Sunderland fans had to endure hard times in February and March when we had a whole team out with injury. In late April we eventually won 4-2 against Wigan without a recognized striker, and as a squad member, if you could walk and had a pulse, you were in the team!
Players like Gordon, Onuoha, Bramble, Turner, Meyler, Cattermole, Richardson, Campbell, Welbeck and Gyan were just not available, and we had a hideous 9-match winless winter run, comprising 8 defeats, which took us from 6th spot on January 22 after winning at Blackpool to the fringe of the relegation zone in mid-April. Then 3 wins out of the last 5 games provided an eventually respectable 10th place finish on 47 points in the Premiership, but the club management planned an internal inquiry to find out:
1. How these winless runs can be stopped (we had a barren15 game run in 2009-10!)
2. Why we had so many injuries
3. How we had such contrasting first and second halves of the season
I have not seen the outcome of that inquiry, but one of the actions decided appears to have been: Steve, just go out and buy another whole team of players, and do it by this week, which saw the start of pre-season training at the club's Cleadon training complex.
So Sunderland have again underlined their intentions to become a top-six Premiership team with the arrival of further top players this week. My last ESPNsoccernet blog entry reviewed with some excitement the first six players, but now we have 3 more top-class signings on board and there are rumours of more waiting in the wings. Add in Ahmed Elmohamady who has now joined permanently, and it is just about a full team!
Attracting the Man. Utd. duo of Wes Brown and John O’Shea to bolster the defence was another major coup for the Sunderland boss, who apparently still has some leverage with his former boss, a certain Sir Alex Ferguson. Was it just a coincidence that Bruce’s son is named Alex?
Brown and O'Shea are both winners, bring experience at the highest level, are highly professional and have signed long-term contracts with the Black Cats. Both players are adaptable enough to play anywhere across the back and O’Shea has even featured in midfield for United. I am sure that Steve Bruce and Niall Quinn will sleep a lot easier now that they have decent, versatile defensive options.
We have also attracted 28-year-old David Vaughan from Blackpool, who had a great debut season in the in the Premier League last season and was voted the club's player of the year. The ex-Real Sociedad midfielder had been linked with West Bromwich Albion, but came to Wearside on a free after rejecting the Tangerines offer of a new contract, wanting to remain in the top flight and preserve his International status. Bruce commented "David was excellent throughout last season, including both games against us, so it's only natural that he caught the attention of a number of top clubs."
To bring in so many new players the club needs to keep an eye on the wage bill. Departures so far have been: Zenden, Mensah, Onuoha, Henderson, Riveros and Jean-Yves Mvoto. Sunderland will be looking to offload Marcos Angeleri, George McCartney, Nyron Nosworthy and Matt Killgallon either through transfers or the loan system, and it is worth remembering that both Darren Bent and Andy Reid came off the wage bill in January. There is a rumoured approach from Birmingham for McCartney, and I will also speculate that provided Michael Turner can prove his fitness, Anton Ferdinand may be heading out of the door, along with Steed Malbranque.
Steve Bruce has shown he can wheel and deal as well as anyone and holding out for high prices for both Bent and Henderson, at £40 M plus, has given him the opportunity to completely rebuild the side, and if we can build true, indomitable team spirit with the new signings I for one am excited about Sunderland really competing in the best league in the world next season.
©Lars J.S. Knutsen
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