How Sunderland identified Leon Dajaku as Lee Johnson and Stewart Harvey draw on Bristol City and Blackburn experiences

Lee Johnson and Sunderland’s Head of Recruitment Stuart Harvey were both aware of German winger Leon Dajaku when they were at former clubs.
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Dajaku was one of two players the Black Cats signed on transfer deadline day, as the 20-year-old arrived on a loan deal from Union Berlin.

Goalkeeper Thorben Hoffmann also moved to Wearside on loan from Bayern Munich, with both deals including an option to buy clause.

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Sunderland’s transfer business was a drawn-out process this summer, due to the players they were targeting, yet Johnson believes the club’s patience will pay off.

Leon Dajaku playing for Union Berlin.Leon Dajaku playing for Union Berlin.
Leon Dajaku playing for Union Berlin.

When asked when Hoffmann and Dajaku were first identified as targets, Johnson told the Echo: “Probably about eight weeks ago. It was a long process because they were difficult deals to do.

“That’s why I said to you, I’m not panicking because I know the quality that we are looking at, you guys don’t and the fans don’t because you can’t tap into my laptop and see all the information that is flying around.

“You have to hold strong and I think people are generally pleased with the work we have done.

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“Inevitably it will be down to how they perform and what results we get to determine if they get the opportunity to stay – if they want to stay and we want them to stay and that will be because we are successful as well.”

While Dajaku and Hoffmann only came onto Sunderland’s radar this summer, both Johnson, who left Bristol City last year, and Harvey, who joined Sunderland from Blackburn, had previous knowledge about the pair.

“We’d seen them live, both myself and Stewart,” Johnson added. “Not recently because you can’t get anywhere.

“We’d seen them live previously and we have both come from previous clubs that have had strong recruitment systems.”

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While Sunderland have looked to revamp their recruitment set-up this year, Johnson says deals can still develop in different ways.

“We have spoken about data before and there is football nous that I would call it, players you have seen before and the Head of Recruitment has seen before or the Sporting Director has seen before,” he said.

“It all gets put into a system really and then reviewed and reviewed again. A first review, second review, third review before it starts getting to the likes of myself.”

In terms of how the Dajaku deal played out, Johnson explained: “The Dajaku one was an agent-led shout early on but was a player who we knew and knew well, particularly myself and Stewart Harvey. We had seen him play for Germany at youth level.

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“Originally the awareness came about via an agent, an English agent, who pitched it probably at exactly the right level.

“To be honest the club did a great job to convince both of the players to drop to tier three in English football and both are very highly-renowned top, young players.

“Often the foreign players don’t want to drop to the third tier of English football so a lot of work went into them to bring their families over and show them around.

“In the end everything is taken into account, the data, the eye, scouting previous reports, checking out players’ personalities, whether it be their Instagram profiles.

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“Every little element is considered before we make a decision.”

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