Who could Dick Advocaat attract to Sunderland with £50m warchest?
Sunderland could have around £50m to splash out on strengthening this summer, and certainly need a makeover having narrowly avoided relegation to the Championship again, but can they attract the quality they require?
The U-turn of Dutch coach Dick Advocaat, who pitched up mid-season to steer the Black Cats to safety, to remain on Wearside has gone down well with Mackems fans and players, as evidenced by the Stadium of Light faithful’s fundraising of flowers for the manager’s wife, and will surely help. After all, a happy home is always appealing and, for the first time in a long time, Sunderland do not look like a sinking ship.
However, having flirted with relegation for the previous two terms, only surviving by the skin of their teeth, the Black Cats (2/1 with Coral to be relegated in 2015/16) are not the most fashionable club, far from their Kevin Phillips-Niall Quinn 90’s heyday, and may struggle to convince talented players to join their project in the Northeast.
Advocaat is a savvy coach, though, and must try to improve the Mackems’ image. Money talks, and significant investment has long been needed, particularly in defence, so how could the Black Cats realistically spend their mooted £50m? The key is certainly quality over quantity for a squad starved of stardust.
Centre back is the obvious starting point, a position sorely in need of first-rate additions if Sunderland are to survive another season in the top tier, having leaked 53 league goals this campaign.
With soon-to-be out-of-contract veteran Wes Brown likely to be cut loose, and fellow former Manchester United man John O’Shea not getting any younger, the Black Cats require fresh, and less error-prone, legs.
Sebastian Coates turned from villain to hero in the space of a few performances during his loan stint, and a strong end to his spell may have been enough to earn the Liverpool defender a permanent return. Celtic centre half Virgil van Dijk, meanwhile, is expected to be compatriot Advocaat’s top target. It may be ambitious, but capturing such an emergent talent and rearguard marshal could be the boost the Black Cats’ backline needs.
At full back, Sunderland are sorted on the left flank with Patrick van Aanholt’s improvement impressive, but the right back berth could certainly use an injection of quality, with Billy Jones and the out of contract Anthony Reveillere not up to scratch.
Leeds United’s Sam Byram is the one tipped to take the role, yet the Mackems would do well to go all-in for a proven Premier League talent, and could show serious intent by beating more high-profile clubs for the likes of Hull City’s Andrew Robertson or Burnley boy Kieran Trippier, both casualties of the drop zone.
With Advocaat now confirmed for another campaign, it is time to take advantage of any Dutch connections to lure Eredivisie’s best and brightest to Wearside.
Feyenoord and Clockwork Orange midfield conductor Jordy Clasie is one star name not out of bounds, and could provide the guile and grit Sunderland are missing in midfield, with last season’s big-name signing Jack Rodwell disappointing so far. Southampton and Clasie’s former coach Ronald Koeman could prove too strong in competition for the 25-year-old’s signature, however.
Not to worry though, as with plenty of steel provided by Lee Cattermole and co, Dutch free agent Ibrahim Afellay, supposedly close to Stoke City, would be worth pursuing. Should the Black Cats be keen to acquire more English talent, however, QPR wingman Matt Phillips has shown in fits and bursts that he has the pace, and eye for a vicious strike, that could revive Wearside.
Sunderland’s strikers rolled up their sleeves to put in serious shifts for Advocaat, and can all be dangerous on their day, but the Black Cats cannot afford to stand on ceremony, making a regular goal-getter a priority.
The Mackems’ first-choice attackers Jermain Defoe, Steven Fletcher and Connor Wickham combined to clock up a meagre total of 14 league strikes this season, a stat which is incredibly underwhelming.
Luckily for the Black Cats, a raft of fantastic forwards could be up for grabs, with prolific Blackburn Rovers pair Jordan Rhodes and Rudy Gestede having outgrown the Championship, and French poacher Andre-Pierre Gignac soon available on a bosman. Whatever the current Marseille man may lack, he certainly has a nose for goal.
View Gignac’s goals:
Despite these ready-made rampant frontmen, Sunderland are most linked with Chelsea starlet Patrick Bamford, who would bring potential but would not appear likely for a long-term stay. While former lauded loanee Fabio Borini seems to still be on the Black Cats’ radar despite a previous rejection in favour of Liverpool’s bench.
In his case, the Italian sharpshooter may be best avoided as, despite his spirited displays when wearing the red and white stripes, Sunderland only need players who are committed to the cause, not merely looking for a stepping stone or pay day, lest they go the way of relegated big-spenders QPR.