James Hunter: Sunderland must find a balance between quality AND quantity in their recruitment programme

Gus Poyet is concentrating on improving the quality of his squad, but James Hunter argues the numbers must also stack up

Paul Thomas/Getty Images Gus Poyet manager of Sunderland
Gus Poyet manager of Sunderland

Quality, not quantity, was the message from Gus Poyet at the weekend as he explained his recruitment strategy.

With 12 players departing over the summer and only three new signings so far in place, it is easy to see why Sunderland’s head coach was at pains to stress there is more to life than numbers.

Few Sunderland fans would argue Bosman arrivals Costel Pantilimon, Billy Jones and Jordi Gomez do not represent an upgrade on the men they have replaced – Keiren Westwood, Phil Bardsley and Craig Gardner.

However, the truth is the Wearsiders need both quality AND quantity if they are to avoid a repeat of last season’s travails.

Poyet has already spelled out his vision for the future and it means assembling a 23-man squad built to a precise formula.

“In any squad, if we play 4-3-3 - my system - I like to have two players for just about every position,” he said at the end of last season.

“The exceptions are I like to have three goalkeepers and seven defenders rather than eight,”

“I want two players for places in the other positions but not at the back - I like to use that extra player somewhere else, so you can have a squad of 23.” So that means three goalkeepers, seven defenders, six midfielders, six forwards and one extra body to be utilised wherever.

However, the summer exodus has left Poyet with a squad of only around 20 professionals, plus fringe figures such as youngsters El-Hadji Ba, Charis Mavrias and Duncan Watmore.

That 20-strong core group includes four - Modibo Diakite, Alfred N’Diaye, Danny Graham and Cabral - who have been told they have no future at the club as well as Nacho Scocco, whose move to Argentinian side Newell’s Old Boys has already been agreed in principal. Assuming they all depart, it leaves a lot of work still to be done.

However, it does not mean Sunderland should resort to the scattergun approach adopted by the ill-fated, and thankfully long-gone, director of football Roberto De Fanti, who oversaw 14 new signings last summer. De Fanti’s recruitment drive was a disaster. Of the 11 of those 14 who joined on a permanent basis, only goalkeeper Vito Mannone and forward Emanuele Giaccherini can be considered a success.

A handful of the others have been written-off by Poyet and the jury is still out on the remainder.

Both Poyet, and De Fanti’s replacement Lee Congerton, are determined to avoid the mistakes of the past.

To that end they are taking a more targeted approach and have concentrated on signing proven Premier League players.

Their signings so far have all played in the top flight in this country, which is far preferable to taking a punt on players who have played on the Continent and praying they can make the adjustment.

Two more of Sunderland’s transfer targets fit the same criteria and are also known quantities in so far as they spent time on Wearside last term.

The Black Cats have agreed a £14m fee with Liverpool for striker Fabio Borini, who developed into a fans’ favourite last season after scoring goals in crucial games. Poyet is also working to bring Fiorentina left-back Marcos Alonso back to the club to fill the role he made his own in the second half of last season.

If he can secure those two signings, he will have added quality in all the key positions he was looking to strengthen.

More bodies will still be needed, however, if Sunderland are to have the necessary strength in depth.

While quality may be Poyet’s priority, quantity must not be overlooked entirely.

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer