Friday spotlight: Three-game run to test Sunderland’s revolution

Sunderland boss Paolo Di Canio
Sunderland boss Paolo Di Canio
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SKY pundit Gary Neville claims the one thing the transfer windows tends to do, is show which are the poorly run clubs.

It was a statement which threatened to come back and bite the former Red Devil before his old club managed to bag Marouane Fellaini on transfer deadline day.

Up until then, Manchester United had signed only £2.5million left-back Guillermo Varela all summer and even with the Evertonian’s acquisition, several have branded the Old Trafford club’s first transfer window under David Moyes as an embarrassment at best, and a disaster at worst.

Not as many as have criticised Newcastle United’s window mind you – the only club not to have spent money on signing a senior player permanently all summer, much to the anguish of the club’s followers.

How much that comes back to hurt the Magpies, if at all, remains to be seen.

But Neville’s barb was intended mainly for those clubs which buy in quantity and, under that criteria, Sunderland certainly comes firmly into view.

An analysis of the clubs which made the most signings this summer reads like a Who’s Who of the clubs being tipped to appear in the relegation shake-up this season: Crystal Palace, Hull City, Cardiff City, Swansea, Sunderland, Fulham, West Brom and Norwich City.

The newly-promoted clubs can be expected to bring in a whole raft of signings as they look to bridge the gap between one division and another.

But it is a strategy just as high a risk for established clubs to undergo a “revolution” which could destabilise a club.

Sunderland’s case is particularly high risk.

The club finished fourth bottom in the Premier League in 2012/13 and while no one would argue that something of a clear-out was needed, no one was thinking in terms of the three of their best four players last term – Player of the Season Simon Mignolet, Stephane Sessegnon and Danny Rose – all leaving.

If you are going to progress, the accepted wisdom is that you keep your best players and build a new team around them.

The fourth player, Steven Fletcher, remains and his value was underlined when he returned last week from a five-month absence to become the only Sunderland striker to score in the club’s opening three league games.

In the departing players’ place have come 14 new signings, 13 of them foreign, and only half of whom could be regarded as first-team starters – Jozy Altidore, Fabio Borini, Emanuele Giaccherini, Cabral, Ki Sung-Yeung, Modibo Diakite and, maybe, Vito Mannone.

Early signs have not been promising for the newly remodelled side, with one point taken from nine in games against Fulham, Southampton and Crystal Palace.

The next trio of matches will bring Mesut Ozil’s Arsenal to Wearside, followed by a trip to The Hawthorns for Sessegnon’s Baggies home debut and then the return of Mignolet with in-form Liverpool.

It’s a scary prospect.

But it is not one to daunt Sunderland head coach Paolo Di Canio, who is utterly convinced that his revolutionised Sunderland will start picking up points and plaudits in the weeks and months ahead.

All that Sunderland fans can do is hope that their charismatic, super-confident leader is correct.

Otherwise, after the next three games have been played out, it would be no surprise to see Gary Neville, after the Sky-televised game against Liverpool, talking about the folly of clubs which make too many changes, too quickly and buy in too many foreign players.

All we can do on Wearside – from owner Ellis Short downwards – is wait and see.

But one person at least will be convinced that Sunderland’s future is in safe hands – for Di Canio would say he has been here before.

At Swindon, the Italian endured a similarly sluggish start before seeing his methods vindicated and his side kick into the highest gear to win promotion.

He has been at Sunderland riding a torrent of negative criticism on his appointment before going on to pull the Black Cats out of a nosedive and keep them in the Premier League.

In the same context, he will feel certain that he can prove himself this time again.

He may well be right.

But what seems clear already is that, if he is going to have any success this season, there’s every chance he’ll have to weather the mightiest of storms before steering the club into more appealing waters.

Twitter @sunechograeme