How Sunderland’s adapted club policy has lead them to success
Following back-to-back relegations from the Premier League and the EFL Championship in 2017, Sunderland found themselves in their lowest point of their 144 year history.
After the ownership model of Stewart Donald failed drastically, 25-year-old Kyril Louis-Dreyfus bought the club to become the youngest owner in English football.
Sunderland currently find themselves in with a chance of Play-Off promotion to the Premier League with four games to go, despite being heavily tipped to be involved in a relegation battle this season following their promotion from League One.
Some would say the brilliance of Alex Neil last season was the turning point, but I believe the modernisation of the club’s policies under Louis-Dreyfus has in fact been the catalyst behind Sunderland’s recent success.
Most notably, it has been the Black Cats’ transfer policy that has created such an exciting team along with a connection between the club and the supporters that hasn’t been felt in years.
Since Louis-Dreyfus’ arrival on Wearside, Sunderland have signed 28 players in total on both loan and permanent deals from clubs such as Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur.
Danny Batth and Cory Evans are the only two out of that group of players to have been over 30 years old at the time of signing for the Black Cats.
The signings of Jack Clarke, Dennis Cirkin, Amad Diallo, Edouard Michut along with the progression of Dan Neil and Anthony Patterson from the youth academy have been complete strokes of genius, leaving Sunderland with some of the highest rated youngsters in the country.
Looking at the average age of the squads in the EFL Championship, Sunderland have the youngest with an average squad age of 23.3 years old and an average starting XI age of 24.1, which is considerably younger than any other squad in the league.
Compare these to stats to those from the last time Sunderland were in the Championship back in 2018, where they had an average squad age of 25 years old and average starting XI age of 26.8, which really shows the progress that has been made since the change in ownership.
On top of the hugely impressive recruitment strategy adopted, the playing style under both Tony Mowbray and Alex Neil has been a hit with the fans at the Stadium of Light.
Gone are the days of Aiden McGeady repeatedly crossing the ball to Charlie Wyke or the slow movements of the likes of Will Grigg up front.
This current Sunderland side has an abundance of flair and exciting players such as Patrick Roberts, Alex Pritchard, Edouard Michut, Ross Stewart, Amad Diallo and Jack Clarke constantly turning opposition players inside out.
That’s not to mention the ability within the depth of the squad with the likes of Jewison Bennette and Abdoullah Ba waiting in the wings.
Sunderland have averaged 57.6% possession so far this season in all competitions, which is perhaps surprising for such a young newly promoted side.
We’ve also seen the strengths of dedicating time and money into the youth setup, with the likes of Dan Neil, Anthony Patterson, Eliott Embleton and Lynden Gooch all becoming important first-team players who rose through the ranks in the academy.
15-year-old Chris Rigg is perhaps the prime example of the brilliant work being done at the Academy of Light, making three appearances in the FA Cup this season.
A number of Rigg’s teammates from the Under-18’s are tipped to make a breakthrough into first-team soon as well, with the likes of Tom Watson (17), Mason Cotcher (16), Ben Middlemas (18) and Zak Johnson (18) all impressing in the youth setups.
Sunderland’s Under-18’s are currently sitting 2nd in the U18 Premier League table, above the likes of Manchester United Under-18’s and Liverpool Under-18’s.
There’s definitely reason to believe that Sunderland are moving in a positive direction both currently and in terms of planning for the future, it’s hard to see them staying in the EFL Championship too long.