Chris Young column - Long term planning needed for ageing Sunderland defence

John O'Shea
John O'Shea
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ONE OF the leading contenders for strangest transfer rumour of the summer was Spurs reportedly preparing a £3million move for John O’Shea.

Now, O’Shea emphatically proved earlier in his career his pedigree in the higher echelons of the Premier League.

But £3m? For a 33-year-old? A defender in a side who had looked doomed all season and one who had less than 12 months on his contract?

It had more than a whiff of O’Shea’s agent looking to sow the seeds of doubt to prompt Sunderland into offering the Republic of Ireland international a new deal.

In that regard, it was mission accomplished!

But given O’Shea’s form this season and Tottenham’s struggles, perhaps it wasn’t so far-fetched after all.

O’Shea is playing the best football of his Sunderland career.

He’s the anchor to a Black Cats defence that, aside from the Southampton shambles, has been generally excellent this season.

While Sunderland have shown little inclination to be particularly expansive, Gus Poyet’s side are playing to their strengths and that’s why they’ve been so resilient, despite their problems at the other end of the field.

But despite clean sheets in a third of Sunderland’s Premier League outings this season, there still has to be real concern over the long-term status of the club’s back-line.

The average age of Poyet’s defence at Liverpool last weekend was 32-and-a-quarter.

Now, experience habitually goes hand-hand with successful defending, and the likes of O’Shea and Wes Brown are two of the foundations of the Sunderland dressing room.

But the ageing nature of the current back-line has to be a worry, albeit not necessarily in the upcoming weeks and months.

Brown was back to his best in the goalless draw at Anfield, while Reveillere has been an unbelievable find on the Bosman market.

Patrick van Aanholt could do a lot worse than keeping his eyes glued to the ex-France international while he is sidelined.

But will Brown or Reveillere be here beyond the end of their contracts next summer?

With the pair both turning 35, there have to be major question marks.

At best, they’re only going to get 12-month extensions.

They may not be the only defensive departures at the end of the campaign either.

Sebastian Coates’ lack of first-team football over the last two years has hampered his two appearances for Sunderland, but there has been little so far to justify a permanent move at the end of his loan deal from Liverpool.

Santiago Vergini’s loan spell has been far more successful, with the Argentine a cult hero in the making on the terraces.

But his parent club, Costa Rican side Club Sport Uruguay de Coronado, were looking for a fee in excess of £4m for Vergini last summer.

What will the price be at the end of his loan after he has played regularly for Sunderland and got back into the Argentina squad?

Looking further ahead, how much is O’Shea going to be playing in the final 12 months of his two-year contract extension either?

By then, he’ll be 35.

Sunderland are not ignorant of their ageing defence.

One of their first ventures in the transfer market last summer was to submit a bid or two for Swansea’s Ashley Williams when there were doubts over whether he’d sign a new deal at the Liberty Stadium.

Although Sunderland were rebuffed in that avenue, they turned their attentions to Virgil van Dijk at Celtic. Poyet had been keeping tabs on the Dutchman ever since he was in charge at Brighton.

But with Celtic looking for a fee around the £10m mark, for a player who has been extensively scouted by a host of Premier League sides, Poyet was wary of splashing out such a hefty sum on a defender untested in the English game.

Rumours yesterday linked Sunderland with Hull’s Curtis Davies, while the Black Cats will surely revive their interest in van Dijk during the summer.

There won’t necessarily be a move for a fresh centre-half in January.

Next month, Sunderland’s focus will be on boosting their goal threat to bring an end to the constant cycle of draws.

But, after the milestone of tying down Connor Wickham to a new contract earlier this week, injecting some younger blood into that back line now has to come onto Lee Congerton’s radar as a priority.

The defence has been Sunderland’s great strength this season.

It needs to remain like that when the veterans hang up their boots.