Chris Young: Sunderland’s big challenge is to avoid the January window flops

Nacho Scocco
Nacho Scocco
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There have been some notoriously ropey buys from Sunderland in the reduced to clear section during the tiresomely repetitive struggles of the last four years.

Nacho Scocco has to be among the pick of them though; a £4million outlay on a player who never remotely looked capable of adapting to English football, before returning to his homeland in a cut-price deal just six months later.

With just over a month before this season’s January sales begin, Scocco serves as a major warning

After such a forgettably brief Sunderland career, Scocco is something of an oversight now, yet he was the most expensive acquisition among the five players brought to the Stadium of Light by Gus Poyet in January 2014.

With just over a month before this season’s January sales begin, Scocco serves as a major warning about the problems Sam Allardyce faces in bringing in appropriate recruits who can boost Sunderland’s survival bid.

Poyet inherited a side rock-bottom of the pile, staring relegation in the face, and the players who he was able to bring to the club reflected that plight.

One Championship player, in Liam Bridcutt, three South Americans - Scocco, Santiago Vergini and Oscar Ustari - who were all eager to prove themselves in the Premier League, and Marcos Alonso, limited to a fringe role at Fiorentina.

Only Alonso proved to be an overwhelming success. None of those quintet are part of the Sunderland side now.

That says something.

Even when tempted with the land of milk and honey, many footballers will be reluctant to move to the Premier League, if it is to join a club that could be relegated just four months later.

It’s the stark reality of the difficulty which stems from bringing in players to a relegation-threatened club mid-season.

Yes, of course, there’s always some out there who will set aside their reservations and bank the bunce on offer in the Premier League.

But they are invariably the wrong characters required for the battle against the drop.

Allardyce will want recruits hungry and eager to prove themselves (surely one of the reasons behind Duncan Watmore’s inclusion in the starting XI against Southampton).

These next six weeks leading up to January will see Allardyce and the still-in-place Lee Congerton trying to unearth a promising lead amidst the sea of blind alleys, in a bid to find players who fit that remit.

At least, Allardyce will have a few quid to play with presumably after being in such a strong negotiating position when he sat down with Ellis Short, prior to his appointment last month.

It would be naive to think Allardyce hadn’t had some sort of assurance from Short over January spending.

There have been stories floating about in the national press that Allardyce has a £20m ‘war-chest’ at his disposal.

That would be something of a surprise, even though Sunderland probably require investment on that level.

Firstly, if there’s a spare pot of cash that big, then why, oh why, wasn’t it splashed out in the summer when Sunderland could have landed a Virgil van Dijk or a Jonny Evans and given their back-line a genuine improvement of quality.

And secondly, the pattern over recent windows has not tended to involve Short setting aside £x and then letting that money be spent as is seen fit.

Each possible deal seems to be judged on its merits.

However, Sunderland are clearly looking at players who would not necessarily come at a pittance.

Olympiakos want £7m for left-back Arthur Masuaku, albeit there would surely be some room for manoeuvre over that asking price for a player who isn’t even a French international.

Sunderland would have to shell out £10m for Celtic’s Nir Bitton, although that one’s a long shot.

And with everyone in the bottom half of the table seemingly being linked with Charlie Austin - despite the striker’s pledge to stay at QPR until the summer - Sunderland would need £8m or so to win that race.

The scouting trips are under way, as are those hush-hush conversations conducted with agents, managers and chief executives, in the build-up to the game of transfer poker.

Sunderland are going to need reinforcements if they are to preserve their Premier League existence, particularly in those evidently weak areas at the back.

But as January 2014 proved, getting the right recruits who can play a meaningful part in the relegation battle is the real challenge.