Deadline day in January 2019 saw Sunderland splash out £4 million on Wigan striker Will Grigg. After losing top goal scorer Josh Maja to Bordeaux a few weeks before Stewart Donald was determined to replace the fire power up top and keep our promotion bid on track. After being priced out of a move for Doncaster forward John Marquis, Donald eventually had an 8th bid accepted for Grigg right before the transfer window shut. The acquisition of Grigg featured in season two of ‘Sunderland ‘Til I Die’ and watching it knowing he will go on to be a massive flop makes for quite painful viewing.
Before moving to the North East Grigg had an excellent record in League One, having scored 64 goals in his past three full seasons in the division. He won promotion to the second tier twice with Wigan and once with Milton Keynes Dons so his arrival was met with optimism.
However in true Sunderland striker style Grigg has failed to make an impact and looked totally out of his depth, in 41 League One games Grigg has only managed 5 goals. At the time of writing Grigg has been heavily linked with a loan move to fellow League One clubs Oxford and Shrewsbury Town. This article will look at five reasons why Grigg has not been ‘on fire’ during his time at Sunderland:
HE NEVER WANTED THE MOVE
I don’t think Grigg ever wanted to move to Sunderland in the first place and his body language since he’s been here reflects that. I remember when he first signed he said he was at home in bed when he found out about the move, clearly he wasn’t expecting to sign for Sunderland. I think the money was too good for Wigan to refuse and they pressured him into leaving. In June 2020 Grigg told the Athletic "I probably should not have moved. At no point would I ever have wanted to leave. I would love to return. At the time, I felt as though I was forced into… not forced, but I felt like I didn’t have a choice when they accepted the offer. I had to leave. I should not have left when I did.” The fact Grigg has not made the North East his permanent home is another indication that he’s never wanted to be at Sunderland. Previous Sunderland manager Phil Parkinson advised him to swap his Midlands base for the North-East in order to gain a place in the first team before the start of the 2020/21 season, however Grigg never relocated. It might be unrealistic to suggest Grigg would have scored 20 goals a season for us if he lived in Sunderland but not having to commute to the North East each week would surely have settled him.
OUR STYLE OF PLAY HASN’T SUITED HIM
During his time at Sunderland Grigg has been a victim of systems that don’t suit him. The tactics and style of both Ross and Parkinson have not been suited to Grigg’s style of play. He is the type of player that needs the ball into his feet with the goal at his mercy. At Wigan Grigg led the line in a 4-2-3-1 system having a number 10 behind him feeding him chances. Parkinson’s direct style of football was never going to suit the Northern Ireland international. However Grigg has still had plenty of chances to score at Sunderland and his constant theme of fluffing his lines can’t be blamed on the way the team has been set up to play. There is a possibility that Lee Johnson’s brand of attacking football could get the best out of Grigg but I think he has had his chance now and with his reported salary of £12,000 a week taking up a chunk of the wage bill I would expect to see him leaving the club on loan in the next few days.
THE PRICE TAG
Don’t let the Jessie J song Price Tag fool you, it is all about the money. Paying £4 million for a striker in League One was a big statement and the pressure of that fee has got the better of Grigg. Obviously it’s not Grigg’s fault he cost £4 million but having a hefty fee hanging over his head has proved too much for him to handle. Grigg scored his first goal after four games, he slotted home a penalty against Gillingham, however it didn’t spark a scoring spree. Grigg only managed three more league goals after that and we missed out on promotion . He looked a striker short of confidence and this continued in the 2019/20 season where he only managed to score once in 20 games. Parkinson’s style of play didn’t help but every time Grigg got a chance to score he would miss. In November 2020 he missed a tap in from two yards out against MK Dons. Being one of the most expensive League One signings ever has done Grigg no favours and it doesn’t look like Sunderland will be able to recoup much of the transfer fee when he leaves.
Grigg was signed to replace Josh Maja, who’s 15 league goals had us on course for promotion. Replacing a striker who made finishing from any angle look easy was always going to be a tough ask. Grigg’s previous form such as scoring 17 goals in League One the season before he joined Sunderland led to an expectation of instant goals from the Sunderland faithful. Most fans expected that after Grigg signed he would fire in 10-15 goals and lead us back to the Championship. However that never happened and with each game that went by the more pressure was put on Grigg’s shoulders. Being a striker short of confidence at the Stadium of Light is extremely difficult and Grigg has found that out the hard way. Grigg has missed countless opportunities to score and every time he has missed a sitter the groans from the stands have got louder and the belief in Grigg has shrunk. During his time at the club Grigg has looked a shadow of the player he once was.
THE SUNDERLAND STRIKER CURSE
I genuinely believe the Stadium of Light is a graveyard for half decent strikers. Over the years we have seen countless strikers come to the North East and fail to deliver yet bang goals in for fun elsewhere, Will Grigg has fallen into that unfortunate category. I have no doubts that the second Grigg signs for a new club he’ll begin to score again and will leave us scratching our heads once more. Grigg has absolutely no confidence in front of goal and the only thing he has done during his time on Wearside is left Sunderland fans feeling embarrassed every time Freed from Desire is played. Which is a shame because it’s an absolute anthem.