Kristjaan Speakman gives detailed update on Sunderland's transfer window, the next steps and has this message for fans

Kristjaan Speakman insists Sunderland will not compromise on quality in the closing weeks of the transfer window, and stressed that he believes the club will get the business they need to challenge for promotion done.

Monday, 2nd August 2021, 4:00 pm

Sunderland begin their League One campaign against Wigan Athletic on Saturday afternoon having made three summer additions, as well as signing Aiden McGeady and Luke O'Nien to new deals.

While pre-season performances have offered signs of the new playing philosophy starting to take root, the Black Cats squad remains light in some key areas.

As it stands, the club has no senior full back on the books ahead of what will be a stern test against Leam Richardson's side.

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Sunderland's Sporting Director Kristjaan Speakman.

In an exclusive in-depth interview, Speakman told The Echo that while encouraged by progress on the pitch, there is no doubt that the club still have work to do before the window closes.

"On the field, we're really comfortable with the progress that we're making," Speakman said.

"You want to try and change the style of play to something that people want to come and watch, and I think you can tangibly see we're working towards that as we change the personnel, the head coach gets time to work with the players etc.

"I was on the record last season saying that it can be difficult to achieve that when you have those performance markers every Saturday and Tuesday, with next to no training time in between.

"Off the pitch we want to make a few more signings to address the areas where we feel we're in need of extra players. Stuart [Harvey] and the guys and as a team, we're working really hard to do that."

With the start of a pivotal campaign days away, Sunderland are looking to recruit a striker and at least one more centre-back as well as addressing the full-back issue before the window closes.

That lack of depth has understandably led to concern amongst some supporters about the early stages of the season, with Lee Johnson likely at this stage to be asking some players to operate out of position, at least initially.

Speakman says he understands that concern and that the summer window has presented a number of challenges.

He insists that the recruitment team, and the ownership of the club under Kyril Louis-Dreyfus, are determined to ensure they do not burden the club in future windows by being panicked into signing the wrong players, or by spending excessively.

"We felt we were very-well prepared at the start of the window," he said.

"We've been successful in acquiring some of the targets we set out to get, and we feel we've been really diligent in how we've gone about that in terms of the types of players and how they fit it into our playing style.

"We want to bring a youthful squad to Sunderland but it's also about getting a blend.

"We want more acquisitions. It is a difficult marketplace at the minute. We've found ourselves with offers to clubs and players and at the minute, not been able to get them over the line.

"That's not through any lack of intent from either the people operating the football club or who own the football club, but I think you have to be respectful of the marketplace at the moment and some clubs don't want to let players go, and so sometimes you have to change and move direction.

"Ultimately what we're trying to do is identify quality over quantity, and I think every Sunderland fan would respect that.

"The difficulty you've always got when a transfer window closes after a season starts, you get this difficult period where we all want the team to be ready for the seventh but the market moves until the end of August.

"A huge amount of business always gets done in the last two-and-a-half weeks.

"We're really pleased with where we've got to do and the business we have done.

"We would like to accelerate the last pieces of the jigsaw, 100%, but the ball is not always entirely in your court.

"I appreciate the thought process which would be that you could spend more money [now] to try and tempt players to come or tempt clubs [to sell], but we have to be really sure that we get value for the club.

"What we won't do is pursue a deal that we don't think brings us the required quality on the pitch, or do something that won't benefit us in the short, medium or long term.

"Inside the club we're the same, we all want to be ready for the seventh. It's how you go about solving the problem and for us, we've got to be calm and trust ourselves and our decision-making progress, so we get what we want.

"We don't want to make decisions that aren't right just because of that first game of the season.

"I understand that as a season-ticket holder, you want to see us start on the front foot and do well, be at the top end of the table from day one.

"We all do and believe we can, but we also have to build in that the season runs over a nine-month period, and also that you're potentially contracting players for beyond that nine-month period.

"Therefore what we don't want to do is create a situation the following summer where we have players we weren't comfortable signing and don't fit exactly what we want, so just cause another problem further down the track."

Speakman cited a number of factors when asked why progress in the market had been relatively slow to date, including the change in work permit rules narrowing the European market, and the increasingly challenging financial climate in the Championship.

"GBE has come in which means you don't quite have the same natural pool of players that you'd like to dip into," he said.

"There's a large proportion of players in that market who are now unavailable, and for those that are you've obviously had a situation where you've not been able to visit games and get eyes on them. So can you make the right judgement?

"You always look to your closest neighbour and for us that's the Championship. There are a lot of clubs there operating under a transfer embargo of some description, and that has slowed down the number of transactions.

"Then there's the Euros, and like many clubs we are looking to do some loan deals, and there's a number of clubs who aren't letting players out because their squad isn't ready.

"That's why I say that the last couple of weeks becomes busy.

"There will always be outliers [clubs] who are doing something a bit different, which is absolutely fine.

"If we were in a situation where players we had targeted had gone to clubs who were our competitors, then that might cause greater concern.

"But that hasn't happened at this point in time.

"In that sense we're confident but of course what we've got to do is get those last few through the door, get them up to speed with our philosophy and out in front of our supporters."

Though Sunderland are yet to spend a fee in the current market, Speakman says that is no reflection of the ambition of the club.

He expects that to have changed by the end of the window, and says that all the deals done represent investment.

"We've already made offers on players with significant fees attached to them," he said.

"Of course, whether a player has a fee attached or not does not necessarily relate to value or quality. If you take Alex [Pritchard] as a good example, we very much believe some players of lesser quality have moved and with a transfer fee attached.

"We see as a massive benefit to Sunderland that we've attracted him to League One when he had Championship offers."

Sunderland are expected to welcome a significant crowd to the Stadium of Light on Saturday, with over 20,000 season cards sold for what will be the fourth attempt to win promotion from League One.

Speakman insists that returning to the Championship is the immediate ambition, and has assured fans that even though there remains work to be done in the window, the investment into all aspects of the club required is forthcoming.

"A supporter coming to the Stadium of Light to watch us against Wigan, I think they'd want to see a certain style of football and I think we're migrating towards that, and the data certainly suggests that," he said.

"We've also stated from the off that we want to promote young players into the squad. We want tactical flexibility and it doesn't mean you rely on those players all season but I don't think the management team have any anxiety over playing certain players in certain positions if that's what we need.

"Ultimately we're trying to build a Sunderland for now and a Sunderland for the future, and I think there's always going to be issues along the way and it won't always fall exactly how you want it to fall.

"But I don't believe they should have any anxiety over the direction of the club, or the investment that the owners are putting into the club.

"There's investment on the pitch and a huge amount of investment off the pitch.

"I think the club is in a really good position, with the only ambiguity being that the first game of the season is near and people will point to an obvious gap here or there.

"We have to be up front and honest about that and say yes, they are there. But it's something we're working hard to address, it's not something we're looking to avoid, it's something that will get done with the right calibre of player."

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