The Three Transfers Road to Improvement: Sunderland
In the 16th part of my "Three Transfers" series, I shall be taking a look at Sunderland, a club that lost Roy Keane halfway through the season, and ended up stumbling through the rest of the campaign to finally secure their top flight status at the end.
With Steve Bruce at the helm now, bigger and better things are expected at the Stadium of Light, and from what we saw with Bruce's Wigan, there is cause for optimism for the Sunderland faithful.
Of course, a new manager does not fix everything, and if they are to improve on this season, then Bruce will have to bring in a few new faces. Here are my suggestions on who should be brought in, and why.
With Djibril Cisse heading back to Marseille, Sunderland are left with David Connolly, David Healy, Michael Chopra, Daryl Murphy, and of course Kenwyne Jones as their striking options.
Of the five players listed above, only Kenwyne Jones is Premiership quality, and as such, a new striker should definitely be the priority for Steve Bruce.
Sunderland have been linked with Darren Bent in the tabloids, and for good reason, too.
Strong and fast, Bent would be the perfect complement for Kenwyne Jones' aerial prowess.
Last season showed that Jones and Cisse worked quite well together, so Bruce would do well to try and replicate it by getting a pacy forward like Bent in. In fact, it could even work better than Jones and Cisse, as Bent is a much more accomplished finisher than Cisse will ever be.
Harry Redknapp has made it clear that Bent would be allowed to leave this summer, and as such, a reasonable offer would probably be enough to secure his signature.
Alternatively, Steve Bruce could look to bring in Michael Owen.
Yes, he is not the same player he once was, as injuries have robbed him of his pace, but the guile and finishing instincts still remain, and he could definitely be a good addition to Sunderland's squad.
While not quite as speedy as Darren Bent anymore, Owen is a natural goalscorer and you never get enough of such players.
His contract runs out in the summer, and with little interest from the top clubs, Sunderland could pick up a good player for nothing. His wages might be high, but Sunderland could try to negotiate a contract based more on appearances, so that they are covered in case he suffers another one of those long-term injuries that have plagued his career.
To top it all off, he would be moving from Newcastle straight to Sunderland, which surely would not go down well with the Magpies at St James' Park, but will probably delight the Sunderland fans.
Currently, Sunderland have Paul McShane, Calum Davenport, Danny Collins and Anton Ferdinand who can play in this position.
None of the above four players have looked very convincing last season, and additions are definitely needed to strengthen this very crucial area of the team.
As such, I would suggest that Steve Bruce go for Oguchi Onyewu, the giant American.
Onyewu stands at 1.96m tall, and is strong in the air, so on paper he would be a good partner for Anton Ferdinand, who is relatively more comfortable on the ground.
Although Onyewu has had an unsuccessful spell at Newcastle before, I think he has developed into a better player during his time at Standard Liege, and should definitely be considered as a potential signing for Sunderland.
Having already won two league championships with Standard, Onyewu would probably be open to a second chance in the English Premier League. Also, the EPL has effectively kicked out racism from the stadiums, which might be an important factor, considering he was the victim of a racist insult during a recent match against Anderlecht.
If Onyewu proves impossible to sign, then perhaps Steve Bruce could set his sights a little lower and go for Abdoulaye Meite.
Strong, quick, and good in the air, Meite would also be a good partner for Ferdinand.
However, he does show an occasional lack of concentration which can lead to disastrous consequences.
Nevertheless, he is a fine defender on his day, and is definitely better than the other options Sunderland possess.
Two Sunderland players are capable of playing at right-wing, and they are Steed Malbranque and Carlos Edwards.
I think a lot was expected from Steed Malbranque when his signing was announced, but if performances from last season are anything to go by, he has not been a success, and with his age, he probably will not get much better.
Carlos Edwards is even worse off, as he has not looked like a Premiership player at any point in his Sunderland career.
As such, a right-winger would be a good addition to Sunderland's team.
Jermaine Pennant comes to mind as the obvious choice for the position, as he ticks all the right boxes when one thinks of a Premiership-standard right-winger.
He is quick, skilful, and has a very good cross on him. Steve Bruce is also known to be an admirer, as he brought him in when he was in charge of Birmingham. Pennant's best form of his career so far was also at the St. Andrew's Stadium, so perhaps Steve Bruce knows how to get the most of out him.
His contract runs out at the end of the month, and Bruce would do very well to pick him up on a free transfer.
If money is not a problem for Sunderland, they could instead opt for Pedro Leon.
Leon plies his trade in Valladolid, and is being tipped for great things in future.
A very skillful player, Pedro Leon also has qualities that conventional right-wingers do not possess, such as a the vision to pick out a pass, and a decent long shot.
The drawback of signing a player from the Spanish league is the risk involved, because they might not be able to bring the same level of performance over. Josemi, Antonio Nunez and Mikel Alonso are just a few examples.
Also, being a key player in Valladolid, Sunderland might have to pay over the odds to get their man.
With Bruce being promised a decent transfer warchest this summer, there is more than just a small chance that he can tempt Pedro Leon to ditch the warmth of Spain for the bitter North-east weather.
So that's it. Those are my suggested signings for Steve Bruce's Sunderland next season. If they do get them, they won't even be close to the relegation zone.
This article and more can also be found at thetipsters, a website set up by my friend Roland and I.
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