This is what to expect from Sunderland in the January window as Phil Parkinson lines up key business
Stewart Donald’s future as Sunderland owner has dominated the agenda in recent days, but the opening of the January window remains a key moment if the Black Cats are to climb the table in the closing months of the season.
Here’s what you can expect from the month…...
DONALD’S KEY DECISION
Phil Parkinson admitted on Wednesday that he feared Donald’s decision to actively pursue a buyer could ‘derail’ his January planning.
However, subsequently received assurances from the chairman that he could press ahead with his preparations as planned.
Parkinson nevertheless made the point of stating that he would keep Donald ‘motivated’ and ‘involved’ in the process, knowing how crucial the window will be to his chances of success.
THE INCOMING BUSINESS YOU CAN EXPECT
Parkinson has been in dialogue with head of recruitment Tony Coton for a number of weeks to prepare for what he has insisted will be a crucial window.
Shortly before his departure from the board, executive director Charlie Methven told supporters at a talk-in event that the manager was potentially looking at five additions to the side.
Since then, Lynden Gooch and Charlie Wyke have made successful returns to the fold and perhaps reduce the scope of what Sunderland will do, in terms of numbers at least.
What is clear is that Parkinson will look to bolster his forward line with ‘pace and power’, prioritising an increased athleticism in the team above all else.
That will almost certainly include a striker and most likely a winger.
He would also seem highly likely to pursue another energetic midfielder, though a solution to that particular conundrum could well be to strengthen in the full-back areas and allow Luke O’Nien to play further forward.
In terms of the resources available to him to recruit, a spend of the sort that saw Will Grigg brought in this time last year seems highly unlikely.
Stewart Donald told supporters at a recent meeting that there would be investment in ‘players for the future’.
Parkinson himself alluded to this recently, saying: “With the Chairman, if there’s value in a player, someone who could come in and improve and increase their value and become an asset, then we’ll look at that.”
What was apparent even before Donald made clear his intention to sell the club was that the loan market would be key.
Sunderland currently have two regular loanees in their matchday squads, and so there are three spaces available on a weekly basis should the club go down that route.
Parkinson recently vowed to make sure any loan addition is one who fits the culture he is trying to instill.
“The loan market is an interesting one because we need to make sure that if a loan player comes in, they are doing so for the right reason,” he said.
“Whether that’s because they’re fighting for a contract with us going forward, and not just someone who is coming in without the hunger we need.
“That’s one thing I’m very conscious of.
“I feel like with the lads we’ve got we’re getting the right work ethic instilled in them, I can feel it in training all the time that the culture and way we’re doing things is getting better all the time.”
Marc McNulty will stay at the club until the end of the season, but Leeds do have the option to recall Laurens De Bock. He would likely need to be replaced should he depart, with Denver Hume the only other recognised left-back in the squad.
THE POTENTIAL OUTGOINGS
Parkinson has scope to make additions and has been told by owner Stewart Donald has told him to focus on incoming business first, with room in the wage bill for additions.
However, offloading some players will clearly increase his capacity to do business and he will want to ensure his squad has a balance to it, so outgoings are a certainty even if they come later in the window.
His main target will be to find a new club for Aiden McGeady.
One of his biggest and most controversial moves since taking charge has been to exclude the immensely talented winger, citing concerns over the culture around the first team group.
Of course, this decision also alerted any potential suitor to the possibility of a deal.
The club have fielded enquiries from clubs abroad (McGeady was heavily linked with a move to the MLS before signing a new deal in the summer).
The power lies very much with McGeady, however.
He has 18-months still to run on that deal and is settled in the area, so any departure will be on his terms.
One exit that seems certain this month is that of Dylan McGeouch.
Parkinson has already confirmed that he planned to hold talks with the midfielder after the month’s early fixtures, with his action under the new manager minimal.
A calf problem has prevented that and may mean a departure later in the month, but with six months left on his contract and clubs in Scotland interest, his future seems likely to lie elsewhere.
Two other key storylines to keep track of during the month are also the futures of Will Grigg and Jon McLaughlin.
The return to fitness of Charlie Wyke has moved Grigg down the pecking order.
The optimism that Parkinson could get him back firing has waned, an encouraging early performance against Tranmere Rovers proving the exception rather than the rule.
With Parkinson occasionally pairing Marc McNulty alongside Wyke, and seeking further options in the window, clubs may be tempted to test Sunderland’s resolve and Simon Grayson’s Blackpool have already been linked.
Whether the club’s interested can produce the financial muscle to make the deal worthwhile to the Black Cats is another question, and it would be a deeply unsatisfactory moment for the club after their major investment last January.
McLaughlin, meanwhile, has largely been an assured presence since reclaiming his place and he is currently Parkinson’s first choice goalkeeper.
As such, Sunderland will not be looking to sell but the reality is that his contract is now entering its final six months and there seems to be little prospect of a resolution any time soon.
McLaughlin has said that he wants to commit his future to the club but no deal has been forthcoming.
Despite some inconsistency this season, he retains a reputation as one of the very best goalkeepers at this level.
THE TARGETS WE KNOW ABOUT SO FAR
Parkinson has confirmed his interest in Bristol City youngster Antoine Semenyo.
The 19-year-old is a player who the Black Cats boss says would add ‘pace and power’ to his forward line.
He has made seven appearances in all competitions this season for Bristol City, but his yet to score for the club.
He does have some crucial senior experience, playing over 20 times for League Two Newport County last season, scoring four times. It’s understood that Semenyo is one of a number of targets the Black Cats have identified.
Semenyo is one of a number of young strikers likely to make the move in January and Sunderland have a number of options.
The Black Cats boss has also been linked with a move for former goalkeeper Ben Alnwick, who played for him at Bolton Wanderers.
However, Parkinson said on Monday that while he has been training with the club, it is not at this stage with a view to a move.
Alnwick still lives locally and has a good relationship with Sunderland’s goalkeeping coach Lee Butler, and so it is an arrangement that suits all parties.
A contract is at this stage not likely, though that could of course depend on McLaughlin’s future.
Finally, Parkinson has been credited with an interest in Feyenoord midfielder Liam Kelly.
A technical rather than physically imposing midfielder, such an acquisition would be a surprise but the Irishman does bring undoubted quality and undoubted Championship pedigree.