Sunderland's January transfer plans: Key Kyril Louis-Dreyfus and Tony Mowbray comments and what we know so far
Sunderland’s January transfer planning is stepping up as the festive period arrives, with some key issues to be settled.
So what can supporters expect and what do we know so far about what might happen?
Here, we run you through some of the key questions…
Where are Sunderland currently at - and will there be funds available?
Sunderland’s recruitment team, which has expanded dramatically over the last eighteen months under Stuart Harvey, are constantly assessing potential future targets. That includes both more traditional scouting and extensive use of data analytics.
What then happens ahead of a window is that they come together with the hierarchy, including Tony Mowbray, to focus more specifically on what is needed.
The first step is to establish the positions where movement might happen and where reinforcements might be needed. This happened a week or two before the World Cup break, where Mowbray gave his input.
That, allied with assessing what room there is in terms of the budget, allows the club to refine its targets and establish who might fit the bill. With around three weeks until the window opens, Sunderland are fairly well down that road.
In a Q&A with supporters from the Red & White Army group last month, Kyril Louis-Dreyfus said that there would be funds available for strengthening over the next couple of windows.
“We wanted to build the value of the squad from when I arrived,” he said.
“It's higher now than it was six months ago, it was higher then than it was six months before that, and hopefully it will be higher again in six months.
“We're still in that phase where we have to invest and develop the squad before we get to the point where we just reinvest the funds that we're generating. So, for example, if you were able to sell £20-million worth of talent in the summer as some clubs did, then there you have £20 million to reinvest. We're not there yet, we're still in the growth phase and so we'll be looking to strengthen in January and then again next summer, I expect. We're still trying to grow.”
So will it be purely focused on young players again?
Yes and no.
Mowbray has already said that Sunderland are prepared to add more experience to the squad if they feel it is necessary, and players such as Corry Evans and Danny Batth have been essential to the club’s improvement through this calendar year.
However - the model of the club is absolutely clear that when it comes to investing significant transfer fees, that has to be done where there is a future resale value.
What positions are Sunderland targeting and how could that change in the weeks ahead?
Mowbray has previously admitted that the club’s attempts to make a deadline day addition in the summer centred around recruiting cover in defensive midfield. As it stands Corry Evans is the only specialist in front of the defence and Sunderland have struggled when he has been unavailable.
In truth they’re perhaps fortunate it’s a weakness that has not been exposed more - Evans has done brilliantly to be fit far more often than not.
Sunderland have a host of midfielders and some immensely talented ones at that, but most are far more comfortable further forward and redressing the balance in January is key.
Could anyone change that in the coming weeks? Possibly. Edouard Michut generally prefers playing deeper and dictating the tempo, so him staying fit and finding form could give Mowbray another option. The head coach has spoken of playing them together, though, and so finding more cover would make sense.
The biggest question for many supporters ahead of January is whether the club will move for an additional striker: the lack of a natural number nine while Ross Stewart and Ellis Simms were sidelined has been one of the season’s key talking points.
In the summer Sunderland were on the brink of signing Nathan Broadhead in a permanent deal before he opted late on to sign a new contract at Everton and join Wigan Athletic on loan. Deciding that the same calibre of striker was not available as a replacement, the Black Cats instead added Amad on loan in the hope that alongside Leon Dajaku there would be enough cover to get through.
Amad has proved an outstanding signing but from the right flank, while Dajaku has looked uncomfortable up front and in truth the move has not helped try and find rhythm and consistency on Wearside.
Sporting Director Kristjaan Speakman was asked whether Sunderland would continue with that quartet past January - and while he kept his cards close to his chest he said that all positions were under constant review. For two reasons you’d expect Sunderland to go for a striker, the first being that they very obviously cannot afford a repeat of the long spell without one that so undermined Mowbray’s progress.
The other is in terms of their long-term squad planning. Simms is on loan without an option to buy, while Stewart has just over eighteen months left on his current deal and is seemingly no closer to reaching an agreement with the club regarding a new one. Though there is still hope that will happen, some element of succession planning needs to happen. Sunderland need to be bolstering their ranks otherwise they will be left vulnerable not just this January but in future windows.
Elsewhere on the pitch Sunderland are beginning to establish reasonable strength in depth. While full back looked a position where cover was needed earlier in the season, Aji Alese has looked excellent at left back and Niall Huggins did well there against Birmingham. Trai Hume is improving on the other flank, leaving the club with a decision to make.
Who has been linked so far and what has Tony Mowbray said?
Sunderland have been linked with a move for Bradley Dack, who Mowbray brought to Blackburn Rovers as he went on to become one of the Championship’s best attacking talents.
Mowbray was asked about those rumours and said that he didn’t think it was a move that would work either within Sunderland’s recruitment model or their current budget. For his part, Blackburn boss Jon Dahl Tomasson has said Dack remains part of his plans and that his limited gametime is merely because he is still building back up from two ACL injuries.
Attacking midfield is currently an option where Sunderland have a lot of options - but Dack is clearly a player Mowbray rates.
Could there be any departures?
Sunderland’s squad remains a relatively small one so departures are unlikely unless additions are made.
Though Sunderland want to keep Stewart and he needs to prove his fitness first, his contract situation of course means a big bid (most likely from the Premier League) could lead to his departure. At this stage, him staying until the summer at the earliest seems most likely.
Otherwise, it will largely be a case of assessing which young players need more game time and therefore a possible loan switch once Sunderland have done their incoming business. Sunderland’s model is still sell on their players when the time is right, but given that only Dennis Cirkin has less than two years to run on his current deal from the talented core of Mowbray’s current squad, this window doesn’t seem like one where there’ll be too much movement on that front.