Sunderland sporting director Kristjaan Speakman has ended the eight-month wait for his first external media interview - addressing the club's struggle to land its summer transfer targets ahead of the new season.

SunderlandLive last week pointed outthat Speakman had yet to talk to local media since he was appointed in December, instead opting only to answer questions put to him via the club's own media channels.

And in a close-season where ten players - including two loanees who returned to their parent clubs - have left the club while only three new faces have arrived, the lack of answers from anyone above head coach Lee Johnsonhad begun to worry supporters.

READ MORE: Sunderland's sluggish transfer window threatens to put them on the back foot from the off

But Speakman has now granted an interview to the Sunderland Echo, in which he insisted that 'we're really pleased with where we've got to' while admitting that 'we still want more acquisitions'.

Here our Sunderland AFCwriter James Hunter takes a look at what Speakman said, and what exactly it all means.


Speakman: "Off the pitch we want to make a few more signings to address the areas where we feel we're in need of extra players. Stuart [Harvey, Sunderland's head of recruitment] and the guys and as a team, we're working really hard to do that.

"We felt we were very-well prepared at the start of the window.

"We've been successful in acquiring some of the targets we set out to get, and we feel we've been really diligent in how we've gone about that in terms of the types of players and how they fit it into our playing style.

"We want to bring a youthful squad to Sunderland but it's also about getting a blend.

"We want more acquisitions. It is a difficult marketplace at the minute. We've found ourselves with offers to clubs and players and at the minute, not been able to get them over the line.

"That's not through any lack of intent from either the people operating the football club or who own the football club, but I think you have to be respectful of the marketplace at the moment and some clubs don't want to let players go, and so sometimes you have to change and move direction.

"Ultimately what we're trying to do is identify quality over quantity, and I think every Sunderland fan would respect that."

Despite landing three quality signings so far in Alex Pritchard, Corry Evans, and on-loan Manchester City defender Callum Doyle, Speakman is acknowledging that Sunderland still have a lot of work to do in the transfer market.

He suggests that Sunderland have made a number of offers to clubs and players but have struggled to seal those deals, and have been forced to look elsewhere.

But he is careful to say that Sunderland's inability to make more signings is not down to new owner Kyril Louis-Dreyfus.

He also indicates that Sunderland are prioritising the quality of their signings over the numbers, which could mean that the squad will be smaller than last season - something which Johnson has also spoken about when asked about transfers.


Speakman: "The difficulty you've always got when a transfer window closes after a season starts, you get this difficult period where we all want the team to be ready for the seventh but the market moves until the end of August.

"A huge amount of business always gets done in the last two-and-a-half weeks.

"We're really pleased with where we've got to and the business we have done.

"We would like to accelerate the last pieces of the jigsaw, 100 percent, but the ball is not always entirely in your court.

"I appreciate the thought process which would be that you could spend more money [now] to try and tempt players to come or tempt clubs [to sell], but we have to be really sure that we get value for the club.

"What we won't do is pursue a deal that we don't think brings us the required quality on the pitch, or do something that won't benefit us in the short, medium or long term.

"Inside the club we're the same, we all want to be ready for the seventh. It's how you go about solving the problem and for us, we've got to be calm and trust ourselves and our decision-making progress, so we get what we want.

"We don't want to make decisions that aren't right just because of that first game of the season.

"I understand that as a season-ticket holder, you want to see us start on the front foot and do well, be at the top end of the table from day one.

"We all do and believe we can, but we also have to build in that the season runs over a nine-month period, and also that you're potentially contracting players for beyond that nine-month period."

The big concern for Sunderland fans is that the season kicks off on Saturday, but the squad is still threadbare in certain key areas - particularly in defence, where the club does does not have a single senior specialist full-back on its books, in central defence, and up front following the departure of last season's 31-goal top scorer Charlie Wyke.

Speakman seems relaxed about the situation, however, and happy with the deals that have already been done.

He points out that there are another four weeks of the transfer window still remaining, and that the market moves more quickly as August wears on.

Sunderland fans will be pleased to hear that the club is not content to make stop-gap signings who add little or nothing in the longer-term, because they have seen those kind of mistakes made before.

The problem with the patient approach, though, is that there are five league games in August - more than 10 percent of the season - and new recruits will also need time to settle, bed into the squad, and possibly build up their fitness.


Speakman: "GBE [Governing Body Endorsement] has come in which means you don't quite have the same natural pool of players that you'd like to dip into," he said.

"There's a large proportion of players in that market who are now unavailable, and for those that are you've obviously had a situation where you've not been able to visit games and get eyes on them. So can you make the right judgement?

"You always look to your closest neighbour and for us that's the Championship. There are a lot of clubs there operating under a transfer embargo of some description, and that has slowed down the number of transactions.

"Then there's the Euros, and like many clubs we are looking to do some loan deals, and there's a number of clubs who aren't letting players out because their squad isn't ready.

"There will always be outliers [clubs] who are doing something a bit different, which is absolutely fine."

Speakman points to the new Governing Body Endorsement rules, which sets out the requirements for clubs to sign overseas players in the post-Brexit world, as a factor that limits the ability of clubs to recruit from abroad as they did previously.

And he also cites the transfer embargoes that have been placed on some Championship clubs, often tied to loans taken out to help them deal with the financial impact of the Covid pandemic, as another limiting factor.

He also says the Euros have delayed matters, with clubs in the top two divisions taking more time to assemble their squad and decide who they are willing to let out on loan.

Other clubs in League One, including the likes of Ipswich Town and Wigan, have so far been significantly more active in the market than Sunderland this summer, with Speakman seemingly unconcerned about losing ground on them, and describing such clubs as 'outliers'.


Speakman: "We've already made offers on players with significant fees attached to them.

"Of course, whether a player has a fee attached or not does not necessarily relate to value or quality. If you take Alex [Pritchard] as a good example, we very much believe some players of lesser quality have moved and with a transfer fee attached."

Sunderland have yet to pay a transfer fee this summer, with Pritchard and Evans joining as free agents while Doyle arrived on loan.

But Speakman has indicated that there is money available and Sunderland have made 'significant' bids for players already - although clearly they have so far failed to land their targets.


Speakman: "We want tactical flexibility and it doesn't mean you rely on those players all season but I don't think the management team have any anxiety over playing certain players in certain positions if that's what we need.

"I think the club is in a really good position, with the only ambiguity being that the first game of the season is near and people will point to an obvious gap here or there.

"We have to be up front and honest about that and say yes, they are there. But it's something we're working hard to address, it's not something we're looking to avoid, it's something that will get done with the right calibre of player."

Speakman talked of 'tactical flexibility' and playing 'certain players in certain positions', which sounds like an admission that Sunderland could be reliant on players filling in at the start of the season.

Central midfielders such as Carl Winchester and Dan Neil have been deployed at full-back in pre-season, and that could well be the case against Wigan.

He acknowleged the gaps in the squad and again insisted that they are working to address that.


"On the field, we're really comfortable with the progress that we're making.

"You want to try and change the style of play to something that people want to come and watch, and I think you can tangibly see we're working towards that as we change the personnel, the head coach gets time to work with the players etc."

Speakman was addressing the style of play under Johnson.

The head coach is keen to play an attractive but high-energy game, and there has been progress on that front last season which has carried through into pre-season.

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