Tony Gillan: It's time more of Sunderland's young players made the step up
Mercifully the festive season, with all its attendant horrors, will soon be over.
Santa Claus, the fat old twister, has cost everyone a fortune and slung his hook for another year, leaving us to concentrate on the things that really matter: like the transfer window.
So how excited should Sunderland supporters be about their club’s wheelings and dealings which can commence from Monday morning?
“Not very” would seem to be the answer.
For Sunderland, January is likely to be less significant for arrivals than for departures – and how much the club can make in sales.
The reason for this is blindingly obvious.
They are £110m in debt, still have a high wage bill, attendances have dropped and promotion is virtually impossible this season.
It will take more than parachute payments and sales to offset this.
Apologies to the vast majority who are abundantly aware of all this. But we have the thick-as-gravel-marmalade community to think of too.
I refer to those unfortunates who can’t work out why Jordan Pickford was sold; or the very elementary difference between “asset stripping” and making ends meet. Bless.
Where the blame lies for this grim state of financial affairs is a voluminous topic for another day. Of considerably more importance is what to do now.
Ellis Short has wasted enough of both the club’s and his own cash over the years.
In a season when Sunderland will do well to finish in the upper half of the Championship, it would be astonishing if he adds significantly to this fiscal futility.
Loans are possible. But they aren’t necessarily the cheapest option in the long term. Fees paid to loanees and their parent clubs see to that.
So for the foreseeable future – not just January – Sunderland are unlikely to buy talent. They will have to discover it.
The club’s past decade has been one of almost constant struggle.
So understandably there is a widespread belief that youth should be given its chance.
Regretfully, history suggests that hopes should not be too high in this department. The record for producing talent is not good.
Hopes currently rest with Maja, Beadling, Ledger, Asoro, Greenwood, Embleton, Stryjek and Ethan Robson (although those last two are already 21, Stryjek is confined to the bench at Accrington Stanley and Maja was actually recruited from Fulham).
I hope they all have fabulous careers; preferably with Sunderland. We shall see.
Going back not many years, we heard the names Liam Agnew, Louis Laing, Blair Adams, Billy Knott, Ryan Noble, Adam Mitchell, Jordan Cooke and Adam Reed. There were many, many more.
Such hopefuls were regularly championed with comments such as: “Why aren’t they give a chance?” and “They can’t be any worse.”
These gentlemen now represent respectively; Harrogate Town, Hartlepool, Hartlepool again, Lincoln, Gateshead, Spennymoor Town, Luton and Faya FC of the Philippines.
Nothing wrong with that and good luck to them. They all play to a standard that the likes of me could only dream of. But surely we can reasonably conclude that Sunderland were proved correct about them, because they haven’t been disproved. They were simply not good enough to merit a first team chance on Wearside.
This may sound brutal or even cruel. That’s professional football.
Martyn Waghorn made his first Sunderland appearance a decade and one day ago. Since then the only home grown players to genuinely establish themselves at the club were Pickford, Jordan Henderson and Jack Colback.
Three in 10 years. That’s pretty bad.
John Egan and Conor Hourihane are reportedly doing well at Brentford and Aston Villa in the Championship.
But neither player, along with Waghorn, was Premier League material. And as that was the league that Sunderland were in at the time, the club can hardly be blamed for dispensing with them.
Similarly, it’s doubtful that Lynden Gooch and George Honeyman would still be there if the drop had been averted last season.
Today, with SAFC limping into 2018, the latest cornucopia of youthful hope may yet provide salvation where the transfer market won’t. Maja and Asoro especially have shown great promise.
As for the others, well, it’s up to them to prove me wrong. Hope always lives. But Sunderland supporters have never confused hope with expectation.