The verdict on Sunderland's summer window, deadline day and how they'll manage the areas of concern left
"Put talent into the club, and let it grow'.
Tony Mowbray neatly described both Sunderland's new recruitment model and his own remit within it in his first press conference on Wednesday night.
The new head coach said then that there were still hopes of one or two additions on deadline day, but by early evening the club had all but accepted defeat. Their window ends with ten new senior arrivals and an average age of 20.7. No one over the age of 24 has commanded a fee, again.
Mowbray admitted on Wednesday night that even he wasn't sure if his squad might be too young generally. His Blackburn side were the second youngest in the Championship this season and nearly finished in the play-offs. The youngest? Well that was Barnsley, and well, they were relegated.
What he did say when discussing Jewison Bennette, Edouard Michut, Amad Diallo and Adboudllah Bah was that from their first training session he saw 'direct, clever and powerful' players. He praised the work of the recruitment team, who he said were identifying agile players who could get fans off their seats.
That Sunderland were still looking for additions on the final day of the window tells you that there are undoubtedly some areas of concern, positions where one or two injuries could leave them quickly exposed.
In the current 3-5-2 system that they have been using, there is a shortage of cover up front and one more injury in central defence, which had been a key priority coming into deadline day, would leave Mowbray's options limited. In the 4-2-3-1 season you expect to see deployed at some stage they are one injury away from issues at left back and in both shapes, there is no specialist cover for Corry Evans in the holding midfield role even if there are an abundance of options to play the more forward-thinking role alongside him. One slightly odd dynamic within the squad is that there is an abundance of talented wingers, and yet at the moment a system that only really has room for one of them. Going forward, that will be a dilemma for Mowbray to wrestle with.
Sunderland have made an excellent start to life in the Championship, but if there has been one concerning theme it is that too often the options to change games from the bench and maintain a high tempo have not been there.. It's here where Sunderland's high-risk/high-reward strategy will ultimately stand or fall. If, as Mowbray hopes, the talented young quartet who have brought an end to the summer business can settle and bring their talent on the ball to bear, then there is good reason to hope that the momentum that was building under Alex Neil can continue.
Sunderland also hope that in that quartet is the versatility to cover for some of those vulnerabilities in the squad. Michut could feasibly play in any of Sunderland’s three central midfield roles, while Bennette and particular Amad can operate as a second striker. What is clear is that Luke O’Nien’s versatility in defensive positions will be crucial and so his two excellent recent performances bode well.
Mowbray reiterated on Wednesday night that Kyril Louis-Dreyfus wanted to grow the club 'incrementally' and this window, and this deadline day, was further evidence of that. There is in the hierarchy an acceptance that this approach and the youth of the squad will mean some inconsistencies in some difficult days. And they will wait for the right target to invest in, even if it can leave the squad a touch light in some areas.
It's exciting, but undoubtedly a step into the unknown.
Sunderland, remarkably, will be taking a squad with an average age of 23.16. Evidence, if we didn’t already have enough, that this will be a very new era on Wearside. The finishing touch wasn’t quite there in the end on deadline day, but after a tumultuous week or so a club can now begin to look forward.