View from the Bridge: Everyone wants to compete with Chelsea but Sunderland should catch up with Stoke first

Norwich City's Wes Hoolahan and Leeds United's Sam Byram (left)gue logos.
Norwich City's Wes Hoolahan and Leeds United's Sam Byram (left)gue logos.
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According to the nation’s best connected journalists, Sunderland, just to be on the safe side, are in the process of attempting to sign virtually everyone.

On the way to Wearside, without a doubt, are Jermain Lens from Dynamo Kiev, Matt Phillips and Leroy Fer from QPR, Georginio Wijnaldum from PSV Eindhoven, Richard Keogh from Derby County, Davide Astori from Cagliari, Ron Vlaar from Aston Villa, Tiago Ilori from Liverpool, Sam Byram from Leeds, Virgil van Dijk from Celtic, Carl Jenkinson from Arsenal, Seko Fofana from Manchester City, Patrick Bamford from Chelsea, Roy Race from Melchester, Stock, Aitken, Waterman, Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew....

They’re all coming and every one of them is brilliant, even the ones you’ve never heard of, and at a combined bargain fee of somewhere between a round of drinks and a zillion pounds. Hurrah.

The “sources” for most of these stories occasionally have some merit, but are more likely to range from outright fabrication to the traditional a-taxi-driver-saw-him-at-the-airport tale; or worse still, Twitter.

If any of those players are bound for the Stadium of Light in real life, then we will boldly print that View From The Bridge told you about it and that we were proved right. Why not? It’s what everyone else does.

Something that really has happened is that Sunderland have approached West Ham about Stewart Downing.

The Academy, as they are known to no one but themselves, are trying to stiff any buyer for £7m in exchange for a player who turns 31 this month. But there is such a thing as negotiation and to sign Downing would be a step in the right direction; always assuming that his price can be haggled downwards.

It’s quite simple really; the player is not world class, but we know he is good enough for the Premier League, so he would be an improvement on the hopeful but ultimately money-wasting punts on obscure footballers from equally obscure clubs, or “bargains” from the Championship that seem to have comprised Sunderland’s transfer “strategy” in recent years.

Stewart Downing has made 377 Premier League appearances and has played for England on 35 occasions. He knows what he’s doing.

Objectors to the signing of Downing will inevitably start with: “If that’s the best that Sunderland can do....”

Well Eden Hazard ain’t coming. If we’re being realistic, Stewart Downing probably is the best that Sunderland can do. He looked in pretty good nick last season.

While SAFC were using a pin, a blindfold and a map of Europe, Stoke City recruited Charlie Adam, Stephen Ireland, Peter Crouch, Robert Huth and Phil Bardsley. None were of interest to Barcelona, but all were proven. In 2014-15 Stoke, a smaller club than Sunderland (and also reportedly after Downing), finished comfortably ahead of the Wearsiders, for the third consecutive season.

By the time you read this Stewart Downing could have signed for any one of a number of interested clubs. But even if Sunderland miss out on this particular individual, the principle of trying to sign someone of his standing is the correct one.

We all want to compete with Manchester United and Chelsea, but let’s catch up with Stoke City first.

TO their credit and unlike some of their colleagues in the national printed media, the good people at Sky Sports deal much more in fact than fiction.

However, this laudable aversion to spouting cobblers can leave Sky reporters with something of a problem when there is little happening in the sporting world and a 24-hour schedule to fill. They don’t have the luxurious option of just making up their own news as they do at the Daily Mail, Sun, Mirror et al, then quoting “a club insider”.

At the back end of last week they were quite amusingly desperate for stories.

Many summers ago, the words “breaking news” were rarely seen or heard on television, but when they were you could guarantee that something juicy had occurred. In these days of constant coverage, breaking news tends to lead us into detailed but firmly uninteresting reporting on Nelly’s belly and Mrs Brown’s foot. The news can also “break” for about four hours.

Breaking and also “top” stories on Sky Sports recently have been wonderfully banal. News that virtually no one gives a toss about was given a prominence that might otherwise have been afforded to Greece winning all the money it needs on a scratchcard.

Big stories included: “RAY WILKINS TO JOIN ASTON VILLA COACHING STAFF” and “NINE-HOLE GOLF COURSE PLANNED FOR ST GEORGE’S PARK” (apparently Steven Gerrard has called the centre “boring” and incredibly, someone thinks that golf will change this).

Further sensation was provided with: “LIVERPOOL NOT TRYING TO SIGN BENTEKE.”

They had actually resorted to telling us about things that weren’t happening, which is a useful space filler as there is an endless list of clubs who will not be signing an infinite list of players. For example, the Echo can confirm that Cristiano Ronaldo will not be joining Easington CIU over-40s, while Bayern Munich have made no enquiries for Nyron Nosworthy. First with the facts again.

The most desperate piece was a poll they set up, asking whether the goal scored by Sunderland Ladies’ new signing Stephanie Roche for Peamount against Wexford Youths was better than Jermain Defoe’s against Newcastle in April.

Praise must go to the professionalism of Sky presenter Jim White, who was about to reveal to completely uninterested viewers how the voting was going, when he somewhat implausibly claimed: “I can hardly bring myself to look.”

The biggest issue raised by Sky Sports during the close season is; why do I watch this stuff for hours on end?

Ah, the slow news day. I shouldn’t mock. During my reporting days at local papers there were several occasions when I informed the readership of what the weather was like – the day before.

It all makes you think that the gap between football seasons should really be no more than a fortnight.