January sales sound like a great idea. They promise the canny purchaser the chance to snag a bargain and feel that First World rush of consumer adrenaline and to lift the post Christmas gloom with a shiny new gadget or gizmo.
It’s all a myth. What you actually find is a pile of last year’s stock plastered with big red stickers trying to tempt you into splashing cash on something that you’ve survived happily this long without, thank you very much.
When the bank statement arrives in a few weeks, that juicer bought on impulse won’t seem like such a life-changing purchase - other than that it stops you being able to afford to go out until the clocks change again.
The January sales in football are no different. Yes, the transfer window gives fans and journalists brain fodder other than looming credit card bills and expanding waistlines, and allows Sky Sports to dust off and wind up Jim White. But the quality of players allowed to leave their club mid season is questionable and during the month of January, true bargains are as rare as Santa sightings.
The prevailing wind of opinion is that Martin O’Neill must add a goalscorer to his squad during his first transfer window as Sunderland boss, but there is a strong argument for the new manager to keep his powder dry until the summer.
Wind back to January 2011, when money was being thrown in the general direction of anyone who had ever stood in an opposition six yard box looking gormless. Torres, Carroll, Bent, Martins, Suarez and Santa Cruz were all bundled into the back of waiting cars and, at great expense - in fees, wages or both - unveiled as the missing piece in the jigsaw: The One Who Will Score The Goals.
With the exception of Suarez, these would-be saviours have been either underwhelming or have been moved on already, and foretell the likely fate of a big money blast on a proven goal scorer.
So what are Sunderland’s options as they try to find a source of goals to propel them up the table?
Jermaine Defoe and Roman Pavlyuchenko are both regularly linked to a big money move to Wearside, and although the prospect of a January transfer saga conducted entirely through Harry Redknapp’s car window is thrilling, chances of getting a bargain – or even just a fair deal - out of Spurs are slim.
The more optimistic fans insist we should be in the market for one of the big names who find themselves currently out of favour. Michael Owen and Dimitar Berbatov at Man Utd would add a bit of “swazz” to the Sunderland frontline but having spent many months warming the bench at Old Trafford, probably have a favourite spot and have shaped the seat cushion just right for their immovable backsides.
The thought of a mid-winter jolly to the north-east coast, feeding off the service of Lee Cattermole is probably not going to be enough to entice those big fish into Sunderland’s little pond.
More realistic but unproven names will have little chance to settle as the short-term need for goals is paramount. Exciting players like Jordan Rhodes at Huddersfield or Papa Demba Cisse at SC Freiburg won’t have the luxury of time to acclimatise before the pressure to deliver starts to bite.
When Connor Wickham was brought in for £8m in the summer, fans were told to give him time to become a big player at the club. The logic of bringing in another One For the Future is not obviously apparent, and not something I would expect O’Neill to dwell on.
Established Premier League names like Emile Heskey, Bobby Zamora, Cameron Jerome and Hugo Rodellaga might provide an instant feeling of comfort, but aren’t the sort to get the blood pumping and we won’t see fans breaking down the door to the ticket office. And to be honest, even if all four were playing together it would be a recipe for comedy rather than goals.
So where should Sunderland look for goals? Hopefully, from within.
The staged and delicate return of Fraizer Campbell will lift the whole club and if he can avoid further injury setbacks, will certainly add goals and pace to the forward line. Campbell’s comeback should be sooner rather than later, and could come at just the right time as Sunderland look up the table.
Allied to that, O’Neill’s reputation for getting the best out of players is Sunderland’s biggest hope for a successful 2012. Nicklas Bendtner will never have a better opportunity in his career to be the main man and goal-getter for a club.
This January, like the rest of us fighting through the sales, Sunderland should spend time appreciating and improving what they have already rather than blowing precious cash on every panicky whim.