Phil Smith's Sunderland AFC Q&A: Where the Black Cats stand as they target new signings and what happens next

Sunderland begin their League One campaign against Wigan Athletic on Saturday.

Tuesday, 3rd August 2021, 2:22 pm

Sporting Director Kristjaan Speakman spoke to The Echo on Monday to discuss the summer so far, the progress made and the important work still to be done.

You can read that here, as well as the latest on Denver Hume and Elliot Embleton.

With some key gaps still remaining in the squad. Phil Smith has been answering questions on all the latest developments from supporters in his weekly Q&A.

Sign up to our Sunderland AFC newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Sunderland head coach Lee Johnson

Where are we at with new signings? We need a new keeper, 2 full backs & at least one striker? And we need them on permanent deals, not loans?

I broadly agree with your assessment of what’s needed, though personally I would say another option in central defence is more important than a new goalkeeper.

Sunderland want to play with a high line and out from the back where possible this year and while Arbenit Xhemajli is working towards fitness, you need someone to help Callum Doyle who is a natural in terms of those attributes.

Two full backs, a new centre back and a striker are certainly the club’s four priorities, and it will clearly then become three full backs if Denver Hume does not agree a new deal.

Sporting Director Kristjaan Speakman

I don’t agree with the view that Sunderland shouldn’t pursue loans.

They have been absolutely crucial for a lot of teams who have beaten the Black Cats to promotion in recent years and it’s an area I think they need to do better in.

Dion Sanderson was a tremendous addition last year and Callum Doyle will hopefully be the same; the signs so far have certainly been good.

I’d agree that in line with the vision presented by the new regime in terms of the long-term future of the club, you’d expect to see some investment in permanent additions who can grow with the club.

Kristjaan Speakman has said that the club have had significant bids on the table, so hopefully we will see progress on that shortly.

It’s a big couple of weeks, without a doubt.

What’s the latest with Daniel Jebbison and the interest there?

Ross Stewart has had a really good pre-season in the way he’s brought some variety to Sunderland’s attack, able to run in behind and really stretch the play.

With McGeady, Pritchard, Embleton etc that’s going to be key to the way the Black Cats try to hurt teams.

Sunderland clearly don’t want to be too dependent on Stewart and so regardless of what happens with Will Grigg between now and the end of the window, they want another option.

Jebbison was at the Stadium of Light last Friday to watch some of the Hull game, see the facilities, get a feel for the area, and hold talks with key figures.

Sources indicated that at that stage no decisions had been made, and there was an acceptance that Jebbison would need a bit of time to make the right decision for his future.

Sheffield United have already made the decision to let him leave on loan, and so it’s just a matter of where he goes.

They’re understood to be in principle happy for him to come to Sunderland (and my colleague at the Sheffield Star says that is the manager’s preference) , but there is interest elsewhere in League One and with some of those teams suffering significant injuries in pre-season, they may feel they can guarantee greater playing time.

I’d imagine all the clubs interested will be reaching a point where they want a decision, so we’ll see how it develops in the coming days.

I think patience is key with the new philosophy and there are positive signs, however what are your positives and negatives to the transfer philosophy?

Well I think the first thing to say is that there is clearly no scenario in which you’d deem it ideal or acceptable to have no senior full backs this close to the start of the season.Speakman acknowledged that and it’s imperative that’s addressed as soon as possible.

The positive is that for the first time in a while, I think there is a really clear style of play and that should mean players have a better chance of succeeding when they arrive, as the role is clear and they’ve been recruited to execute it.

I also agree entirely that the club should be avoiding contracting any player who they could potentially be left trying to offload next summer because they weren’t utterly convinced this time around. That’s a cycle that has long needed to be broken.

I’m confident that Sunderland’s transfer business in the long run will improve as a result of the new structure, but there is clearly a pressure to get the squad robust enough to meet the target of winning promotion this season.

Sunderland have essentially taken a gamble that they will get better quality by being patient.

Let’s hope they are right.

Is there anything to look forward to?!

Well, I reckon so!

The style of football is improving and there are some talented youngsters who we can expect to see more of this season.

There’s proper day-to-day leadership and attention to infrastructure now, which many of us have been calling for.

That’s not to say there aren’t issues to be addressed and as I said in the previous question, it’s right to expect those key gaps in the squad are addressed properly.

I hope to see some investment in younger players with potential in the next couple of weeks, but I do believe the club is in a better position than a year ago.

Do Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven have any say with transfers or what players leave the club?

(This answer is from last week’s Q&A, but addresses the same question).


There are certain aspects that the other shareholders have a say in as a result of the agreement struck with Kyril Louis-Dreyfus, but as the majority shareholder it is the 24-year-old who drives and is ultimately responsible for footballing strategy.

Juan Sartori is on the board and so has input in that regard, but Donald is not (though his views will obviously be represented).

Targets are identified on a collaborative basis between head of recruitment Stuart Harvey, head coach Lee Johnson and Sporting Director Kristjaan Speakman.

The data analysis plays a big part in that, alongside the more traditional scouting.

Speakman leads negotiations with other clubs and targets, while the ultimate decision in terms of what fee/spend is sanctioned will of course always rest with Louis-Dreyfus.

The board and ownership group will of course be accountable for the club’s progress and decisions as a whole, but it’s Louis-Dreyfus and Speakman who are ultimately primarily responsible for Sunderland’s progress on the pitch (in my view, at least).

There are clearly still some unresolved questions in terms of Madrox, the ownership structure and in particular where their stated commitment to settling the parachute payment issue currently stands.

But on the pitch, this will be the Louis-Dreyfus vision.

I do think, generally, the communication around the deal that Louis-Dreyfus did to buy the club has not been transparent enough, and it’s clearly not helped in terms of the anxiety many fans have had this summer.

What happened with Liverpool left back Tony Gallacher, who was said to be close to a move?

We spoke to Lee Johnson when it was reported that a deal was imminent and he simply said that Gallacher was one of many options Sunderland were considering in that position.

There’s no doubt Sunderland explored a move and there were talks held over the terms of it.

Ultimately, they’ve decided to pursue other options.

The success or otherwise of that, and how those players fare, will I guess define the wisdom of that call.

Why have Sunderland not moved on from Denver Hume?

Sunderland feel the injury Hume is still recovering on has had an impact on negotiations and has also meant there is less time pressure, as he was never going to be fit for the opening stages of the season.

As such they were more than happy to give Hume time to weigh up his options, as a number of other players they have been in talks with from elsewhere have done.

We are now approaching a time when the Black Cats need a decision, though, without a doubt.

What’s happening with the backroom staff? There’s now two key vacancies?

I think some turnover was inevitable, particularly given that Andrew Taylor and Lee Butler were brought to the club by Phil Parkinson to be part of his backroom staff.

The timing is perhaps not ideal but I’d expect the goalkeeping coach situation to be sorted very, very soon.

A message from the Football Clubs Editor

Our aim is to provide you with the best, most up-to-date and most informative Sunderland AFC coverage 365 days a year.

This depth of coverage costs, so to help us maintain the high-quality reporting that you are used to, please consider taking out a subscription to our new sports-only package here.

Your support is much appreciated. Richard Mennear, Football Clubs Editor