Lars Knutsen offers a hearty welcome to Martin O’Neill’s new acquisitions, applauds the manager’s role in persuading stars to come our way and quietly approves of heavy rain on Wearside …
After weeks of suspense, Sunderland AFC finally confirmed the signing today of the Wolves striker Steven Fletcher.
It is such a welcome announcement that we will even spare SAFC our customary criticism of the absurdity of seeing all kinds of figures bandied about before coyly saying we paid “an undisclosed fee”. But we will remind all concerned to bite their lips before rebuking anyone who speculates wrongly at £10m, £12m, £14m or, for that matter, below or above.
NB. Stop Press: Have we, haven’t we? A tweet which may or may not have been a spoof suggested he was ours, or nearly, Wolves having accepted a ludicrously high bid of £14m for Steven Fletcher – good player, no fault of his that football is bonkers but that would make him worth almost as much as PSG paid for Ibrahimovic. It may be complete nonsense, of course. Much dust has still to settle …
Every club will get away with it as long as they can. Sunderland were happy enough to take megabucks for Jordan Henderson, good player and excellent longer-term prospect that he is. Spurs are past masters of the art of extracting ridiculous money for players they sense the would-be buyer wants more than they need to sell. Even so, the Steven Fletcher saga is extraordinary. Wolves have held out for a world-beater fee, with the risk of getting nothing, for a useful player most would value at £5-7m. Before the questionable rumours suggesting we had got what we wanted and so had they, Stephen Goldsmith, a known admirer, had chatted about it to Thomas from the Wolves Blog …
Bill Taylor advocates realism ahead of Arsenal on Saturday. Whether that translates as the point he and most us would relish, or a philosophical response to heavy defeat, Bill expects the season to start slowly, if slowly’s the right word …
A last word, from Stephen Goldsmith, on Tigers ungaggable new boss and a suggestion that calling Wolverhampton Wanderers’ bluff may not cost us the services of Steven Fletcher.
As always, and to the annoyance of my friends, I made a series of predictions, in some cases more like theoretical requests, during last season and again once we had entered this pre-season limbo. These thoughts prbab, a recipe for bringing out the best and worst of the imagination.
As tempting as it may be to start believing ridiculous stories that link us to players that we’d like to see wearing red and white next season, I kept my transfer suggestions to the realisitic, or maybe even boring, depending on your perception.
More on the Sunderland transfer suggestion later. But if I may, I will just bring up one quick correct prediction that I did indeed make during pre-season.
Now I don’t gloat at this and, in fact, deliberately retreat from bragging about its accuracy since it was probably one that was made by every man and his dog.
Rather than an incoming Black Cats transfer, It is was one involving that loveable ex-manager of ours, whose decision to sign his strikingly below-average son, following yet another release from a club, was as near to a certainty as you will ever see. When the dislikeable Alex Bruce inevitably starts to contribute to Hull’s conceding of easily avoidable goals, and with it draw “daddy’s boy” jibes from the crowd, we can all wait in anticipation for his Father to start blaming it on the fact the fans haven’t taken to him because of his Leeds connections, or something else as patronising or inaccurate.
While that development was a given, I can honestly say I never expected Bruce’s latest outburst, and with it all the nonsense that is his version of events, his now infamous theory as to what caused his departure.
I had honestly felt that his cringeworthy ramblings had reduced his image, already a mess, to an unidentifiable wreckage, so much so that he would attempt to salvage it once he found work. Dignity from Steve? Not a chance. I won’t give this topic any more attention as it no longer deserves it and Jeremy Robson has covered all angles brilliantly anyway. Suffice to say that if I could speak to him directly and offer him PR advice, it would simply be:
Luckily, another development surfaced the day after Mr Bruce’s yawn-inspiring utterances, one that I had been hoping for all throughout last season.
Unluckily, it seems it may drag on for some time yet. Anybody who has been subjected to any of my theories and predictions would confirm that Steven Fletcher has been a favourite of mine for some time. Not an obvious stand out performer, the ex Hibs man seems to be one of those well kept secrets that, once you are made aware of it, you wonder how you didn’t realise the truth all along. A bit like the fact that Santa isn’t real, or so they say.
For any of those still undecided on Steven, or simply ignorant of his abilities, I simply draw you to two stats. Now, as John McCormick pointed out recently, stats don’t always tell the full story, however these two I deem to be relevant. When a side play without the ball for large periods as we’ve tended to under Martin O’Neill, it’s certainly handy if you have somebody who will convert any chance you may get. Fletcher finished second in the entire Premier League last season for the Clear Cut Chance conversion rate, behind only Frank Lampard whose penalties were included in his percentage. The tables and a little summary can be found by clicking here
Add this to the fact that he scored the most headers in the division and this helps to make this case for him as the focal point Sessegnon and McClean have been missing so much. Once we add the delivery of Larsson (or his replacement) to the equation then they, too, should be licking their lips over just how many of their passes and crosses will turn into actual assists.
While Bendtner was good at bringing others in to the game by dropping deep and keeping possession, his refusal to burst a lung in his desire to get back into the box was frowned upon (and then some) by a Sunderland crowd that has always demanded 100 per cent effort in every game, from every player. So is there a forward realistically within our reach who can do both? Well you see where I’m going with this. Watch his second goal in Wolves’ 2-1 home win against us for proof of him starting and finishing a move.
So much to my delight the club made a £10m offer for Fletcher last week, only for the subsequent news to be that it was rejected. The latter piece of news surprised me if I’m honest. While some people may think O’Neill has waited until funds were made available through exiting players before making this bid, I don’t buy that as being the sole factor, and think he and Ellis Short have also shown an element of refusing to go in head first and too early, causing a cat and mouse saga potentially dragging out the entirety of the summer.
Stale Solbakken will not want to start the season with a player he is resigned to losing, especially when he could start rebuilding with the funds. An earlier bid would have been a statement of intent, sure, but it would have played more into the hands of Wolverhampton Wanderers. For all Sir Niall Quinn’s brilliance and god-like work at the club, you feel he would have fallen into this particular transfer naievity.
And as much as I was surprised that this generous offer was rejected, I am quietly confident if we call their bluff that their decision could be reversed.
I also really hope Villa’s interest is dead in the water as some are reporting. Their apparent lack of funds can save us all from the now customary bigger, smaller or (realistically) equally sized clubs debate. Their interest would worry me on the grounds that he wouldn’t have to up sticks and move. That would be an ironic geographically based reason for rejection as normally I doubt moving to the North East would bother a Scotsman.
Scots tend to settle here quite well. A Scottish former colleague once told me Geordies and Mackems were just Scottish people with their heads kicked in. Maybe that could be our selling point? There’s no Iron Bru on draught in our pubs, so it’s as near a resemblance to Scotland I can muster.
But I really, really hope this gets sealed. It will be the happiest I’ve been with a signing since that bloke who took a sideward step for extra gold. Darren somebody or other?
* Follow Stephen Goldsmith on Twitter: @goldys_logic