Analysis - Have Sunderland broken the pattern of bad recruitment with M’Vila and Lens?

Yann M'Vila in action for Sunderland during their 1-1 draw at the Stadium of Light with Swansea City. Picture by FRANK REID
Yann M'Vila in action for Sunderland during their 1-1 draw at the Stadium of Light with Swansea City. Picture by FRANK REID
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“Has the money been spent effectively? No – that much is clear and ultimately that is my fault.”

In a nutshell, chairman Ellis Short summed up why Sunderland find themselves in the sorry state that they’re in.

Sunderland may have finally landed a couple of appropriate big-money captures in Yann M’Vila and Jeremain Lens

There are other reasons behind the club’s struggles – the managerial merry-go-round, the lack of clear strategy and the slim pickings from the academy system since the Henderson / Colback graduation.

But awful recruitment is the prime factor.

For the last three years, Short’s bank account has haemorrhaged on far too many average players for big bucks and big pay packets.

Take Swansea. They spent just £4million on left winger Jefferson Montero, who continually put Sunderland on the back foot on Saturday, even though – as regular observers of the Welsh club said afterwards – that was a fairly average performance from him.

Six months before Swansea bought Montero, Sunderland spent the same amount on Nacho Scocco.

I know. It’s shake of the head stuff.

The single biggest mistake of Short’s tenure was to hand the treasure chest keys to Roberto De Fanti. Sunderland are still recovering from the summer that the Italian ex-agent had at the helm.

Privately, the Black Cats chairman will admit as much, even if there was no mention in his programme notes on Saturday.

If Emanuele Giaccherini departs before next week’s deadline – as is extremely likely – then back-up stopper Vito Mannone will be the only remaining player in the first-team squad that was a De Fanti signing.

It’s an astonishingly appalling long-term return on those 13 summer signings.

The competing demands of having to bring in both quantity and quality on a budget last season led to a mixed bag of arrivals from De Fanti’s successor Lee Congerton, although, in fairness, the worst recruits proved to be those demanded by Gus Poyet.

But while no-one should get ahead of themselves, Sunderland may have finally landed a couple of appropriate captures in Yann M’Vila and Jeremain Lens.

M’Vila is clearly still a tad rusty regarding his fitness and Dick Advocaat will be cautious after off-the-field ‘incidents’ have blighted his career both domestically and internationally over the last two years.

Yet the 25-year-old is a player. He wasn’t been linked with a move to Barcelona during his days at Rennes for nothing.

M’Vila’s radar was off-kilter a couple of times when he had the chance to bisect the Swansea defence with a killer pass, but he has that knack of controlling a game..

The midfielder can weave his way out of tight situations, and isn’t afraid to put a foot in either – his tackle giving Sunderland the platform to counter for Jermain Defoe’s equaliser.

No, M’Vila isn’t going to chip in with half-a-dozen goals a season, but, alongside Lee Cattermole, it gives Sunderland a solid midfield base, plus the ability to move the ball quickly out from the back.

Despite M’Vila’s reputation, Lens has actually been the one to go closest to seeing a red card in the last two games after he was again perhaps a tad fortunate not to receive a second yellow from referee Neil Swarbrick.

But Lens is beginning to find his feet in the Premier League and had Swansea right-back Kyle Naughton on toast for the last 20 minutes.

The run to the by-line and low pull-back which Steven Fletcher was an inch or two away from connecting with was a delicious moment of one-vs-one dynamism which Sunderland were so desperate for this summer.

Lens has not come cheap. There are add-ons to the £8m investment, which makes up the £21.5m quoted by Short’s for the summer outlay so far.

Yet the Dutch international and M’Vila have fulfilled Advocaat’s requirements of “quality” signings. Sunderland need two or three more of that standard before next week’s deadline now.

A striker is a must, even though Danny Graham made a tangible difference leading the line, as Advocaat went back to the frontman whose dogged determination propelled Sunderland to Premier League survival last season.

Graham is the best-suited option available to Advocaat to play that targetman role at present, as he offers a physicality and makes life uncomfortable for defenders, even if his touch let him down on occasions on Saturday.

But Graham isn’t a genuine goal threat. Sunderland need an upgrade who can both find the net and has that willingness to chase every lost cause.

Advocaat remains desperate for an attacking midfielder too, regardless of whether the pursuit of Jonathan de Guzman pays dividends or not.

However, Jack Rodwell gave Advocaat plenty of food-for-thought with one of his brightest performances in a red and white shirt.

Rodwell charged around in pressing Swansea’s players and offering support to the front three; never drifting into periods of anonymity which has too often been the case over the last year.

He also used his physique to put a foot in – one tackle on the touchline prompting a clenched fist punch in his direction from Advocaat.

It would be a mighty boost if Rodwell could maintain that benchmark and avoid becoming another of those failed Sunderland signings.