Takeover talk, left-back targets, striking options and exciting youngsters: Phil Smith's Sunderland Q&A

Sunderland's League One campaign is fast approaching and there remains much to be resolved.

Thursday, 27th August 2020, 12:33 pm

The Black Cats are still in the market for new additions, while fans eagerly await developments on the rumoured takeover of the club.

Pre-season is also well underway, with a number of talented young players catching the eye in Sunderland’s first two games.

In his weekly Q&A, Phil Smith answers questions for supporters on all of the above…

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Sunderland celebrate a goal against Carlisle United

Is the takeover still on?

Is this takeover genuine? It just seems Stewart Donald has no intention of selling.

It’s been a strange summer and certainly, the way it has all played out is in stark contrast to what we saw last summer when Mark Campbell was in advanced talks regarding a potential deal.

It’s well known that he was on Wearside meeting staff, and even had key members of his own team, including John Park (set to become Director of Football) making plans at the Academy of Light.

It’s equally well known that the consequence was the football club essentially going on hold, with Jack Ross unable to do any early business while all waited for a resolution.

We also saw the potential FPP takeover happen fairly publicly, with the potential owners taking in a game at the Stadium of Light.

There’s been none of that this summer.

Supporters will hope that is a sign of lessons learned, rather than inaction.

What has also been very different this summer is that club business has continued with relative normality.

That mainly reflects the fact that the way the club operates has almost entirely changed, with Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven no longer making day-to-day decisions.

That’s now the remit of Jim Rodwell, with Tom Sloanes and David Jones also influential.

Phil Parkinson cut a slightly exasperated figure when asked about the takeover speculation game against Gateshead last Saturday.

He said dealing with it was just part of being a manager in the modern game.

He said the club was progressing well, that it was having no impact on his work, and also that he had been given no timescales on any potential deal. Business as usual was the message.

For what it’s worth, I do believe Stewart Donald wants to sell.

He’s allowed his network at the club to be almost entirely dismantled (Richard Hill’s departure is the best example) over the summer, and I do believe he’s accepted there’s no way back after what’s happened.

The caveat is that he will want the deal on his terms, and he has been clear in setting his asking price.

The question is whether the party we were told were in a period of exclusivity is able to get that deal done.

Fans were told to expect movement before the start of the season and there’ll be questions asked if that proves not to be the case.

When will we get new additions to our depleted squad?

Is Danny Graham set to sign?

I still expect there to be at least three more.

Parkinson is continuously stressing that he won’t rush any decisions. His message is that making the right call is more important than ever with the salary cap ruling.

While he’s clear that he wants more business done, he’s also said that he’s happy with how the squad is progressions.

So there’ll be movement, even if it’s not quite clear when.

Graham comes very much into that.

Parkinson has been clear in confirming his interest, referencing Graham’s record in League One and the Championship.

He’s also been clear right from the start and right up until he last spoke on Tuesday that there were other targets still in play.

I imagine finances are key, particularly in light of the cap.

Sunderland will be aware that the striking addition is likely to be the biggest in terms of finances and that is probably one of the reasons we’re seeing extra caution taken before any commitments are made.

My gut instinct is that the will be the deal, whoever comes in, that dictates what happens in other positions.

Is there any sign of the club looking to bring in somebody with pace - anywhere really but particularly the final third, seems like another transfer window might come and go with no speed brought into the team at all?

It’s a good and interesting question.

It was notable, I thought at least, that with Grigg and O’Brien starting against Carlisle, we saw a lot more of Sunderland trying to stretch the opposition defence with early balls into the channels.

It’s one way in which the Black Cats can make themselves less predictable and have a bit more variety in their play this season. Looking through the squad, that is an attribute there isn’t a great deal of. As we’ve seen, Hume is very quick with the ball at his feet and Jordan Willis is obviously rapid, but you could do with more in the forward areas.

It is something that’s been mentioned and it was interesting to see David Jones at the Foundation of Light’s fixture breakfast last week about filling key positions and then adding a ‘bit of sparkle’.

We know those key positions: Striker, left-sided defender, left back/wing-back. So what about the sparkle? I’d argue a bit more speed and creativity, as you mention, would make a difference.

What happened with Demetri Mitchell? We not interested?

As it's gone quiet on Luke Garbutt and we've seemingly dropped interest in Mitchell, do we have another target?

Mitchell made a positive impression during his trial but I think the fact that he would count towards the age gap being aged 23 hasn’t helped.

Whenever he’s been asked about transfers recently, Parkinson has spoken of it being a jigsaw puzzle.

Every deal done now will have a direct impact on what Sunderland can do in other positions as they look to stay within the cap.

Jack Diamond looked lively in the left wing-back position on Tuesday but clearly it’s not his preferred role and Parkinson was clear after the game in stating that he was still in the market for another option.

What direction he’ll take is still unclear.

Denver Hume has been developing well and while he still has much to work on, he’s looked very lively again in pre-season and one of his team’s main attacking threats.

It’s a balance between getting cover and competition for him, but not stunting his development.

With Luke Garbutt, we saw the club targeting someone who would have expected to be a starter had he signed.

With that deal now highly unlikely due to the cap, I expect the profile of the targets in this position to change.

It makes sense to look possible at loan or U21 options in this position, which could allow for greater reinvestment in other areas (up front, for example).

I think that explains why we’ve seen Mitchell on trial elsewhere of late.

Never say never as I think the key decisions are still to be made.

It’s definitely safe to say there are other targets beyond Mitchell & Garbutt.

Is there any way back for Benji Kimpioka?

Parkinson looked pretty exasperated about how that situation developed over the summer, but he also left the door open for Kimpioka should he decide to sign.

The Sunderland boss told the youngster and his camp over the summer to sign his contract, come back and start pre-season with the first team.

If he then wasn’t part of the squad regularly, he could go out on loan.

In his comments, Parkinson suggested that he would still be open to that.

The fact of the matter remains that Benji has now missed three weeks of pre-season and in that time, a number of very talented youngsters have pushed past him in the pecking order.

Parkinson drew on the example of Dan Neil when talking about Benji; referencing the fact that Neil had been linked with a move away in the summer but made clear he wanted to stay and has since grasped his opportunities with some vibrant performances.

It’s an odd situation

If Benji has better offers elsewhere and believes he is ready for weekly senior football, then that is absolutely his right.

Sunderland will be compensated if that happens.

If he does genuinely want a future on Wearside, though, time is ticking.

Have any of the youngsters got a genuine chance of being involved come the opening day of the season?

I do think the salary cap has changed the picture for those who were knocking on the door.

Credit to them, they’ve also taken their chances in pre-season.

Elliot Embleton was unlucky with that injury against Gateshead but had played a full part in training before then and had impressed the manager.

Jack Diamond has been terrific, and it is notable that Parkinson has already ruled out loaning him again.

Dan Neil is perhaps slightly behind those two in the pecking order but he’s changing that with every appearance at the moment.

The salary cap means these players have to be considered very seriously, and there’s also been praise for Brandon Taylor and Morgan Feeney.

WIll any of them start the season?

It’s tough to see it as it stands; as you’d expect Parkinson to go with his established partnerships to begin with.

There’s going to be plenty of cup games in the first two months of the season, though, and there’s absolutely every chance these players will get a chance to shine then.

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