Planning for the new season started months ago in the mind of Sam Allardyce, who had become increasingly confident his side would plot a path to Premier League survival.
He already had a definitive idea of where he would need to strengthen if the best scenario was realised in the drawn out battle with Norwich and Newcastle.
At his first opportunity in the January window, Allardyce had looked to make Sunderland harder to beat by strengthening the spine of the team; Lamine Kone and Jan Kirchhoff were a revelation, while Wahbi Khazri added much-needed quality and endeavour.
And it worked, just one defeat in the last 11 games is proof enough of that.
But now Sunderland must go again. Perhaps as many as five new faces will be required to make the next step from perennial strugglers to top half contenders.
How realistic is that? Stoke finished ninth with Arnautovic, Bojan and Shaqiri and blew their transfer record to sign Imbula for £18m in January; Everton disappointed in 11th with a side spearheaded by a £28million frontman Romelu Lukaku; Crystal Palace only just stayed out of trouble despite what looked like the game changing signing of Yohan Cabaye; and Newcastle spent more than any other side in January yet we all know what happened next.
Spending does not guarantee success but good recruitment is the single most important factor in progress.
Without question, Sam and Sunderland found incredible value in their first foray into the European market.
It’s not for me to suggest any undiscovered gems from foreign shores but I do think there is some real quality already in the Premier League that might be within Sunderland’s reach. Here are just a few:
Kieran Trippier – Tottenham: He’s too good not to be playing in my opinion. Having got his big move from Burnley he threatened to keep Kyle Walker out of the Spurs side at one stage but ended the season with only five PL starts to his name although he was a regular starter in Europe. Quick, strong, a good defender and a brilliant distributor who is also a fantastic crosser of the ball. He wouldn’t come cheap but the chance to play every week in an ambitious team might tempt him.
Carl Jenkinson – Arsenal: Allardyce had him on loan at West Ham two seasons ago but his progress stalled at Upton Park last term. Arsene Wenger says he has a future at Arsenal but when he recovers from a serious knee injury this summer he may be ready for a new start. At his best he’s a dynamic, modern right-back.
Fabian Delph – Manchester City: His face may not fit at the Etihad where standards will be very high under Pep Guardiola but he would be a brilliant signing for Sunderland. I wouldn’t be surprised if Pep sees some value in him as a converted full-back but at 26 his best years could still be ahead of him.
Idrissa Gueye – Aston Villa: A clone of Leicester’s N’Golo Kante whose performances shone out in a desperate Villa side. His defensive stats (four tackles and four interceptions per game) are better than even Kirchhoff (3.5 tackles/2.1 interceptions); his passing (85% completion) more accurate than Yann M’Vila (81%). He’s a get it and give it merchant who will bring real energy to someone.
James Morrison – WBA: He’s a Boro boy strongly linked with a return to the Riverside and with reports of a four year deal worth 70k per week being offered to a 30-year-old it’s easy to see why. But Morrison is a classy performer higher up the pitch and is out of contract this summer.
Graziano Pelle – Southampton: There’s talk of Pelle returning to Italy with Lazio but he would be a massive coup for Sunderland. Brilliant with his back to goal he would help the lads get up the pitch and he scores his fair share too, although often in streaks. Maybe he likes red and white stripes!
Jason Puncheon – Crystal Palace: He was furious to be left out of Palace’s cup final team but came off the bench to score the opening goal. Possesses real quality and would probably be invigorated by a fresh start. Could play wide in a front three.
Victor Moses – Chelsea: Had a largely frustrating loan spell at West Ham and it seems unlikely he’ll ever breakthrough at Stamford Bridge. Remains an enigmatic talent but Sam might fancy the challenge of realising his full potential at a cut price fee.
These are just a few of my own thoughts having watched a lot of Premier League football this season, I’d be very interested to see who I’ve missed off this long list of targets!