Kristjaan Speakman explains Sunderland's 'evidence-based' approach to recruitment this summer and beyond

Kristjaan Speakman insists the decisions Sunderland make this window will leave the club in a stronger position not just for this season's promotion push, but for the campaigns ahead.

Tuesday, 17th August 2021, 12:45 pm

Speakman spoke to The Echo earlier this month, and outlined some of the factors that had made it a challenging summer window.

He insisted Sunderland would wait for quality additions, having made three additions at that stage.

The Black Cats have enjoyed a productive week on the recruitment front, signing Dennis Cirkin on a permanent deal from Tottenham Hotspur.

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Sporting Director Kristjaan Speakman

Frederik Alves and Nathan Broadhead have also arrived on loan from West Ham United and Everton respectively, bolstering some positions of concern in the squad.

Sunderland's work is far from over, though, with the full-back positions still in clear need of strengthening. Any further outgoings could also force the Black Cats back into the market.

Under Speakman and Head of Recruitment Stuart Harvey Sunderland's recruitment model has changed significantly, as the club looks to build a squad that can help move towards

Kyril Louis-Dreyfus' stated goal of sustainability.

As part of that, the club has begun to invest heavily in data analysis as they seek to catch up in a field where many of their rivals have been ahead of them.

Speakman, however, has stressed that this is merely one aspect of the club's research when signing players.

He has also stressed that it's an aspect that is likely to become more influential over time, as key appointments in that field bed into the club.

"It's perhaps a bit of a communication error on our part," the Sporting Director told The Echo.

"When something different comes in, I think certain words or phrases can maybe be picked up on and that's maybe happened with 'data'.

"What we're after is an evidence-based approach.

"So when we make a decision on a player, we want to have evidence that we can use to back up that decision.

"Data analysis, the numbers, is one small part of that.

"Now in the future it is something that could become bigger, because we are looking to develop that and the group of people we have in place have only been there for a very short amount of time.

"So it's not a situation where we are relying on numbers or data analysis to make a decision. What we're looking to do is bring together all the different components that we can sit round the table and discuss as a group, to come up with the answer, if you like.

"We're trying to have that evidence-based approach rather than the old school approach if you like, where the phone rings, 'this player is available, let's sign him'.

"What we're trying to do is run [every player] through a process. That doesn't necessarily have to be time consuming, it can actually be fairly swift if we've got all the relevant evidence that we've collated.

"Stuart Harvey and James Young have done a great job to combine and collaborate, to try and ensure that the information is there for myself, Lee, the board to make those decisions based on evidence."

Rebuilding the club's threadbare recruitment department has been one of Speakman's key early priorities, while he has also overseen fresh investment and a number of changes in the academy operation.

That off-field investment is very much ongoing, with work extensive on pitches and infrastructure at both the Academy and Stadium of Light.

Speakman says that every decision is being geared towards the club's long-term strategy, but says the need to win promotion this season is well understood.

As such, a strong end to the summer window is his immediate priority.

"We are starting pretty much from scratch, although I don't see that necessarily as a negative," he said.

"If you inherit a structure and you have to make vast changes to get it to the ground zero point where you then can build back up, that can take longer.

"The club was in a position where it hadn't filled a number of spaces, and we didn't have certain people in certain departments. "We then recruited, which takes time and I think we actually did in a really quick period of time considering where we started.

"That's building towards the long term and our long-term strategy. But of course we all recognise the immediacy of the situation, and the need to get on-field performance to a higher level in a quicker period of time.

"It's just about trying to do both things collaboratively and that just means taking some sensible decisions along the way and saying, 'we'll exclude this and this just at this moment, and concentrate on this, because that will get us through the window successfully.'

"But everything we do is geared towards the long-term project, it's just the order in which you put those pieces together.

"To change the philosophy of the club and hopefully its fortunes and trajectory along with it, it's probably a two to four window process.

"But I absolutely appreciate that at a club the size of Sunderland, you cannot sit here and say, 'don't worry everyone, it's going to take four windows'.

"From top to bottom, we don't have that kind of patience. I have absolutely no issue with that.

"We are doing everything we can to get promoted next May, but we believe the decisions we make will also make us stronger for next season and the season after that."

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