As the dust begins to settle on another hectic summer of transfer business for Sunderland, we look at whether Lee Congerton has delivered what was needed.
Let's start this with a declaration: Transfer windows are a tough thing to judge.
Yes, I know it's something we all love to do and it's something we all have an opinion about, but we seldom have sufficient information to understand the context against which the club is working. Saying "I would have done this" or "they should have done that" is easy but not actually all that relevant if you don't know what could or couldn't be done.
So really, if you are going to analyse it, they only criteria against which it's really reasonable to do it is their own. Obviously, we don't know what that is for sure, but we can piece it together.
Firstly, the club's long term financial goals were set out by Margaret Byrne in March of last year:
Because we're not producing profits, every time we buy a player, Ellis is virtually buying that player for the club himself. We're really lucky to have his backing and support.
This TV deal gives the club a chance to get our books in order.
And then, just two months ago, Sporting Director Lee Congerton laid out the plans for this specific window:
We we do need more players, but it's not so much about quantity, it's about quality.
I'm sure any fan can say we need a left-back, we probably need a centre-half, we probably need some midfield players, we probably need to replace Fabio (Borini), maybe a centre-forward, so all of a sudden, the numbers are going up into double figures again, and that's the last thing I want, and Gus as well.
I don't want to sign players just for the sake of it. We want to sign players who are established in the Premier League and that is difficult - there is a premium, they are more expensive.
So we have the short-term requirements and the long-term remit laid out. Essentially, the club were tasked with the job of improving quality, adding quantity, injecting some Premier League experience into the squad, and all without compromising the efforts to get the books in order. That's not an easy cocktail to concoct. So how did they ultimately do?
Without seeing how Ricky Alvarez settles, it's tough to tell. The Argentinian is essentially Fabio Borini's replacement and has big shoes to fill. He has the pedigree and the quality to do it, but you never really know with South Americans in the Premier League.
Elsewhere, it seems quite straight forward. Jack Rodwell is probably comparable to Ki but has the added bonus of us actually owning him. Jordi Gomez is probably a bit of Jack Colback and Craig Gardner rolled into one. Billy Jones and Santiago Vergini offer better overall options on the right than Phil Bardsley and Ondrej Celustka. At left back, Patrick van Aanholt has started well and looks capable of at least matching the performances of Marcos Alonso.
I'd say the quality in the squad has been at the very least maintained, and probably slightly improved - certainly in the sense that the players we have now are more suited to Gus Poyet's system than those they have replaced.
I think the club may just have left themselves a little short here. Poyet said that he wanted a senior squad of 23 players including seven defenders, yet we seem to have been left with 21 players and just six defenders:
|6||Patrick van Aanholt||LB|
There are a couple of gaping holes in there, you'd have to say. The gap in the attack isn't a huge deal. You could see Charis Mavrias stepping up into that role if required and given the opportunity. It's not ideal, but it shouldn't be terminal.
Defensively has to be a big worry, though. We are a defender short, and of the defenders we do have, one is Wes Brown who you always fear could sneeze himself into a leg-brace at any moment, and another is Sebastian Coates who is just coming back from a serious knee injury.
I suppose Jack Rodwell essentially becomes the emergency defensive cover for now, which isn't an altogether bad position to be in. It also gives us plenty of room for manoeuvre in January, especially with one Premier League loan available to use. Still, we look a couple short to me.
How well Lee Congerton has done in satisfying his own demand for signing players with Premier League experience depends entirely on your point of view. Technically, seven of out the nine new arrivals have Premier League experience.
However, Patrick van Aanholt may as well not have. He barely played for Chelsea and certainly never 'established' himself at this level before. Similarly, Costel Pantilimon never really established himself at Manchester City, though I think we can forgive him given the calibre of the competition. Will Buckley, though a Premier League virgin until he arrived at Sunderland, had a strong Football League pedigree at least.
You could also say that Coates singularly failed to establish himself at Liverpool and had to be farmed back to Uruguayan football last season, and Santiago Vergini is still finding his feet a little.
So it all very much depends on how sympathetic or pedantic you want to be really. Personally, I think that you can say that Congerton has delivered players who are at least comfortable in the English culture, though there isn't really many proven Premier League commodities that have arrived this summer.
In the age of the 'undisclosed' and loan fees, this is another one which is tough to gauge. One thing we can say for certain, though, is that the bank doesn't appear to have been broken. Will Buckley's fee appears to be largely comparable to the one received for Nacho Scocco, and the same can be said of the Patrick van Aanholt and Alfred N'Diaye fees. Therefore, excluding loan fees, it's only really Jack Rodwell there appears to be a real outlay for.
For many, that may not be good enough, particularly seeing the kinds of fees other clubs are throwing around of late. People will say that more use should be being made of the increased income from the TV deal. Amid all the hype that surrounds the transfer window these days, it can be difficult to not feel frustrated at what appears to be overly cautious spending.
However, you have to refer back to the Margaret Byrne comments at the start of this article really. There is a very good chance that Rodwell is the first player since Ellis Short took control of the club that the club itself has paid for through its own revenue. That's something to be commended as it is demonstrative of the culmination longer-term planning.
That said, the wider point remains - the debt needs to go. It appears that the extra revenue generated by last season's increased TV deal has been split between buying Rodwell and reducing the debt. As long as relegation is avoided again, that's fine. The club will be considerably stronger for it in the long run.
This section will, ultimately, be written by results, not me. Performance is the only real measure of how successful any transfer window has been for any club.
I think that Congerton has generally delivered what he set out to do though. He brought in plenty of quality - perhaps not wonderfully exciting top quality, but quality nonetheless. He also replaced what was needed without going mad and getting into double figures, stuck primarily to English-speaking players who are indoctrinated into the culture, and he did it all whilst respecting the club's wider commitment to bring their finances into order.
It's not a window for the ages and it won't singularly change the club, but it looks solid enough to prompt a little cautious optimism about the future, both short and long term.