Sunderland’s January loan conundrum: What can they realistically do and who should they target?

Adnan Januzaj in action
Adnan Januzaj in action
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At least Chris Coleman knows exactly what he is walking into.

Too often in Sunderland’s recent past, managers have been left bemused by a lack of support and clarity on transfer budgets and the end result has been a soured mood.

Coleman knows the limitations he is working under and he knows this January it will be about patchwork improvements rather than sweeping changes.

Specifically, he will need to loan wisely.

It a well-trodden path for Sunderland, a combination of financial difficulties and poor planning that has left them trapped in a cycle of seeking short-term deals.

There have been successes, the trio of Fabio Borini, Ki Sung-yueng and Marcos Alonso playing a key role in one of Sunderland’s best campaigns in recent memory.

There have been disasters too, however, none more so than the signings of Adnan Januzaj and Jason Denayer.

In retrospect, there is an acceptance that the logic behind bringing those technically gifted players in was wrong.

Januzaj may be a precocious talent and indeed he has gone on to prove it at Real Sociedad, but there was little reason to think he could thrive in a team that would spend most of the game in their own half without the ball.

Mentally the question marks were even bigger and never answered.

Yet this time the circumstances are a little different and Sunderland are crying out for an injection of pace and flair. Exactly the kind of fearlessness and bravery Ben Woodburn showed on his Wales debut, scoring a vital winner against Austria.

Exactly the kind of bravado that saw him beat Mika with an audacious first time, long-range effort at the Stadium of Light in an U23s game on Sunday.

Of course, there is a big difference between delivering in the pressure free zone of youth football and in the Stadium of Light, particularly when the mood is tense and past failures weigh heavy.

The response to the positive performances of George Honeyman, Lynden Gooch and Joel Asoro this season, however, shows the benefit of blending experience with youth.

Realistically, deals for established and proven talents are also likely to be out of Sunderland’s range if high earners don’t leave.

Woodburn is one of a number of players showing their potential in the youth squads of top clubs. The likes of Marcus Edwards, Reiss Nelson and Beni Baningime are all making an impression and that profile of player might just be what Sunderland needs. The phsyical nature of the Championship is certainly a challenge but the likes of Tammy Abraham have shown such is the quality of coaching in these academies, the hurdles can certainly be overcome.

Of course, these clubs will have the futures of their brightest talents planned out in microscopic detail and it would be down to Coleman to convince them that Sunderland is the right environment, in terms of opportunities, playing style and environment.

There is also a practical concern, given that Coleman already has four loanees on his books and can only name five in any one matchday squad.

He has intimated that he will happily sign more than five and deal with the selection ramifications later, which perhaps is a nod to Jonny William’s injury problems and Brendan Galloway’s poor form since arriving.

Still, should, as seems increasingly likely, Lewis Grabban be recalled by Bournemouth, then another striker will be a must and despite two clean sheets for Robbin Ruiter, Coleman may still feel another goalkeeper is required.

In that scenario, he may only be able to bring in one or two other loanees to help salvage the season.

They will have to be good calls.