Why We Spent Sensibly and the Squad is Stronger

So tweeted Andy Naylor last night, some considerable time before the transfer deadline closed. Our last day’s deals consisted of confirming Bridcutt to Sunderland and confirming David Rodriguez Sánchez, a striker, until the end of the season.

Bridcutt brought in between £2.75 and £3.5 million depending on who you believe. The day before we bought Dale Stephens from Charlton for a fee that is also undisclosed but rumoured to be under a million. In the rest of the window we also got fees of under a million for El-Abd and Barnes, shifted Maksimenko out on loan and lost Crofts for the season to injury. We have undoubtedly made a profit financially in the window but why didn’t we reinvest. And how does the squad compare in terms of ability?

To take the first question I would imagine there are a number of factors but the most important is not wanting to be ripped off. And let’s face it who wants to be ripped off? How good do you feel when you get that car home that looked fantastic on the garage forecourt to find out that the clutch is going, it makes hideous barfing noises when doing over 60mph and you can’t fit the toddler’s car seat in? Or a “Stephen Dobbie” purchase as I like to think of it.

Let’s face it we were in for plenty. Huddersfield got very annoyed indeed when we had a bid rejected for Adam Clayton, unleashing a flood of U2 puns on twitter. Lewis Grabban used us to negotiate a better contract with Bournemouth. Joe Mason suddenly became a two million pound footballer (I mean REALLY?).

Any one of these players represented the metaphorical lemon. We would have paid too much or signed an uncommitted player. Surely the club sticking to its guns is a good thing? The point, for me, is not that we should have splashed the Bridcutt cash on just anyone but that it HAS to be carefully invested. When someone gives me a large sum of cash (and generally this only happens when I buy a house and then I have to pay it back to them) I spend it very, very carefully. Why should our football club be any different?

But among the many moans I’ve read (and admittedly there’s more of them on North Stand Chat than twitter) the biggest is that we have a weaker squad and, therefore, no ambition. Such claims are the product of both short termism and short sightedness.

We DO have a weaker set of centre backs for El-Abd having left. But centre backs get injured far less than nippy wingers. Adam had barely played this season. The loan / free agent market is not closed and this is the most likely source of finding a player prepared to bench warm for most of the rest of the season. In the meantime we have Dunk. Ince started off as a centre back and Calde and Maksimenko can play there, the latter of whom can be recalled if needed.

The rest of the squad needs to be assessed not only in terms of who is available but (crucially for FFP and transfer fund availability) who we are paying. The long term injured are therefore going to get mentioned because, even if there is some sort of insurance covering their wages it won’t be covering all of them.

I am also taking the comparison from this time last year. In that time we have shorn ourselves of the terrible (and expensive) Ryan Harley, the unbothered, unplaying Vicente, the aforementioned lemon that was Dobbbie, the inconsistent Dean Hammond and the brilliant Wayne Bridge who has spent most of the season at Reading injured. Then there are those who left in this window. Of those who have just come in Stephens excites me and could well do the Crofts job (and let’s remind ourselves that this time last year, under Poyet, Crofts was barely playing). No one – and I mean no one – except David Burke and Oscar Garcia know how Rodriguez (or Spanish Rodney as I really hope he’ll be known) will fit in. Hands up if you’ve seen him play live? Thought not. With the exception of El-Abd though Burke has done exactly what he told Albion Roar he does – replace like for like.

Of the other recent additions Andrews is absolutely Hammond-esque in his inconsistency, Agustein is FAR better than Dicker and Chickson looks better, younger and quicker than Painter. Ward has been solid as.

With injuries (and I explained why I’m including them) our front five is Ulloa, Rodriguez, CMS, Hoskins and Obika. Attacking midfielders Buckley, Orlandi, Lua Lua, March and Spanish Dave. Central midfield Ince, JFC, Andrews, Crofts, Agustien, Stephens.

Now substitute in Dicker, Hammond, Dobbie, Harley and Painter. Still think we’re weaker? We’re not.

We have done sensible business at a time when sense is quite hard to find in football. Oscar is building style that is suited to a team rather than individual stars. In other news Frimpong has taken his rap records and Dench clothing to that hot bed of street culture Barnsley (oh how I laughed when people moaned he could have come here). In fact losing Liam and Palace getting Thomas Ince on loan are the only deals that have annoyed me.

FFP rules Mr Naylor? It IS the rules and we’ve done alright out of them. Sorry about your quiet evening.

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Reading, Bridcutt and Poyet

The general aim of this blog is to take a more light hearted view of the Albion. Anyone expecting this to be even vaguely amusing, however, should look away now.

Firstly a big congratulations to everyone involved in the Reading FA Cup game. A dominant performance spoiled only by repeatedly hitting the bar again, it ranks as one of my favourite days out at the Amex. Thanks to the reduced pricing I was able to take Boy and his mate and try out the West Lower for a change. The view was very different to my usual lofty one in the WSU and, while I missed the perspective, it was great seeing the  players so close up and them getting to hear us (and vice versa). Two of the best bits of skill of the game, first from Agustein, then Lua Lua , also took place right in front of us. It sent the boys home buzzing. Perhaps the only thing it was missing was a virtuoso string tugging performance by Liam Bridcutt. By last night I think we all knew why.

The facts as I understand them are this; Sunderland have lodged a transfer bid for Liam believed to be in the region of £2.5 million initially. So far no deal has been done or accepted. Therefore, last night, Bridcutt handed in a transfer request. Also he has the same agent as Gus Poyet.

I’m now going to try and make the difficult case that Sunderland should pay more than this but also that we don’t really need him anymore. Wish me luck.

They should pay more. Liam Bridcutt has been our player of the season for the last two seasons running and for good reason. He is the sort of player that is essential to the way a Poyet team sets up. If you are a Sunderland fan and reading this then understand that this is what you will be getting. The ball will come to your goalkeeper who will be expected to play a simple ball to one of the back four. They will spend the next five minutes (ok, maybe not literally but it will feel like it) passing the ball between themselves a la Ray Wilkins. The second this actually opens a gap in the opposition’s shape (and in the Premier League I fear this could take a very long time indeed) Bridcutt will make himself available at the base of the midfield. He’ll collect the pass and assess the situation. If the shape is still not there from the opposition he’ll find a telling ball to one of the more attacking midfielders or play it out in neat triangles. If the opposition have organised again he will play it back to the back four. And so it will go on.

Liam is really valuable when the opposition has it however. He can read and break up play and, for a little bloke, he wins his fair share of headers. Once he has won the ball back in this way he can set you going forwards again.

To use an American Football analogy he is both Quarterback and Strong Safety. He can dictate the play and break it up. A Chelsea trainee, he must have spent time watching Makélélé play even if it was just on video because that’s his role. £2.5 million for this is a bargain.

We don’t need him. Last season, losing Bridcutt would have sent me in to meltdown, so key was he to Poyet’s style, so few other players were there who could do that job. Under Oscar Garcia, however we really only need the Strong Safety element of his game. A quicker passing game that can bypass the base of midfield is what we are after and what we are increasingly playing. Furthermore we have Rohan Ince or Keith Andrews who can fill in to the midfield holding role. Neither reads the game as well and I am yet to be convinced by Andrews (though he was excellent against Reading) but the point is they can do a job, and that job is less critical. Bridcutt has been missing for most of the season and has not been himself when he’s returned. We lay seventh, equal on points with sixth placed Ipswich and in the fourth round of the cup. Losing Liam will no longer be the disaster it would have been.

So why the transfer request? Why has he not been the same player? The answer is simply Gus Poyet. Anyone who thought we were done when he quietly dropped his legal action were very mistaken. Gus has an ego the size of Uruguay and he was always going to try and strike back at Burke, Barber and Bloom or whoever it was he feels slighted by. Unsettling a player he regards as pivotal was the ideal opportunity to do just that. Of course it’s just possible that Liam hasn’t met the agent that they share since Gus took up the reigns at Sunderland. It’s just possible that , if he has, the prospect of playing up there has never even been mentioned. Perhaps they played golf and discussed the weather. But I don’t think so. The fact that Gus has also bid under the odds (at least in terms of us recouping our outlay) on the hamstrung Will Buckley, speaks volumes that what he is trying to do is unsettle our squad rather than make a purchase. There is simply no way I can see Bloom and Barber saying yes to either deal.

So what if he ups the offer? The irony is that, not only is Bridcutt less of a key man now, but Gus could be doing his career serious damage. At Christmas Sunderland were bottom. History tells us they are going down. There is every chance of us getting in to the playoffs. It is not fantasy land to suggest that we could swap places. It is not fantasy land to suggest that if Sunderland stay in trouble their fans will be on the team and manager’s back. It is not fantasy land to suggest Ellis Short has an itchy trigger finger.

Poyet has gone out of his way to unsettle a player who deserves Premier League football. The problem is he may not be able to give him very much of it.