16 July ~ They must have had their moments during the "Bank of England" days, but modern-day Sunderland have never been particularly dynamic in the transfer market. In February 2010, the club relied on the goodwill of the Premier League to ratify the last-minute loan of Benjani after "some huge, huge difficulties" with the Stadium of Light fax machine. Sunderland fans are used to deadline-day panic and drawn-out transfer debacle but this summer has been completely different. Nine players had completed moves before the first pre-season friendly. And it's quite a pleasant change.
Every signing, of course, is a risk. And as fans of other clubs have only been too keen to tell me, recruiting almost a whole new team in one summer is an even bigger gamble. But these signings seem thought-out and considered, not as scattergun as they may appear from the outside. I know it's the summer, and that I really should know better, but I'm feeling foolishly optimistic.
The gloom at the start of the break, after selling Jordan Henderson, has been replaced by cheerfulness as we've reinvested (wages notwithstanding) in a mixture of youthful potential and real experience. Our recruits for the future – strikers Connor Wickham and Ji Dong-Won – seem to be genuinely regarded as having a chance of making it. To the ire of the papers Connor Wickham was a long-term Liverpool target who ended up at Sunderland instead.
The former Ipswich player suddenly became less interesting – if he'd moved to Merseyside there would have been photos of him at concerts with Kenny Daglish, like Andy Carroll with a rictus grin at Boyzone in February. At the other end of the pitch our new Ireland international goalkeeper Keiren Westwood, signed from Coventry, has long been regarded as one of the best outside the Premier League.
But the most surprising transfers this summer have been Wes Brown and John O'Shea from Manchester United. O'Shea especially is seen as a player who we wouldn't have been able to sign a couple of years ago. It's hoped that both defenders can calm an occasionally nervy, young side. The dubious attention span of Titus Bramble, for example, may benefit from having a calming and experienced presence alongside him. Steve Bould is still remembered fondly on Wearside after his short but influential spell in 1999-2000 helped a newly promoted side to seventh place. We're looking for a similar role from the ex-Man Utd players, who are much younger than Bould when he arrived.
This squad strengthening should avoid the annual second-half slump that has characterised our last two seasons. In midfield, Craig Gardner, Sebastian Larsson and David Vaughan will hopefully provide goals, crosses and energy respectively. And I see no reason why not. But I'm probably a hopeless case. In February last year I was looking up the "Best of Benjani" on YouTube and blithely predicting great things for our new loanee. He didn't score a goal for Sunderland and became a free agent at the start of this month. So my judgement might be skewed. But my football team have definitely fixed their fax machine. Ed Upright