Phil Smith's Sunderland AFC January transfer Q&A: The next priorities plus Patrick Roberts and Will Grigg latest
Sunderland concluded their first January deal last week, with Trai Hume joining for Linfield for a six-figure sum.
Kristjaan Speakman told The Echo at the start of the month that he expects the club to conclude a similar mix of short and long-term deals to last January, so where will the next priorities be and what’s the current state of play?
Phil Smith runs through some of the key questions in his latest Q&A below….
What is the next priority in terms of transfer business and which areas would you like to see Sunderland strengthen?
As I will go on to shortly, I think there’s a chance Sunderland could sign another attacking midfielder but I think the clear priority is more cover and competition up front.
With Will Harris moving on loan to Barrow, Benji Kimpioka is the only cover for Ross Stewart.
Stewart’s form is outstanding and his place in the XI not in question, but we saw the value of having the option to pair someone with him when Nathan Broadhead excelled.
And there is the clear need to have someone capable of stepping in should COVID or injury hit.
That’s the one position where you think Sunderland simply have to do business.
They will need to replace Frederik Alves should he return to West Ham United, as expected. Arbenit Xhemajli is back in the fold but Sunderland will want to be patient with him after such a serious injury.
You could also make a strong case that with Luke O’Nien out for a prolonged period, more cover in central midfield would be welcome even if Corry Evans has looked excellent in the last couple of games.
Do you think they will sign Patrick Roberts this window?
It’s definitely a possibility.
He is a player they’ve monitored closely as it’s widely expected that his loan at Ligue 1 side Troyes will be brought to an early conclusion at some stage in the month.
It’s a position in which they are likely to recruit, as Aiden McGeady is probably still a month away from returning to fitness and will then need a little longer to get fully up to speed.
If, as is the plan right now, Jack Diamond returns to Harrogate Town for the final few months of the season, then another option makes sense.
Roberts clearly would be a very high-calibre addition at this level, so you’d expect Sunderland to be in the mix.
The 24-year-old has six months left on his current deal, so there is potentially a scenario in which Manchester City allow him to leave on a permanent basis. That is obviously attractive to the Black Cats as it would preserve one of the five matchday loan slots for another position on the pitch.
The other side of that coin is that it then becomes an ambitious deal for a player who cost an eight-figure sum in 2015.
There’ll be plenty of competition, but Sunderland’s position in the table and current playing style definitely makes them an attractive destination for a player of that technical quality looking to kick on.
We’ll see how it progresses.
Whether it be Roberts or someone else, I’d be surprised if Sunderland didn't do some business in that area.
What did you make of the decision to recall the three loanees and do you think Anthony Patterson is a future Sunderland No1?
It was the right decision to play with that group of players, no doubt.
In committing to play early Sunderland avoided uncertainty for their travelling fans who were already facing a challenging trip with the early kick off, and they also underlined their trust in their young players.
I thought both Anthony Patterson and Jack Diamond both did well, to their credit.
Patterson is 100% a future number one.
In fact, there has been plenty of debate behind the scenes at Sunderland because the feeling is that he isn’t all that far off right now, but the (I think probably just about right) decision has been made to get him senior experience.
Certainly his shot-stopping and distribution is already good enough, and with a bit more exposure to the more physical side of the game I think he could make significant strides very rapidly.
What do you expect to happen next with Will Grigg and Rotherham United?
I’d expect him to complete the season there.
Rotherham United boss Paul Warne said yesterday that despite some reports that he will be recalled, a long conversation with Lee Johnson earlier in the week had left him confident there would be no change.
There has certainly been no indication to the contrary on Wearside.
Grigg has now played for two clubs this season, so cannot be loaned elsewhere or sold to play for another club.
Given that he is out of contract in the summer, it would make no sense then for another club to move at this point.
So the only option for Sunderland would be to bring him back without any realistic proposition of getting in the side.
I just don’t see that happening.
For one, it was widely expected that Rotherham United would be a challenger for the top two in the summer, when they opted not to force Grigg to go to a club likely to be lower in the table (Doncaster Rovers held advanced talks).
Grigg said after the move that Johnson’s message had been to go and play wherever he’d be happiest.
Earlier in the summer, Kristjaan Speakman had spoken to The Echo and expressed his sympathy with the circumstances of his arrival at the club and the challenges that threw up.
The sense I got was they felt a duty to let Grigg try and rebuild his career elsewhere.
We’ll have to wait and see what happens next, but a recall would surprise me.
When can we expect to see new signing Trai Hume?
I don’t envisage it will be too long.
Hume travelled with the squad to Wycombe, and took part in the warm ups.
Lee Johnson said the youngster has some ‘amazing attributes’, but warned that is a big step up for the 19-year-old.
Most importantly, he also made clear the crucial importance of players understanding the playing philosophy before they are asked to perform on a matchday.
So he’ll need more training time before being involved, and the form of Carl Winchester and Bailey Wright means there is no real need to rush him, unless the COVID-19 situation accelerates.
He’s definitely signed with the intention of making an impact this season, but Johnson could not have been clearer in warning against expecting too much, too soon.