s approach that it’s useful to encourage good but unconvinced targets to see us, if they must, as a stepping stone.
Then it’s up to the team collectively, Advocaat and whoever succeeds him to achieve enough to make people want to stay.
I suspect we will have something confirmed, and I don’t just mean Coates, before the pre-season games start. but I am not about to collapse in despair if we have to wait even longer.