Phil Smith's Sunderland AFC Q&A: Juan Sartori plans in Uruguay and selection dilemmas under the microscope

Sunderland sit top of the League One table after an excellent start to the campaign.

Friday, 17th September 2021, 12:30 pm

In his weekly Q&A with Sunderland supporters, Phil Smith has been taking questions on all matters on and off the pitch.

You can read his responses below...

What do you make of reports linking Sunderland’s ownership group with a buyout of Uruguayan side C.A. Rentistas?

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Juan Sartori and Kyril Louis-Dreyfus

Juan Sartori has long spoken of his desire to affiliate a Uruguayan side with Sunderland and it has been widely reported previously that he (or associates on his behalf) has held talks with clubs to that end.

Speaking on Uruguayan radio last year, he said: “I would love for Sunderland to have an affiliated club in Uruguay.

“I studied a number of Uruguayan clubs to be able to do it, but due to lack of time I could not complete that project.

“I will surely end up doing it.”

It’s also something that Madrox, the ownership group previously had a controlling share in Sunderland, have spoken of in the past.

Club networks are increasingly common in football, with City Group (who own Manchester City) one of the most prominent examples.It’s seen as a way of sharing expertise, developing talent and building brands.

In a Q&A with The Echo last year surrounding the contentious issues of the club’s ownership at the time, the group said this: “Madrox was indeed created as the vehicle in which to acquire Sunderland AFC.

“However, it is looking at other investments in the sport and leisure sector to complement this. “That was a contributing factor in seeking a wider investment base and this along with the fact that some investors wish the detail of their financial involvement, like many people investing in businesses, to remain private, means that Madrox affairs must remain confidential.”

What’s changed since then, of course, is that Madrox no longer has a controlling stake.

At the time, the suggestion behind the scenes was that the money injected into Madrox by the FPP group was linked to this wider plan.

That link between FPP and the club has now of course been severed.

The loan (and thus the charge over the club) has been settled and Kyril Louis-Dreyfus now has a controlling stake of his own accord.

Whether he wishes to build a network alongside Sartori and the other minority shareholders would be the key next question.

Sartori rejoined the board earlier this year, and was at the Stadium of Light to sit alongside Louis-Dreyfus for the 3-1 win over Wycombe Wanderers recently.

So watch this space, I would say.

You can read my piece on Sartori and Madrox’s plans from last year here, if of interest.

One further point that may be of note in this context.

The recent change in work permit laws when it comes to players has made it harder to recruit players from Europe, and South America is now being seen as a potential key market for UK clubs.

Kristjaan Speakman alluded to the recruitment challenges caused by GBE in this piece with The Echo earlier this summer.

Who do you expect to come into the side for Tom Flanagan this weekend?

Personally I think Bailey Wright will come in.

Frederik Alves did well on his debut against Blackpool, I thought, and looked particularly strong in the second half.

But when asked to come and help see games out, Wright has looked sharp and in good form.

Particularly alongside the still fairly inexperienced Callum Doyle, you’d think Wright would help get the blend Lee Johnson is looking for.

It’s worth keeping that cup tie against Wigan Athletic on Tuesday in mind, too.

That gives a chance for Alves (or Wright) to get 90 minutes under his belt in a competitive game against strong opposition.

I’d expect a fair few changes for that one and after that, Johnson has a good chance to reflect further ahead of what’s then a really busy league schedule.

What is Phil's Sunderland footballing stand out moment or game in his time covering the club?

Well, there haven’t been anywhere near as many memorable and defining wins as I would have liked, I think it’s fair to say.

Being at Wembley to watch Sunderland win, even in the Papa John’s Trophy, was a special thing.

In terms of the overall occasion, it’s hard to look past the final against Portsmouth.

What started out as a bit of a fun weekend out turned into a proper cup final, a great game in an electric atmosphere. It may not have really mattered to either club in the end, but during the game itself the passion and tension was brilliant.

I’ll throw in two slightly random games that really stick in the memory, too: Crystal Palace and Derby County away.

Both dreadful seasons that ultimately ended in relegation. Which is exactly what made these two thumping wins all the more bizarre, surprising and enjoyable.

The away ends on both of those days were amazing.

I’m hopeful by the end of this season we’ll have a few more big days to add to the list.

Fingers crossed….

What do you think about Dion Sanderson getting little game time at Birmingham and if we go up, would you buy him?

I would still expect Dion to make a big impact there.

It’s worth noting that when he arrived, he still hadn’t actually entirely recovered from the back injury that ended his campaign on Wearside.

Birmingham City have made a strong start to the campaign so you can see why Lee Bowyer has been reluctant to change successful partnerships up until this point.

Worth remembering, too, that Dion went through something very similar here. It was actually a good few months before he really broke into the side and made that spot his own.

As to the second part of the question, I’d love to see Dion back someday.

But I still suspect, as I always have done, that he has a good few chapters left to write at his boyhood club Wolverhampton Wanderers.

The long-term deal they gave him in the summer underlined that they rate him just as highly as we do here on Wearside.

Do you expect to see any further loan moves to the National League?

It’s definitely a possibility, though you wonder whether Johnson and Speakman may wait until some of the club’s upcoming club fixtures have been played before making firm decisions.

Benji Kimpioka was close to going on loan to Hartlepool United in the final hours of deadline day, but a deal couldn’t be completed in time.

It remains to be seen whether a move to the National League is seen as a sufficient standard for him to progress over the coming months, but there’s no doubt that he would benefit from more exposure to senior football.

There’s a chance Anthony Patterson could go on loan, too, but again I’d expect the cup fixtures over the next few weeks may present him an opportunity.

You’d also think Sunderland will look to see how Thorben Hoffmann settles before making any decisions.

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