What is it with Sunderland and strikers these days? And I don’t mean the ones who may hold them up in passport control as they return from the Peace Cup in South Korea.
The love-hate relationship with Asamoah Gyan ended a few days ago, with the club recouping their outlay as he signed for Al-Ain in the UAE. I do feel let down by the guy and his agent, as he was part of one of our most dramatic wins in recent times, the November 2010 3-0 rout of Chelsea.
But former manager Steve Bruce ultimately lost his job by not being able to provide consistent goalscoring in the first team, which along with the Darren Bent saga, resulted in what was a real slump for the team in 10 of the 12 months of 2011.
Bruce brought in former Birmingham loanee Nicklas Bendtner a year ago, and although I really liked him when he was fired up and playing well, as he often is for the Danish national team, he could often cut a frustrated figure. As the Sky commentator suggested in December after he missed when put clear by Sessegnon against Manchester City: “He does not really add up as a goalscorer”. I do wish the guy well, though, as he seeks a new club; tardiness and immaturity also cost him at Sunderland and he has no wish to return to Arsenal.
Every team, every chairman and, of course, every manager desperately wants strikers who can be the 20-goals a season men, but proven goalscorers are hard to find. Look at the current chase for Robin van Persie, who equalled Kevin Phillips’ 30-goal Premier League haul last season – all the top clubs want him.
In reality, finding the best strikers is like looking for hen’s teeth. The best ones want to be at the top clubs, and who can blame them. But with our owner, our manager, our fans and our set-up at Sunderland, we are a high-profile club, with short-term ambitions to be in the top six in the best league in the world. We should be able to attract a top striker, and I am sure Martin O’Neill has a cunning plan…which he will not reveal until the deal is signed.
We have four front men in the present squad, Stephane Sessegnon, who we all know and love, and who could play at any level; Frazer Campbell, an England international, then there is Connor Wickham, who has only scored once for the first team (last October versus Villa at the SSOL) and then Ji-Dong Won, who scored twice last season. These were both goals against top teams – Chelsea and City, and these two young lads show plenty of potential. But the question is, have they developed far enough to be top Premier League strikers? The academy product Ryan Noble is also knocking on the door.
Looking at the squad at Sunderland, we have a great midfield, the defence is very solid – we had just a couple of uncharacteristic capitulations on the pitch last year, and it has been strengthened by Carlos Cuellar as Martin O’Neill’s first permanent signing at the club.
The Sunderland Echo invariably has its finger on the pulse at the SSOL, and reported the manager’s striker search as follows:
MARTIN O’Neill batted back claims that he is poised to sign Stephen Warnock and James Collins by pointing out that his need at the moment is for attackers. The Sunderland manager refuses to discuss individual targets, although it can be assumed he is an admirer of both players, having signed them for Aston Villa during his time in charge at Villa Park.
But former Liverpool left-back Warnock may only be being linked recently because it is known the Black Cats are looking to strengthen that position. And the recruitment of ex-West Ham centre-back Collins seems unlikely, with Sunderland having recently brought in his team-mate Carlos Cuellar. The Wearsiders currently have five centre-halves to call upon, without dipping into the younger ranks where John Egan and Louis Laing are looking to progress.
The manager told the Echo: “Undoubtedly, what is focusing my mind more than anything else is the need to strengthen our attacking options. We have lost Nicklas Bendtner after his loan, we have lost Asamoah Gyan from our squad list and we need to bring in strikers. What I am looking to do is bring in attacking players who have quality and who have more experience than we have now, because, when you look at our squad in terms of attackers, we are short on experience and it’s something we need to try to address.”
The manager and the rest of his squad were flying home from South Korea today, but O’Neill is hopeful that he will soon be able to announce a breakthrough in the transfer market. “There may be something I can tell you very soon, but I really don’t want to say anything until players are actually signed,” added the Irishman. Meanwhile, O’Neill’s eagerness to add experience to his forward line would appear to rule out a move for Argentine striker Facundo Ferreyra. Reports in Argentina over the weekend linked Sunderland with a move for the 21-year-old, who has come through the ranks at Buenes Aires outfit Club Athletico Banfield.
©Lars J.S. Knutsen