Steve Bruce Works His Magic: Assessing Sunderland's January Transfer Window
Sunderland manager Steve Bruce saw his side continue their worrying Premier League barren spell this afternoon, drawing 1-1 with his former club Wigan Athletic.
Will Sunderland’s transfer activity at the end of January help to turn the Black Cats’ ailing fortunes around? Bruce seems to think so.
"We've got three very good Premiership players who are going to strengthen us for the run-in,” Bruce told Sky Sports.
"I said at the start of the window that it wasn't easy to do business in this month...but, overall, I've got to be happy that I have managed to bring in some good players to address some of the problems that were concerning us,” he continued.
"Alan and Matt are going to really help us in defence, while we needed someone like Benjani with all his attributes and Premier League experience up front."
Let’s take a closer look at Sunderland’s January, starting with their defensive dealings.
Matt Kilgallon (IN)
Matt Kilgallaon is a product of the Leeds United youth academy and was signed from Sheffield United. He does have some limited Premier League experience, making his debut for the Blades in a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Bolton Wanderers in 2007.
United were relegated that season, and Kilgallon only really established himself in the first team once the side were in the Championship. He went on to win the club’s Player of the Season award in the ‘08-’09 season.
The 26-year-old is primarily a central defender, but can also provide cover at left-back if required. His contract was due to expire in the summer, and Kilgallon had stated his intention to move on in the summer.
Sheffield United manager Kevin Blackwell obviously decided to cut his losses and take the money on offer from Sunderland.
With Anton Ferdinand currently injured, Kilgallon will provide cover to Michael Turner and veteran Paulo da Silva. He went straight into the starting line-up against Wigan and didn’t look out of his depth.
Not a transfer to set the world on fire, but he came cheap and gives Bruce more options in a struggling defence.
Nyron Nosworthy (OUT)
The one downside to the deal is that it has seen Nyron Nosworthy travel in the opposite direction, albeit the Jamaican defender has only gone to Sheffield United on a six month loan.
Nosworthy will have been with the club for five years in the summer, and although he isn’t the most talented defender, he is an honest and powerful player that always gives his all for the side.
His commitment and no nonsense style of defending won the hearts of the Sunderland support, and he was voted Sunderland’s Player of the Season in ’06-’07. Since Bruce came to Wearside he has used the Nosworthy sparingly, despite the Black Cats’ defensive misgivings.
The 29-year-old has played in central defence and right back for the club since signing on a free transfer after his contract expired at Gillinghham.
Although he isn’t a brilliant defender, he is more than capable of doing a job in the Premier League, and it comes as no surprise that Portsmouth were trying to sign Nosworthy on loan before he decided to go to Sheffield.
Avram Grant is an experienced manager and if he thinks Nosworthy can do a job in the Premier League then there can be no objections.
The transfer is a difficult one to rate, Bruce has managed to reinforce his defence with the signing of Kilgallon and Alan Hutton, but Nosworthy was a good backup option in two positions.
Offering the Jamaican on loan probably helped push through the deal for Kilgallon, providing the Blades with a temporary replacement, but most Sunderland fans will be sad to see him go.
Alan Hutton (IN)
As mentioned in the previous slide, Sunderland also picked up Scottish right back Alan Hutton on a six month loan deal from Tottenham Hotspur.
It seems a deal involving right back and Spurs is becoming something of a January tradition at Sunderland, as Pascal Chimbonda returned to White Hart Lane from the North East last winter.
Hutton was signed from Rangers two years ago for a fee of £9 million and saw his career at Tottenham hampered by a serious knee injury which saw him ousted from the team and Vedran Corluka take his place in the starting line-up.
The Croatian’s good form had restricted Hutton’s game time and the loan moves suits all parties concerned. Sunderland had shown an interest in the Scottish international in the summer, but were unwilling to let Anton Ferdinand travel in the opposite direction.
"Everyone wants to play football and I'm no different," Hutton told the Daily Mirror.
"But I know that, like anyone else, I'll have to give 110 per cent to show I'm worthy of a starting place.
"I'm over the moon to be here,” he continued. “When I was at Rangers the fans were superb and I'm sure Sunderland's will be the same."
Hutton only showed glimpses of his talent while at White Hart Lane and the loan move will give him an opportunity to prove his fitness and work his way back to his best form.
It gives Sunderland a quality option at right back, an area that had been posing Bruce a particular problem. Phil Bardsley has been inconsistent for the Black Cats and summer signing John Mensah has been plagued with injuries since his move.
Benjani Mwaruwari (IN)
The January transfer window closed with Benjani sealing a slightly-past-last-minute move following a ‘problem’ with a fax machine.
Strangely, this isn’t the first time Benjani has been involved in such a last minute deal, as his move from Portsmouth to Manchester City was almost scuppered when the striker fell asleep in an airport while on route to complete the transfer.
The Zimbabwean striker was subject to a bid from Blackburn Rovers, who had initially tried to sign him on a permanent basis, only to learn that a work permit application would take too long to complete. Rovers tried to push through a loan deal, but by that time Sunderland had swooped to bring Benjani to the Stadium of Light.
The 31-year-old has played just under 100 games in the Premier League, scoring 23 goals in the process. That isn’t an amazing return, but Niall Quinn only scored 61 goals in 203 games for Sunderland and is regarded as a legend at the club.
"I wanted somebody with a bit of know-how and a bit of presence, and somebody who has been there, done it and worn the T-shirt in the Premier League," said Bruce.
"You can see a lot of similarities between the style of Kenwyne and Benjani,” he continued. “They are both very tall, very powerfully built front men who can cause defenders real problems on their day. They are both capable of making and creating goals too.
"Darren Bent has got us a stack load of goals this season, but I think that working off a big man is something he thrives upon, and Kenwyne has been a big help to him in that direction,” added Bruce.
"So, getting Benjani in means that we still have the option of pairing a big man with Darren if Kenwyne gets suspended or injured.”
Signing Benjani on loan is a good move. He brings Premier League experience and is a legitimate option in attack; he will put pressure on Jones that will hopefully force the forward to focus more on his performances.
It may be a coincidence, but Jones scored Sunderland’s solitary goal this afternoon. If Benjani’s presence on the bench played even a small part in this, the transfer will have been worthwhile.
Kenwyne Jones (NOT SOLD)
There were rumours flying around that Sunderland were prepared to accept an offer in the region of £12 million for forward Kenwyne Jones. The Trinidad & Tobago striker had been linked with moves to Stoke City, Birmingham City, and Liverpool.
Jones has proved to be something of an enigma since moving to the club. At times he is sensational, but can often seem disinterested and ineffectual for large parts of games.
Former Sunderland manager Roy Keane labelled Jones as a £40 million striker under his tenure, and Bruce echoed this statement in January–adding the caveat that he can be a frustrating player that doesn’t deliver.
"We all know he is a good player, and now my aim is to turn him around again to be Sunderland's centre-forward," said Bruce.
"There have been times this season when, yes, he hasn't hit the heights–he can understand that himself. But the last thing I ever wanted to do was to ship him out somewhere, especially on loan.
"He must have looked at that and the constant speculation and thought, 'Hang on a minute, if he is allowing me to go out on loan, there is probably something drastically wrong'.
"It's taken some getting through to him, but hopefully we are there,” added the Sunderland manager.
"The window has gone and this loan thing has gone away so he can just concentrate on being Kenwyne Jones again."
If a transfer was going to happen it would have been to Liverpool, but Birmingham didn’t stump up the cash for Ryan Babel so Rafael Benitez tried instead to loan Jones from Sunderland. As soon as the Babel transfer collapsed, the move was a no-goer.
Bruce might have been tempted to sell had a realistic offer been lodged, but with Sunderland struggling in the league, keeping Jones was the smart move...for now, at least.
Daryl Murphy & David Healy (OUT)
Bruce also let two forwards move on, sending both Daryl Murphy and David Healy out on loan to Ipswich Town. They will both be reunited with former manager Roy Keane, Healy was signed by the Irishman from Fulham and Murphy scored 10 goals under Keane for Sunderland as they climbed out of the Championship a few seasons ago.
"I've come here to play football and help them (Ipswich) move up the table and I'm looking forward to it,” Murphy told Ipswich’s official website.
"I've not played anywhere near the amount of games I would have liked at Sunderland recently so the chance to do that at Ipswich made it an easy decision for me to come here."
Healy echoed his teammate’s sentiments, emphasising his lack of playing time in the North East.
“It has been the most frustrating season that I can remember in my career but hopefully with this move to Ipswich Town I will start to feel like a footballer again,” Healy told the Belfast Telegraph.
“I haven’t been enjoying sitting on the bench every Saturday and not playing. It has been really tough to take and has got me down on occasions,” he added.
“I want to get back to playing on a regular basis and I want to start scoring goals again as well as enjoy my football.”
Sending Murphy and Healy out on loan is a smart move, it continues Bruce’s trimming of the squad and both players are better taking a step down to the Championship. Chances are neither of them will be back.
Adam Johnson (COLLAPSED)
Bruce revealed that Sunderland had tried to bring newly signed Manchester City winger Adam Johnson to his home town club.
"I'm happy with the business we've done, but, yes, I'd have loved to have brought Adam in as well," said Bruce.
"We had him watched two, three, four times and more and he was a player we really liked the look of," he continued. "He was a local lad as well and I'm sure our fans would have taken him to their hearts but it wasn't to be.
"The lad made a decision that he had every right to and we move on."
It would be interesting to know what Johnson made of the approach; City would undoubtedly have offered him a bigger wage packet and will be playing in the Champions League in the years to come.
But will Johnson? Craig Bellamy is in the form of his life playing from the left-wing and Martin Petrov is back competing for a place.
Johnson is a massive talent, and is probably more in the ilk of Joe Cole and Frank Lampard than Scott Parker and Steve Sidwell, but he only needs to look to countryman Shaun Wright-Phillips to see that big money moves involved talented young wingers don’t always work out.
Let’s hope that he doesn’t regret turning down Sunderland.
Ahmed Al-Muhammadi (COLLAPSED)
Sunderland also missed out on signing Egyptian right winger Ahmed Al-Muhammadi in the January window. The 22-year-old will remain in his homeland until the end of the season.
Al-Muhammadi wanted to make the move, but his current side ENPPI refused to countenance the transfer, saying they want to hold onto the wide man until the summer.
The Egyptian played every game for his national side as they marched to their third Africa Cup of Nations triumph in as many tournaments. He even scored against Benin in the group stages.
This isn’t the first time Bruce has tried to sign Al-Muhammadi, as a move for the winger collapsed on deadline day in summer. It seems more than likely that he will be playing in a red and white shirt once September rolls around.