The post-season represents the most boring period of the footballing year. We’re in the middle of a footballing vacuum, with the season over, players and managers are away on holiday. Mundane announcements like the release of the new kit and fixture lists become intensely debated because there is nothing else to discuss.
Anything interesting happening, like transfers, are going on behind closed doors. It is as frustrating as it is dull; as a fan, there is a sense of helplessness. At a game, you can help generate an atmosphere to push the team over the line. With transfers, you don’t even know negotiations are taking place.
The work done already by the likes of Peterborough has drawn attention to Sunderland’s lack of progress in the transfer market. Amidst the information vacuum and inability to influence proceedings, baseless rumours can take hold. The best example of this was last month.
A Twitter account a few hours old with a dozen followers started a rumour that we had accepted a bid from Barnsley for Luke O’Nien, and that he was on his way to Yorkshire for a medical. Despite the dubious origins, the story snowballed to the extent that Stewart Donald was forced to deny it.
Like it or not, it seems as though takeover talk is holding up any player acquisitions. What is more, the way Reece James’ move to Doncaster was kept under wraps demonstrates a level of secrecy we might have to get used to over the coming weeks. All of this doesn’t exactly make for an enjoyable transfer window, but this summer is different to the last two. It’s not a complete rebuild job. We could bring in as few as half a dozen recruits and as long as they were in the right areas, it would be a good window. Obviously, it would help if they came in sooner rather than later, but there is still plenty of time.
Another thing I’ve learnt is not to pay too much attention to where players are coming from, or even how they’ve done most recently. I’ll reserve my judgement on whoever comes in until I’ve had the chance to see them play a run of games for us. It’s worth pointing out that Ricky Alvarez joined Sunderland off the back of helping Argentina to the World Cup Final; Jozy Altidore scored over fifty goals for AZ Alkmaar in the two seasons before signing for us. Both are comfortably amongst worst Sunderland players I’ve ever seen, which is saying something given our recent history.
This is especially relevant given our current league position and spending ability. I remember hearing the news last summer that we’d signed Chris Maguire from Bury on a free. Like many fans, I’d never heard of him, so I checked out his stats. The signing of 29-year-old with two goals and a single assist in 24 games the previous season hardly filled me with confidence, so I had a look at what Bury fans had to say about him. ‘Arrogant, kilt-wearing wage thief’ was one of the more complimentary assessments. Needless to say, Maguire quickly became one of my favourite players to watch last season and vindicated the decision to bring him to the club.
Like with Maguire, essentially all our signings are coming from leagues with next to no exposure. Unless you’re a keen viewer of the English and Scottish lower leagues it’s hard to know what some of our rumoured targets are like. Most of the judgement I’ve heard of our potential signings both, positive and negative, seems to be based on superficial information like the standard of club they’re currently at or isolated statistics. These things aren’t necessarily a reflection of a player’s natural ability, in same way that video of Öztürk scoring from forty yards in the Edinburgh Derby wasn’t a reflection of his goal-scoring prowess.
So many factors contribute to a player’s success at a specific club it’s impossible to pass judgement on whether a signing is any good as they’re posing with a scarf at the Academy of Light. Just because a player is coming from a low-quality league, it doesn’t mean that that is their level. Similarly, as we saw last season, a player having a decent track record is no guarantee they will perform.
It’s important to give whoever comes in this summer a chance to prove that they deserve to wear the shirt. Whether they come from Arsenal or Ayr, for a huge fee or on a free, each player arrives with potential and nothing more. It’s up to us as fans to back them, whoever they turn out to be, give them a chance to show us what they can do. With a bit of luck, in a year’s time, we’ll all be talking about how good they were and not just because there’ll be nothing else going on.