Phil Smith's tour diary: A blunt message from Jack Ross, a special talent and a statement from Portsmouth

We’re in a transfer window, and so every press conference must include a question about transfers.

Friday, 19th July 2019, 16:45 pm
Jack Ross says Sunderland will not be spending big money this summer

It can be wearying for managers but the appetite for updates is insatiable and understandably so. Everyone knows a key addition, or indeed a key exit, could be the difference between delight and despair.

Jack Ross rarely gives anything away about players from other clubs but in terms of Sunderland’s general plans, he has been very candid about where he stands.

The Sunderland boss spent a large part of the summer in limbo. True, the proposed takeover was never likely to have any major impact on the club’s short-term budget or plans, but uncertainty over the club’s direction and key members of staff will always have an impact.

So when that takeover talk subsided, Ross was keen to make everyone aware of the parameters he was operating in. One in, one out.

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Last night his response to the standard transfer question was even more blunt and even more useful.

No big spending, no big money being thrown around. Simple as that.

In a flash, many of this summer’s persistent rumours were ruled out. Marcus Maddison, John Marquis, you know the like.

Unless there’s a major sale, that kind of addition won’t happen.

What’s crucial to stress is that Ross was not saying this as a matter of complaint, or an excuse for potential future underperformance.

He has cut a relaxed, motivated figure of late and he is genuinely hugely satisfied with the business he has done so far. Since he came into the job, behind the scenes and publicly, he has spoken about the massive difference in spending a big fee and getting value for money.

If the model is spending very carefully, picking up players with potential and looking to delveop them into proven performers who could make the club money down the line, he is quite happy with that.

But, crucially, he should be judged accordingly.

Fans will have their own opinion on the model, but clarity can only be a good thing.

*It was hardly a classic but Sunderland’s clash with Benfica B felt like a good runout for the Black Cats.

The Portugese side played with the energy you would expect of a young side and off the ball, Sunderland had to maintain a decent tempo to compete.

Of course, the kind of test that awaits them in League One will very different.

If memory serves correctly, Benfica B only once played a long ball out from the back, which came as the goalkeeper raced for a loose ball. Everything was about rotation of the ball and patienty building attacks. Great for fitness and concentration, a world away from AFC Wimbledon away.

Don’t underestimate their ability, though.

This was a young side and some of their better players are with the first team in the USA, but this is still a squad that finished fourth in the Portugese second division last season.

For context, Porto B finished ninth. Anyone who watched their quite magnificent display at the Stadium of Light the season before last in the Premier League cup final will know how impressive their youngsters are.

Few sides in Europe have better academy operations than these top Portugese outfits.

On the way into Albufeira earlier this week, my taxi driver (and huge Benfica fan) was discussing the journey of Joao Felix. Felix impressed in the B side and then sparkled in just one senior season, earning a 120 million euro move to Atletico Madrid. These boys can play.

A couple of names worth watching out for in future: Captain Nuno Santos has great poise on the ball and a real maturity, while Rodrigo Conceicao is a fascinating footballer.

If his Wikipedia is to be believed, the winger is just 5ft 4. That seems extreme, though he was by some distance the smallest player on the pitch.

The quickest, too. Pre-season is generally played at a sedate tempo but Alim Ozturk and Jordan Willis were given the shock of their life early on when he flew onto seemingly hopeless through balls and turned them into a dangerous attack.

Can he make it with that frame? It remains to be seen, but the only played that fast I can remember watching live were Fernando Torres in his absolute pomp, and Adama Traore.

Conceicao reminded me of Traore at the Stadium of Light, when overhit passes would draw cheers of derision from the crowd, swiftly turning to horror as he found a way to somehow chase them down.

All in all, a good step up in standard for Sunderland as the campaign nears.

*Sunderland were midway through their Benfica B clash when one of the most significant summer transfers was announced.

Though they are adamant they do not have to sell, it seems certain that Portsmouth will lose Jamal Lowe this summer.

So important to Kenny Jackett’s direct and hugely effective style, replacing him looked an impossibly tall order, particularly when defensive stalwart Matt Clarke has already left the club.

There were only a handful of playees capable of filling the void and Burton Albion’s Marcus Harness was one of them.

To land him is a huge statement.

Harness was brilliant in the second half of last season, playing a central role in Nigel Clough’s side as they took top-six scalp after top-six scalp.

In that entertaining 1-1 draw at the Stadium of Light, he was a constant menace.

His signing shows Pompey are going to be right up there again this season, but it could be a major blow for Burton Albion, who looked set to push on but have now lost a host of key players.

Harness joins Jamie Allen and Kyle McFadzean in joining League One rivals.