If he does join us, the link-up with Sessegnon will be crucial, as will his ability to work with players such as Frazer Campbell and Connor Wickham, who are both on a learning curve in terms of the Premiership. If Fletcher can impart his striking knowledge, then we could see a collective improvement upfront for the Black Cats, something we have lacked since Darren Bent left over 18 months ago.
Sunderland have traditionally featured a number of star Scottish players, such as Jim Baxter, George Mulhall, Ian Porterfield, Bobby Kerr, Billy Hughes, Ally McCoist and Craig Gordon. The club's proximity to the Border must be a draw, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Sunderland_A.F.C._players
Last year’s close season school report on the then manager Steve Bruce’s recruitment would have been “a lot of effort, plenty of quantity, could do better, especially in the striking department”. I think Bruce surprised himself by the number of new signings last year, as so many of the players approached joined the club. But he had trouble blending them into a creative, flowing football team. There was a solid defence, plenty of midfielders, but we all know that it was the lack of killer finishers that ultimately cost him his job.
So while a whole new team came in for the start of last season, there has been a complete contrast this year, with only Villa defender Carlos Cuellar coming in, and we face Arsenal in under 2 weeks’ time with a limited choice of strikers. There will be goals from midfield again next season, but we do need a strong presence upfront.
This close season there has been a real clear-out, with 5 players leaving for undisclosed fees, Michael Turner (to Norwich City), Marcos Angeleri (to Estudiantes La Plata), Michael Liddle (to Accrington Stanley), Asamoah Gyan (to Al-Ain) and George McCartney (to West Ham United. None of these are last year’s signings, who will be on longer contracts. Combine these exits with 3 loanees Wayne Bridge, Sotirios Kyrgiakos and Niklas Bendtner, the legend in his own lunchtime, that all came of the wage roster, along with free transfers Jordan Cook (Charlton Athletic) and Trevor Carson (Bury), there appears to some resources freed up for new signings. I always liked Turner, he was an effective centre-back, good in the air, despite being shown up for pace now and again.
Martin O’Neill has undoubted charisma, and his reputation is so good that players want to play their football under him. He is someone who quite rightly likes to keep his cards close to his chest when it comes to transfer negotiations, but even he has been sounding disappointed recently with stalled transfers - see for example http://soccernet.espn.go.com/news/story/_/id/1129438/martin-o'neill:-sunderland-transfers-have-stalled?cc=5901
To be honest, there are some other proven strikers out there, Berbatov and Defoe for a start. These men are on high wages, but the attraction is that they are likely to actually play regularly in the Premiership if they join Sunderland, and that is a draw.
Here is the Sunderland Echo's reporting of today's news:
SUNDERLAND are prepared to meet the £12m asking price for top summer target Steven Fletcher. The Black Cats, having upped their offer from £10m to £11m in recent days, will finally go to the £12m mark which Wolves have insisted is the lowest fee they would accept before considering the sale of their star asset.
And Martin O’Neill will hope that once the final offer is submitted, progress will be swift on the sale of the Scot to Sunderland. The fee of £12m, roughly the same sum Sunderland paid for World Cup star Asamoah Gyan, might seem steep for a player who is currently preparing for a season of Championship football. And on the face of it, is an awful lot of money for a striker who arrived in England from Hibernian two years ago and whose two Premier League campaigns so far have yielded consecutive relegations, with Burnley and then with Wolves.
But Fletcher’s goals to games ratio stacks up impressively, the striker scoring on average in every other Premier League games he starts. Last season he scored 12 goals and Wolves have pointed out that game for game, he outscored former Sunderland striker Darren Bent, now at Aston Villa.
Certainly it would be interesting to see how the 25-year-old fares in a team not struggling against relegation and Sunderland want to offer him that opportunity. Physically robust and over 6ft tall, Fletcher is capable of being the targetman O’Neill has craved since the manager first arrived at the club last December. Unlike Arsenal loanee Nicklas Bendtner, who spent much of his year at Sunderland on the wings or lying deep, Fletcher prefers being in the penalty area.
Seven of his 12 goals came from headers and a lack of aerial threat in the opposition penalty area was another Sunderland failing O’Neill was highlighting towards the end of last season.
O’Neill was also pointing out the problem that too often there was no-one in the danger area to thrive on the ammunition being supplied from the flanks by James McClean and Seb Larsson – but Fletcher absolutely thrives on crosses.
And beyond that, the Wolves hitman is happy to do the unsung work of taking the bumps and bruises in the penalty area needed to create space and time for the likes of Stephane Sessegnon and Craig Gardner to get on the end of goalscoring opportunities.
With time ticking towards both the start of the new season and to the end of transfer window, a deal now would suit both parties. Sunderland’s desperate need for experienced strikers – another box ticked by Fletcher – is well-documented and the sooner they arrive, the better for the Wearsiders. But Wolves, too, will see the attraction of selling to Sunderland. They have had no other bid than Sunderland’s for their star man, who is desperate not to drop out of the Premier League. And £12m for a player they bought for £7m a year ago, represents an excellent bit of business for them.
©Lars J.S. Knutsen