We hardly had time to mourn the departure of energetic box-to-box midfielder Jordan Henderson to Liverpool for £20M before Steve Bruce and his scouting team were there to metaphorically pick over the smoking embers of Birmingham City, following their relegation to the fizzy pop league.
The Midland club is obviously familiar territory for Bruce, so we know that we can back his judgement on the character and skill of Sebastian Larsson, who played there under the Sunderland manager, came to us on a Bosman and has some great years ahead of him. Craig Gardner cost £5M and had an excellent start to the 2010-11 season, eventually finishing as the Blues’ top scorer on 10 goals; he will be looking to bring goals from midfield for his new club. Will these two have been psychologically scarred by experiencing relegation? Hopefully not, since they also won the League Cup and Bruce knows their temperaments, and being signed early in the summer means they get a full pre-season at Sunderland. A few good results early on next season and all that will be behind them.
Connor Wickham looks an exciting prospect as an England under-21 International striker and Sunderland did well to attract him to the North-East considering the rumoured level of interest from top 6 clubs such as Liverpool, Spurs and Arsenal In the end, the Cats beat everyone to the punch and secured the teenager’s signature on a 4-year deal for an £8.1M fee, which could rise to £12M longer-term. The player himself must be glad to be free of the media storm around his future and to be able to focus on his football. New winger Roarie Deacon impressed on trial in the reserves towards the end of last season, and when Arsenal ddi not renew his contract Sunderland moved in for his signature.
Less is known by the fans about Ji-Dong Won who attracted attention after starring in the Asian Cup; he has scored 6 goals in 11 appearances for South Korea. Steve Bruce commented: “The boy has been in fantastic form for both club and country and he was one of South Korea’s stand-out performers at the Asian Cup so we are delighted to bring him to Sunderland. The Barclays Premier League is very different to the K-League so there is hard work ahead but you just have to look at players like Park Ji-Sung and Lee Chung-Yong to see how well Korean players are adapting to its pace and physicality.” He is tall at 6’ 1½” and began his career with Gwangyang Jecheol High School before a move to the Dragons in 2010.
The signing of ‘keeper Kieren Westwood on a free may well mean that Bruce has lost patience with the prospect of Craig Gordon overcoming his injury problems. But the ex-Coventry and Carlisle stopper is familiar with the North and looks to be an excellent signing. The defence will need further bolstering since the departure of John Mensah after 2 seasons on loan, and the prospect of Nedum Onuoha returning to Manchester City for next season. The Man. Utd connection has come in handy for Bruce again as it appears that Sunderland are close to attracting Wes Brown to the Stadium of Light, with John O’Shea’s name being mentioned alongside Brown as reported on Soccernet: http://soccernet.espn.go.com/news/story/_/id/932366/steve-bruce:-we're-inches-away-from-brown/o'shea-deals?cc=5901 - all fans would be grateful to sign two such high-class defenders who have won trophies, and can bring experience at the back along with Titus Bramble and Michael Turner.
Every club has to try to balance the books, and Christian Riveros has moved on to Turkish club Kayserispor, so it appears that the experiment of bringing Paraguayan players to Wearside has now been abandoned. And Jean-Yves Mvoto, a young ex-Paris St.Germain centre-back, who has been on loan at Oldham and Southend since moving to Sunderland in January, 2008, has now moved to Boundary Park.
How all these new signings will gel as a unit is always an issue but I now feel much more optimistic for 2011-12 now that several quality signings are on board. They will also help with crucial season ticket sales, and hopefully spare the fans from a repeat of that terrible period towards the end of last season when we had no recognised strikers.
I know injuries were really bad, and we sold Darren Bent, but no team should be devoid of strikers! The midfielders such as Sessegnon and Henderson stepped forward in the crucial 4-2 and 3-0 wins over Wigan and West Ham late on, but such striking deficiencies have not been known at the club since 1996-7 when Kevin Ball was top scorer, and the club was relegated on 40 points. This should never be a feature of a top club and will hopefully now never be repeated. Roll on next season...
©Lars J.S. Knutsen
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