Inside Sunderland's squad building and the likely next transfer steps after controversial salary cap vote

It has been a period of major uncertainty for clubs across the country and the narrow vote in favour of introducing a salary cap to League One has added yet another layer for Sunderland and their likely promotion rivals.

Monday, 10th August 2020, 2:23 pm

The cap of £2.5 million would be challenging enough for the Black Cats, but that figure also includes commitments such as tax, bonuses and agent fees.

Consider, for reference, that across the last two windows, Sunderland's spend on agent fees alone was more than half the cap. Admittedly, that was a figure vastly inflated due to Premier League legacy issues to be settled but it is nevertheless instructive when it comes to the challenge that lies ahead.

Contracts agreed before Friday's vote will be counted as a divisional average, but this is only scant consolation to the Black Cats whose bill is comfortably in excess of the cap.

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It must be said, too, that the decline of the U23 and U18 sides under the current ownership, as well as the lack of investment in recruitment structures, exacerbate the disadvantage for Sunderland.

Teams with U21 players (who are exempt) capable of stepping up will be able to use valuable resources in the crowded market that lies ahead.

It should be an advantage for a club with a Category One Academy but right now, it is not.

In the long term, that simply has to change, an opportunity to reset that must be taken.

Phil Parkinson remains eager to make some further additions to his Sunderland squad

In the short term, the additions of Bailey Wright and Aiden O'Brien represented a strong start to the summer window but Sunderland are not alone in pondering their next steps.

Portsmouth, for example, have seen a move for Charlie Mulgrew hit the buffers as they adjust to the new reality.

The introduction of the cap, however, is far from straightforward.

The PFA issued a strong statement in the aftermath of the vote and have begun arbitration in an attempt to block it.

They have said that the cap should not be in place during what is unlikely to be a quick process.

The EFL, though, are eager to stick to their guns and how the impasse will be broken remains unclear.

So what next for Sunderland, who still look as if they are in need of five additions to their squad?

We take a close look, position by position....

GOALKEEPER

Lee Burge looks set to be given a chance to make the number one spot his own this season and in truth, that looked likely well before last Friday's seismic salary cap decision.

Phil Parkinson confirmed after Jon McLaughlin's departure that he would recruit another senior goalkeeper this and that remains the intention.

Wolverhampton Wanderers goalkeeper Matija Sarkic is one player of interest, available for loan after a spell at Livingston last season.

Remi Matthews, who worked with Parkinson at Bolton Wanderers, is another.

Matthews also has interest from Ipswich Town, who are looking to secure competition for Tomas Holy. Matthews has already spent time with Paul Lambert's squad during the pre-season programme.

Other potential candidates have been identified and any signing will then allow talented 20-year-old Anthony Patterson to secure a loan and gain some vital experience in senior football.

DEFENCE

A new contract for Tom Flanagan and a two-year deal for Bailey Wright served to allay some nerves on Wearside.

Parkinson's squads still lacks depth in key areas, but the Black Cats boss can at least call upon the core of the side that produced a strong run of form before a bitterly disappointing pre-lockdown dip.

In particular, he can now call upon his preferred back five from that period.

Wright made a notable impact in his five games before injury, while Jordan Willis produced impressive consistency throughout the campaign.

Luke O'Nien was a key figure on the right and on the left, Parkinson eventually settled on and was satisfied with the combination of Flanagan and Denver Hume.

Particularly at home, Hume was an effective attacking weapon and Flanagan's knowledge of the centre-back and full-back positions offered the necessary cover against the counter and more direct opposition.

Next season will be congested, however, and so the need for strength and depth is abundantly clear.

After impressing Parkinson in the FA Cup, Brandon Taylor has begun the campaign training with the senior group and it is, of course, an added bonus that he will not count towards the squad cap as he was under the age of 21 at the beginning of 2020.

Another centre-back remains vital nevertheless, and given the players currently contracted, a left-sided option would make the most sense in terms of adding competition and cover.

Parkinson also needs another natural left-back after Declan John returned to Swansea City without registering a single minute of action.

Sunderland's interest in Luke Garbutt is well known.

He has League One experience, would be a natural wing-back and is also a strong set-piece taker.

His arrival would pose an interesting challenge for Hume's development but like Ipswich, who are keen to sign Garbutt after his successful loan last season, it is not yet clear how last Friday's decision will have an impact on the Black Cats' pursuit.

There is Championship interest in the 27-year-old and he will now have some big decisions to make as he wrestles the need for regular minutes against the financial implications of the current situation.

Interestingly, Ipswich have now taken Republic of International left-back Stephen Ward on trial.

Sunderland have had former Manchester United youngster Demetri Mitchell on trial, and he is understood to have made a positive impression.

The 23-year-old has previously spent time on loan at Hearts.

MIDFIELD

Parkinson has four senior options in midfield, preferring a partnership of George Dobson and Max Power for most of the last campaign.

Josh Scowen faced a long wait to get into the side after his arrival from QPR and is certain to get more opportunities in the current campaign.

A more naturally creative player would give the Black Cats a different option, and perhaps help them avoid becoming a touch predictable in possession, as they perhaps did in that poor run before the season was postponed.

Scott Fraser's stock has never been higher after an impressive campaign with Burton Albion in terms of both goals and assists. He has been firmly on Sunderland's radar, but like Garbutt, is a player currently with Championship admirers and that complicates things as they stand.

ATTACKING MIDFIELD

Lynden Gooch and Chris Maguire were arguably the two players to thrive most under Parkinson's management.

Gooch relished the prolonged opportunity to play in a central position and Maguire's attacking output in the second half of the campaign was very strong.

It also looks set to be a vital campaign for Elliot Embleton, who is not included in Sunderland's squad cap and has played a full part in pre-season so far after injury severely disrupted his campaign last time out.

Jack Diamond is another who would not count towards the cap and his stock his high after an excellent loan at Harrogate Town.

He would certainly be a natural fit, like Embleton, in one the two positions just off the main striker in Parkinson's preferred 3-4-3 shape.

STRIKERS

O'Brien is a central striker by nature and set his stall out very clearly in his first club interview after joining Sunderland.

His aim is to score goals; that's what he lives for.

Parkinson believes he offers a different dimension to the other options in his squad, in particular his willingness to stretch the opposition defence by making runs in behind.

It's an aspect of Charlie Wyke's game that the coaching staff have been working on for some time and despite his significant height, it was something that appeared to be more natural for Kyle Lafferty during his brief stay on Wearside.

O'Brien's versatility in the forward areas will nevertheless be utilised by Parkinson (who was impressed with his League One scoring record at Millwall when he played mostly off the left flank) and so another striker is both a priority and perhaps the trickiest position to fill in the aftermath of Friday's vote.

Will Grigg's future is clearly uncertain, with the striker candid earlier this summer in his assessment of his time under Parkinson so far.

Finding a suitor, however, looked a tricky enough task before the cap was imposed. Now, finding a League One club with the capacity to do a deal looks unlikely.

Sunderland, then, need both goals and cover, a task easier said than done in the current climate.

A number of targets have been identified, with Danny Graham one of them. Like Garbutt, Fraser and many more across the country, he is another who will have to assess the impact of Friday's decision and what it means for his options going forward.

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