Chris Young feature: Sunderland need a schemer ... and a striker?

Younes Kaboul.
Younes Kaboul.
0
Have your say

Planning a transfer strategy is not simply about identifying half a dozen prospective signings and then going hell for leather to get them on board.

From the outside, it may occasionally seem like that (the Fabio Borini memories remain vivid) but it’s a far more detailed process.

Lee Congerton, Dick Advocaat and Sunderland’s scouting team will have outlined several potential options for each position they were looking to strengthen when they sat down for their “transfer summit” last month.

Purely from a negotiation stance, it doesn’t pay to target one player and then find the selling club ramping up the asking price.

Sunderland’s quick-fire deal for Younes Kaboul is the perfect illustration of that forward planning.

On Tuesday, the weeks of patience-sapping negotiations which went into agreeing a fee with Zenit St Petersburg for Nicolas Lombaerts all came to nought after the Belgian international failed a medical.

That’s got to be the bottom line by which all Sunderland’s signings are judged this summer.

Within 48 hours, Sunderland have secured a replacement after the cogs whirred into motion with surprising haste for a player sold by notorious negotiator, Spurs chairman Daniel Levy.

There are question marks over Kaboul’s consistency and injury record after the 29-year-old, named Spurs captain by Mauricio Pochettino last summer, failed to appear in the Premier League from November last season.

Kaboul will also have to overcome those awkward, ill-thought out comments from his agent, Rudy Raba, during Sunderland’s pursuit in 2008, when the Frenchman apparently “wouldn’t join Sunderland even if there was an earthquake”.

It remains a mystery why an earthquake would spark a transfer frenzy, but Kaboul will need to laugh off those remarks.

However, Sunderland have landed an experienced Premier League performer for a very modest outlay of £3million, who will improve the central defensive options available to Dick Advocaat.

That’s got to be the bottom line by which all Sunderland’s signings are judged this summer.

If the new boys are better than what is there already, then it has to be a good thing, regardless of transfer fee, reputation or resale value.

In the double capture of Kaboul and Jeremain Lens, particularly the latter, Advocaat immediately has more quality to pick from.

Adding better options in central defence, plus on the left flank, were at the very top of the club’s agenda this summer and they have now addressed that.

It won’t be the end of the spending though, and let’s face it, cannot afford to be.

The immediate focus now will turn to that creative attacking midfielder position, where Sunderland were hoping to add Stewart Downing before the England international became set on an emotional return to former club Middlesbrough.

Speaking to some of the Sunderland fans out here in North America, they don’t seem too upset at Downing’s move to the Riverside, due to both his age and the money involved in any deal with West Ham.

There have to be question marks over his ambition too at dropping into the Championship at just 30.

But Downing thrived in a central role for the Hammers during the first half of last season, and he is in the right mould for what Advocaat requires.

While Sunderland struggled to score goals last season, how many genuine chances were they creating? Two or three per match if they were fortunate.

They need a midfield schemer who can complement the work-rate and tenacity of Lee Cattermole and Seb Larsson. In fact, they’ve needed one for years, just like they have a pacy winger prior to Lens’ arrival.

That creater would be the third of the four signings Advocaat said last week that he was still looking to make in the transfer window.

What about the fourth?

Well, there are obviously doubts over Adam Johnson’s future and that may force Sunderland into a move late in the window.

But the intriguing aspect will be whether Sunderland make a move for another striker.

Advocaat already has four options available to him in Jermain Defoe, Steven Fletcher, Connor Wickham and Danny Graham, which is probably excessive given the Dutchman favours a 4-3-3 formation.

As Defoe has made quite clear this week, he doesn’t want to be stuck out on the flanks again this season.

But while Defoe’s return of four goals in 17 starts was modest after his January move, none of Sunderland’s quartet of frontmen have been prolific in recent times and it’s surely an area Advocaat has to address.

To do that though, Congerton may need to make some room in the squad by offloading one of the strikers; Steven Fletcher and Danny Graham surely the most vulnerable with just 12 months remaining on their contracts.

However, the striker situation is perhaps one that can wait until later in the window.

For the moment, the quick-fire capture of Kaboul and Lens represents significant progress.

The pieces of the jigsaw are beginning to come together.