SAFC Analysis: A window of ‘on-off’ deals, but Sunderland have ultimately done good business

Yann M'Vila and Jeremain Lens
Yann M'Vila and Jeremain Lens
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The very first piece of business conducted by Sunderland this summer was to prove an omen for the remainder of the transfer window.

Dick Advocaat’s return to the Stadium of Light hotseat was on... off... definitely off... and then very much on again.

One moment a deal has looked to be on the verge of being done, the next it’s off, and then back again

That has subsequently proved to be the pattern of Sunderland’s pursuit of fresh faces this summer, with the complexion of a succession of deals changing by the hour, let alone the day.

While supporters understandably view transfers in black and white, the reality is that the water has been distinctly muddy over a succession of targets, with Dick Advocaat getting a different answer over a ‘possible’ every time he picked up the phone to Lee Congerton.

One moment a deal has looked to be on the verge of being done, the next it’s off, and then back again.

There have been several reasons behind that.

A host of players have been keeping their options open to see what materialises, rather than immediately jumping at the chance of joining Sunderland. That’s the inevitable side-effect of the club’s annual struggles in the wrong half of the Premier League table.

Sunderland have played that game themselves too. For example, feelers were first put out for Ola Toivonen a month before the Swedish international signed, as the Black Cats contemplated available players in the attacking midfield role.

This on-off pattern has made reporting on Sunderland’s transfer activity devilishly difficult.

On Saturday morning, Advocaat had consigned Fabio Borini to a dim and distant possibility.

Forty-eight hours later though, he was a Sunderland player...

But while the nature of the transfer window has been irritating journalistically, it has proved to be an even more frustrating one for Advocaat himself.

Advocaat’s concerns prior to the signings of Toivonen and Borini were not purely down to the limits of Sunderland’s cheque book, albeit Ellis Short came good in a big way when it mattered to finance the £7.75m signing of the latter.

No, Advocaat had seen a succession of deals collapse from the jaws of being completed.

Advocaat had reached a gentleman’s agreement with fellow Dutchman Louis van Gaal to sign Adnan Januzaj on a season-long loan and Sunderland thought they had got their man.

Yet as Manchester United’s pursuit of Pedro dragged on and Januzaj was given an olive branch by van Gaal, the move went cool before the Belgian finally joined Borussia Dortmund on Monday.

Similarly, Sunderland thought they had snared Manchester City defender Jason Denayer on a season-long loan, before Marseille and Galatasary entered the race for the Belgian, who eventually plumped for the latter.

Jonathan de Guzman was on-off, on-off for a fortnight after Sunderland had quickly agreed a deal with Napoli.

Eventually after days pondering Sunderland’s offer (when de Guzman was clearly waiting to see if any better options came along) he rejected the Black Cats, only for Napoli to attempt to resurrect the deal themselves.

And then in the days before Borini’s arrival, Advocaat was quietly confident that Borussia Dortmund’s Adrian Ramos was on his way.

The collapse of that one saw the twist in the Borini saga.

Throw-in the failed medicals of Leroy Fer and Nicolas Lombaerts – who are both understood to have been ticking time bombs over their long-term participation – and it’s a lengthy list of ‘what-might-have-been’ signings.

Ultimately though, when Sunderland’s summer business is assessed, it’s been a case of job done from Advocaat and Congerton.

Advocaat wanted “quality” signings who immediately improved Sunderland’s starting XI and at least five of the eight brought in look like they will do exactly that.

Jeremain Lens, Yann M’Vila, Younes Kaboul, Toivonen and Borini appear to have ended Sunderland’s pattern of poor investments in the transfer market.

And while two of those players are on loan (albeit M’Vila is with a view to a permanent deal) Ellis Short has to be praised for a net spend of more than £20m this summer, despite the flak which flew in his direction during the capitulation against Norwich.

The deal for Lens could rise to as much as £12.5m depending on add-ons, while likewise, Borini could cost Sunderland up to £10m.

While the question had to be asked earlier in August over Sunderland’s spending, Short has subsequently backed his manager and shown his determination to keep the club in the Premier League.

It’s not been a perfect window for Sunderland.

Advocaat has wanted a physical targetman to lead the line, and Borini is not a perfect fit for that role.

Neither have Sunderland managed to land another specialist left-back, with Patrick van Aanholt still the only natural left-footer on the books.

But at least in Spurs defender DeAndre Yedlin, Sunderland have added some strength in depth in the full-back slots after the Black Cats have looked oh-so-vulnerable there during the early stages of the season and opposition sides are clearly targeting those areas.

With van Aanholt and Billy Jones both struggling, and Adam Matthews facing six weeks on the treatment table, Sunderland needed another option there.

Yedlin is untested in the Premier League, yet with 23 caps for America, he’s no novice and he will be hungry to prove he can cut it in the Premier League.

With so much work needed to be done in overhauling a squad that has been persistently in the battle for survival too, Advocaat and Congerton couldn’t address every single deficiency in perfect fashion either.

Regardless of the difficulties in getting there, Sunderland have done some good business.

Now we’ll see if it’s good enough.