The inside track on Sunderland AFC's big striker call and the latest takeover claims assessed

With takeover and transfer talk continuing to dominate the discussion at the Stadium of Light, Phil Smith answers reader questions and offers an insight into what is currently happening at Sunderland AFC.

Wednesday, 5th February 2020, 5:30 pm

Q: As an enormous club at this level I have an expectation for us to go for the best players in the league. I don't feel my expectation is unreasonable. These players are the likes of Ivan Toney and Marcus Maddison. Seeing Maddison going on loan was hard to accept. These players in particular could stay and develop with the club and eventually play at Premier League level. Why have we resigned ourselves to accepting less?

This is a great question that I think we need to split into a few parts.

Firstly, on Marcus Maddison, it’s worth going and having a look at the comments from Peterborough chairman Darragh MacAnthony surrounding what happened in the January window, in which he suggests that the (undoubtedly very talented) attacking midfielder priced a lot of Championship clubs out of a move.

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Sunderland striker Will Grigg - will he be given an opportunity?

He has great quality in the final third but it’s fair to raise questions about his value with just six months left on his deal, and I’d point out as well that Peterborough’s form has recovered dramatically since Sammie Szmodics took his place in the side. There will be a lot of clubs interested to see how Maddison fares in the Championship.

On Ivan Toney, I believe Peterborough said he would cost above £8 million. Unfortunately, Sunderland’s decline means that just isn’t possible at the moment.

Secondly, there were teams near the top of the Championship (Brentford being one) who would have moved were he really available.

The reality is that for these players on their way up in the game, they want to give themselves the best possible chance of getting into the Premier League.

The only way to do that is to thrive in the Championship, or get promoted with a team at that level.

As tough as it is for all of us to accept, until Sunderland are competing in the Championship and doing well, players attracting offers from the top end of that division are not going to be interested (in my opinion at least), even accounting for the obvious size of the club.

Where I would absolutely agree is that Sunderland need to be investing to the absolute best of their capabilities in players with the potential to grow, step up a level and potentially make the club a profit.

Jordan Willis is proving to be an exceptional addition on a free (and came here over options at the lower end of the Championship because of the size and potential of the club). Luke O’Nien similar and that has to be the template.

I agree entirely that realism should not mean a lack of ambition.

Toney, for example, is a bit out of reach at the moment, but good planning and good recruitment should mean that is not the case for long.

It’s up to Sunderland to get in that position and quickly.

Clearly, what kind of market Sunderland operates in during the next few windows will also depend on how the ownership situation develops.

Q: Hi Phil, I’m a little concerned no regular striker was brought in because we do not have someone who will take chances.

This is the biggest concern I think in the fanbase after the January window and clearly, it’s a fair one.

The chances have dried up a bit in recent matches and Sunderland don’t seem to have a clinical finisher (or at least one in form).

It was an interesting window on that front.

Phil Parkinson’s main priority was to get a player who could replicate Charlie Wyke’s contribution, who, in fairness, is making a good go of the responsibility of leading the line in the current system.

There were a few options.

Lafferty being one, of course, as well as Gary Madine and Liam Boyce.

Parkinson ultimately opted for Lafferty as he felt his career suggested he’s a player who thrives, at club and international level, in big games and on big stages.

Generally, when fit, Michael O’Neill has preferred him to Boyce in the big international contests.

In short, he felt he was the best option to replicate Wyke’s contribution on the pitch, and that the dual incentives of proving himself for next season and trying to fight his way into the Northern Ireland squad for the massive play-off game could just spark something.

The opportunity to bring him in at the start of the window and build his fitness up early was also seen as a bonus.

Parkinson was then clear that he would only recruit further should Will Grigg depart.

It’s too early to judge how his Lafferty gamble is going to play out but without a doubt, if Sunderland are going to get into the top two, someone needs to get on the goal trail and quickly.

So while I can see the logic in the Lafferty move, I think it’s ultimately a valid concern.

An absolutely crucial task for Parkinson is to keep Lynden Gooch and Chris Maguire at the level they’ve produced recently, to reduce the load on the number nine a bit.

Q: We need a goal scoring striker. Has Grigg any chance of being selected by PP?

This is a great question.

Ultimately, I think he is going to have to at some stage.

It’s clear how Parkinson wants and is going to continue to set his team up, with an orthodox number nine playing a target man role.

That drops Grigg down the pecking order and we’ve seen that in recent weeks.

In the next 16 games (and possibly beyond), however, there are going to be times in games where a bit of variety is needed, and Sunderland need someone to stretch the play and run off the shoulder a bit more.

It’s worth remembering, too, that Sunderland are waiting to see if and how serious Wyke’s shoulder injury is.

Though Karl Robinson made a big, public play for Grigg at the end of the window, it was telling that Parkinson had talked the striker up in the days previous.

It was increasingly clear that there was not going to be a deal on the table beneficial to both Grigg and the club.

To Grigg’s credit, there has been nothing but praise for his application and attitude during a difficult period, and that explains to a large extent why Parkinson was so relaxed about the situation throughout January.

He was also genuine in saying that he believes the change of system will benefit him, making him less isolated and getting the quality players close to him as he needs.

Ultimately, I don’t believe Sunderand can achieve their goals without Grigg contributing somewhere along the line.

So when he gets his chance, the question is then two-fold.

Can Sunderland create the chances for him, something they’ve struggled to do for the most part since his arrival?

Then, can Grigg take them?

Even if he is down the pecking order at the moment, I still think it’s going to be a key question.

Any updates on potential new owners?

Nothing concrete, at this stage.

I’d imagine most supporters have now read the report from bloomberg last night, that said two bidders are currently at the table.

It also said that the current ownership hope to identify a preferred bidder by the end of the month.

That’s relatively consistent with what has been said publicly so far.

The report also claimed that the asking price is £40 million.

We know Stewart Donald told supporters at a recent meeting that he believes the club to be worth £30-50 million, so again, that seems consistent.

We recently asked hugely respected football finance expert Kieran Maguire for his view on this.

He suggested that in his opinion, the likely price would be closer to the lower end of that bracket.

Don’t forget that this is the final year of parachute payments, so whatever happens in the rest of the campaign, a huge amount of investment is going to be required for a new owner.

In short, then, there’s a lot of work to do before we get to the end of this process.