The George Honeyman deal assessed and what it means for Sunderland
A few memories that put together, tell a tale.
The first, George Honeyman, wide-eyed, discussing the winning goal scored about half an hour earlier.
It was only Bury, only the League Cup, but there was still at this stage the feeling of a fresh start and this was the first goal in Red & White for this young midfielder.
So how did it feel?
Which raised a smile, because it was just the perfect way to describe it. It’s what we would all have felt, how we would all have described it. This was a guy living all our dreams and best of all, he really knew it.
A month or so later, a stunned Simon Grayson is reflecting on a 5-2 hammering away at Ipswich Town. Sunderland outfought, outplayed.
“I went in the dressing room [after the game] and you hear a 22-year-old saying ‘we’re soft as…’,” he says.
Look at the team sheet, and there aren’t many candidates.
Many felt Honeyman’s game had deficiences but no one could accuse him of accepting anything less than 100%, either from himself or those around him.
Then, just a few months ago, one of the highlights of the season. A clever run, attacking the front post, and a good finish to score the goal that it seemed just might send Sunderland
Absolute delirium in the away end, and Honeyman doesn’t quite know how to celebrate. So he runs towards the supporters, thinks about taking his shirt off, thinks better of it and ends up performing one of the worst Ravanelli tribute of all time. In the following press conference, Jack Ross jokes about how rubbish it was, but he’s making a serious point. This is what it’s all about, why we do it.
That the season ended as it did will have hurt no one more than Honeyman.
It was not the easiest of seasons. He was given the captain’s armband for all the above, as well as his unyielding dedication off the pitch and around the Academy of Light.
There was some exhilarating highs, but plenty of criticism too.
Honeyman, as always, just kept coming back for more.
There’s a business and a football side to this decision, which we will go into in more depth. Perhaps, after that crushing disappointment, it’s a good time for a refresh and a new start for both player and club.
But after what had happened in the years previous, regardless of what you thought of the player or his place in the side, it was always refreshing to watch and talk to someone who cared so much and would have done anything possible to make Sunderland successful.
Whatever happens in the coming years, Honeyman will always be able to say he scored for Sunderland, he led them out at Wembley, and in doing so gave everything he had.
On the face of it, the fee seems a little on the light side.
Granted, there are some significant mitigating factors. Honeyman has just one year left on his contract, and given the terms of his deal, signed just after the club’s relegation from the Premier League was confirmed, a renewal at this stage was clearly unlikely. That made the club vulnerable to losing him for a pittance in January or for nothing next summer.
Then there is the additional wage saving doing a deal now will lead to. Yes, he will have taken a significant cut after relegation to League One, but Honeyman was still very much in the top bracket of earners at the club. This deal will allow the Black Cats to make another significant reduction to their wage commitments, something that has to be taken into account when considering the fee.
Still, Hull City have got themselves a good deal. Honeyman had his critics but the numbers themselves tell a story. Grant McCann is landing a player with almost 100 senior games under his belt at the age of 24, one with experience of captaincy and dealing with immense pressure and expectation. A versatile midfielder, capable of playing just about anywhere across the midfield. He has an incredible work-rate and covers remarkable distances game after game, something which will transfer well to McCann’s high-energy style. Twelve goals in two seasons is not a spectacular record but it’s not a bad one, either,
When you consider that Joel Asoro, who also had a year left on his deal, fetched £2 million this time last year, it seems a good price for Hull.
A sensible one for Sunderland on balance, perhaps.
Of course, any discussion of the fee should also take into account the reality of Sunderland’s squad. They have an abundance of midfield options and there is a desire, quite rightly too, to ensure Elliot Embleton gets a chance to show his quality this year.
Sunderland lacked a touch of craft and composure last season and those are qualities Embleton should bring in abundance.
Ross will want Ethan Robson to have the chance to show his worth and he was firm in fighting to keep Dylan McGeouch at the club earlier this summer.
Then there is the signing of George Dobson and put in this perspective, it looks good business.
Dobson has good experience but plenty of room to improve as a player. Crucially, he will replace the energy that Honeyman brings and has the qualities to replicate that intensity and speed off the ball that made Honeyman so valuable at his best.
Transfer business has been patient and targeted this summer, and there is a logic to this refreshing of the midfield options. Honeyman’s departure does at least mean the club is not left in the lurch.
For Honeyman, too, this is an exceptional chance to prove himself in the second tier.