Sunderland’s loan dependency: Crucial to success or putting off long-term problems for another day?

Barnsley FC 3-1 Sunderland FC, Football League Championship, Oakwell 26th August 2018.  Picture by FRANK REID
Barnsley FC 3-1 Sunderland FC, Football League Championship, Oakwell 26th August 2018. Picture by FRANK REID
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Sunderland’s transfer policy has won few admirers in recent seasons, and one particularly sore point has been a dependence on last-minute loan deals.

Last season, Adnan Januzaj and Jason Denayer epitomised for many the lack of drive and focus in a disjointed Sunderland squad. There are plenty of other examples from down the years.

Even when they have been successful, their return to parent clubs has left the Black Cats back at square one the following summer. Danny Rose, Marcos Alonso, Danny Welbeck all left and saw the squad significantly weakened thereafter. In short, loans have embodied the Black Cats’ short-term thinking when it comes to recruitment.

It is a debate reborn this summer as Sunderland have used the market to try and bridge the gap between the riches of the Premier League and the financial reality of life in the second tier.

Four of Grayson’s 10 additions are temporary deals, while four senior players from last season have been shipped out. Of those Jeremain Lens and Fabio Borini are certain to leave permanently next summer, but it is fair to wonder whether Sunderland have simply deferred many of their problems until next summer.

Their parachute payments will drop from this season, and should Wahbi Khazri and Papy Djilobodji fail to impress in Ligue 1 they will see two significant earners back on their books. With Lewis Grabban and Tyias Browning immediately asserting themselves as crucial to the spine of Simon Grayson’s side, the Black Cats will again face a summer when continuity is difficult to establish.

If the premiums extracted for Jordan Pickford and Patrick van Aanholt were encouraging signs of things changing under Martin Bain, then some of the late business this summer has felt like a step backwards. Sunderland are now really gambling on their loanees having successful seasons and thus seeing demand rise next summer, meaning losses can be reduced on the likes of Khazri and Djilobodji.

Buying players and loaning them out soon after is an unsustainable policy and if Sunderland’s finacnes are to improve, that is a cycle that has to be broken. Evidently, the club cannot rely on a player of Pickford’s talents to plug the gap every summer.

As the club adjusts to life in the football league, however, incoming loans will be crucial. They are increasingly the easiest and most effective ways for the financial have-nots to challenge the big spenders of the league. Of course, Sunderland’s wage bill means they cannot be described as an underdog in this division, but the crippling debt means they can’t afford to challenge the likes of Middlesbrough in spending fees.

With Premier League sides running massive academies but spending fortunes to effectively block those players progression, there is a gluttony of talent available on the cheap.

It was key to Huddersfield’s shock promotion last year, and was also key to Barnsley’s superb 3-0 win over the Black Cats. Joe Williams and Ike Ugbo, loanees from Everton and Chelsea respectively, were both superb. David Wagner showed in charge of the Terriers last year that building good connections and a good reputation amongst elite Premier League sides when it comes to using their youngsters can be the difference between promotion and stagnation.

The loan market offers Sunderland the opportunity now to do to Premier League sides what European sides have done to the Black Cats, picking up their expensively acquired but unwanted talent at a fraciton of the price. So it was with Lewis Grabban, the Black Cats paying Championship wages for a multi-million pound signing.

Sunderland’s squad has a unbalanced feel to it at the moment, and the over-dependence on loan deals is one of the many causes of that.

To become financially stable Sunderland simply have to buy better and younger, and sell on well.

Loans, however, can be a crucial part of Grayson’s armoury as he seeks to compete with well-backed squads. Early goals raise hopes that Grabban can prove the first and best example of exactly how.