Countdown to the unknown: a good start essential at WBA

Another of Jake's new images.
Another of Jake’s new images.


It is the time of year
when nervous fingers click between Twitter, safc.com and newsnow for updates on who we’ve bought or borrowed, who’s gone or going and what the boss may be thinking about his team selection.

Despite a nagging feeling that summer has been slow for Sunderland on the transfer front, there have been important comings and goings already.

It was right to clear out Bardsley, Gardner and Vaughan. All had done their bit for the club; none was consistent enough or had sufficient quality to make their departures feel worrying.

Jack Rodwell is, by common consent, a terrific addition to midfield, more than making up for the disappointment of losing Jack Colback. Patrick van Aanholt carries the promise of forging a partnership on the left with Adam Johnson to recreate the heady days of Gray and Magic. Santiago Vergini is welcome back to bolster the defence and Costel Pantilimon will give Vito Mannone a run for money in goal.

But we all wanted more. And “all” includes Gus Poyet. The pursuit of Fabio Borini has been exhausting, and so far inconclusive, other rumoured targets have slipped from view (if, being brutal about the limitations of speculation, they ever figured in the club’s view) and we still do not know whether Connor Wickham or others, who may well include Adam Johnson, will still be Sunderland players come the transfer window’s closure.

What the season holds is therefore to some extent an indefinable issue. We do not even know for sure who will turn out at the Hawthorns, who may be in or out by the time kickoff arrives and what else lies ahead between now and the end of August. What I do know is that with a tough home game to follow against Man Utd, a decent start is essential at WBA, unhappy territory for us in recent seasons.

Asked by ESPN to nominate a starting 11, I went for Mannone; Jones, Brown, O’Shea, van Aanholt; Gomez, Rodwell, Cattermole, Johnson; Giaccherini; Fletcher.

Jones and Giaccherini, we know, are now out injured, blasting an early hole in my predicted line-up. Poyet may stick with his own man, Liam Bridcutt, ahead of Catts. I hope he does not play both, as they fulfill roles that are too similar. But if he moved Gomez up behind Fletcher in place of Giaccherini, there could be room for Seb Larsson, who finished an indifferent season in some style. Vergini for Jones seems a given.

But we also do not know what resemblance Saturday’s team selection will bear to the 11 who start against Spurs at home on September 13.

The Wickham saga is disturbing. Poyet said he had to “sign or go”, his dad said he’d not even been offered a new contract and now West Ham are sniffing around for a bargain. If he truly won’t sign, then the club is right to make what it can of his remaining market value with the existing contract running out. But there are echoes of Bent here; are Sunderland really so well-equipped up front that it is wise to sell, without any new attackers snapped up, a striker who at last started to live up to the potential late last season?

Not surprisingly, with so much unfinished business, predictions are all over the place. BBC Radio Newcastle, or one of its pundits, apparently had us down for another 14th finish, ie no improvement. At ESPN, I wrote this:

Steve Bruce bemoaned the weight of unrealistic expectation among Sunderland’s large following which, on cool analysis, has had to make do — apart from the exciting promotion seasons and Peter Reid’s successive seventh-top Premier League finishes — with 40 years of mid-table anonymity and, more commonly, relegations suffered or narrowly avoided. Before the unhappy end to his managerial stint, he also delivered a 10th top finish for which he has never received adequate credit. Most fans would settle for that in May, as part of a longer-term project; 13th may be a likelier outcome.

With more space, I’d have balanced the praise for Bruce by rebuking him for his absurd posturing ever since he left the Stadium of Light.

Pete Sixsmith, in The Observer as repeated here, was more upbeat, going for 10th. Invited to name key players. Sixer replied:

The ones who dragged us out of the mess we were in last year – Brown, O’Shea, Cattermole and Fletcher, although he desperately needs an injury-free start. The arrival of Jack Rodwell is an important one and gives us a box to box player that we badly need.

And yours? Have your say …

Matt's cartoon as adapted by Jake
Matt’s cartoon as adapted by Jake

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9 thoughts on “Countdown to the unknown: a good start essential at WBA”

  1. I think that I would have to favour Malcolm’s starters with the exception of Rodwell who will start. I don’t see Larsson involved much.

    As others have said already a fine piece from the Salut management.

    Gus has come out and said the he really doesn’t want to play both Clatter’em all and Bridcutt at the same time, which would make sense to most of us.

  2. Allegedly whickham has been on 40 grand a week since joining as an 18 year old, a ludicrous amount, if true, for a player nowhere near the first team for most of his contract. If he’s angling for a rise it would put him amongst the highest earners at the club, something he hasn’t come close to earning, but would fit with the over-confident mentality he exudes. I’m inclined to agree with the alleged wage, given the source it came from and the fact that the contract was negotiated by Bruce and Quinn, who both appeared determined to throw stupid money at average players.

    • Everything you read at the moment says around 25k. 40k would already make him one of the higher earners possibly only johnson and rodwell earning a lot more.

      Although what you said about bruce and Quinn is correct, makes you wonder.

  3. 1) Those in charge of the finances will say that someone has to go and that we might have to settle for losing Wickham while we can still get a fee for him.

    That will not happen because of the criteria for compensation, one of which is offers received from other clubs.

    The higher we can drive WHU (or any other interested parties) in that regard (and still turn it down) the higher the compensation will be set by any tribunal, which has to take that into account..

    2) As with Vergini, things might be more complex than we often appreciate.

    Although the situation appears complex I see it as as being relatively straight forward.

    Vergini is “owned” by two clubs and it would appear that the fee for a permanent transfer could not be agreed with both.

    A one year loan just means that the figure for the permanent deal (which I suspect will be the higher of the two club’s valuations) and included in the contract, will be lower at its expiry given that both contracts with his current “owners” will have one year less to run.

    3) As we near deadline day the domino effect will cut in. It seems daft to me that clubs will have played three matches by then.

    This is where we can agree 100%.

    If we are to have a transfer window at all then, surely, it should coincide with the end of one season and the opening of the next.

    • Of course there will be compensation for Wickham but the club have already been burned by what happened to Colback. My point is that there are a lot of high earners and the wage bill will need to be trimmed if new players are to come in, especially if they are also likely to command a high salary.

      My reference to Vergini was not specific, just an illustration that things are not usually as simplistic as fans make out. There are often a lot of variables which aren’t always public knowledge.

      • I’m sorry, it is impossible to compare the situations relating to Colback and Wickham because the former was entitled to leave the club on a “Bosman” whereas the latter is not.

        Regarding wages, I would suggest that (currently) Wickham is not amongst the high earners bur would (I think) like to be and so his current income is unlikely to be a major concern to the club.

  4. Unless there’s movement in the transfer market –

    Starting line up: Pantillimon, Vergini, Brown, O’Shea, van Aanholt. Cattermole, Johnson (on the right to start with), Gomez, Larsson (Rodwell still not 100% ready), Fletcher, Wickham.

    Bench: Mannone, Roberge, Rodwell, Mavrias, N’Diaye (see Wickham), Altidore, Bridcutt.

    The contractual side of the playing staff is something we supporters rarely consider. Most of us (and Poyet to be fair) will say offload Graham and keep Wickham but what if a) no club will meet Graham’s wage demands and he has to stay with us (ditto N’Diaye) and b) Wickham refuses any new offer?

    Those in charge of the finances will say that someone has to go and that we might have to settle for losing Wickham while we can still get a fee for him. Should a club come in for Graham I suspect that SAFC will have to continue paying him the difference between what he can get elsewhere and what he will get by staying at Sunderland and only playing at the Academy.

    As with Vergini, things might be more complex than we often appreciate. We don’t know if there are players ready to sign once we have some players leaving. We don’t know if any players might be ready to come once their clubs have a replacement sorted out.

    As we near deadline day the domino effect will cut in. It seems daft to me that clubs will have played three matches by then.

    • Thanks Phil, but now for the Guilty plea. In the rush to beat Mme Salut’s deadline for the midday meal (which has some importance in France), I left some alarming typos and style horrors in the piece as first posted. Resolved now, unless you detect otherwise.

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