While there's still plenty of uncertainty and ill-feeling towards matters off the pitch at Sunderland, I can't lie that it's a welcome relief as a football journalist to start talking about matter on the pitch again.

After a gap of almost five months since Sunderland last played a competitive game, finally, last week players returned for pre-season training as the build-up to the new season on September 12 began.

And with Sunderland's squad looking a little stretched following a number of high-profile releases this summer, a busy summer is expected, with manager Phil Parkinson targeting seven-to-eight new arrivals.

Two have arrived so far - with both Aiden O'Brien and Bailey Wright signing on free transfers. Both look good additions to the squad, with Parkinson aware of the importance of the here and now; ie making sure Sunderland are promoted at the third time of trying.

But earlier this week Chronicle Live revealed a new transfer target for the Black Cats - one less known than O'Brien and Wright, but who could signal an exciting new direction for Sunderland's recruitment. Arbenit Xhemajli - never heard of him? That's the point.

Since arriving as Sunderland's new non-executive director late last year, Sky Sports presenter David Jones has spoken about modernising the club's recruitment model, much like he helped do at Oxford United.

Since then I've written about modern recruitment models which use digital tools and data to scout, and following the likes of Brentford and their incredible recruitment model that sees them look for untapped potential (players less known, with low value but the ability to improve and grow in sell-on value).

Sunderland non-executive directors David Jones (L) and Tom Sloanes
Sunderland non-executive directors David Jones (L) and Tom Sloanes

In five seasons Brentford have recouped an impressive £120m in player sales, but their model has not hampered their ambitions on the pitch, with the West London club in the Championship play-off final, and on the cusp of the Premier League.

It was with great interest and intrigue then, that I learned late last week that Sunderland had been looking closely at Swiss-born, Kosovo international defender Xhemajli.

The 22-year-old will be a free agent this summer and Sunderland are looking to convince him to move to Wearside, seeing him as someone with huge potential - someone who could, should he realise that potential, play in the Premier League one day.

On paper, it's an exciting signing and exactly the kind of long-term planning in transfer business that the club have so desperately lacked for far too long.

But there is reason to be optimistic by what Sunderland are now trying to do with their recruitment. Following the departures of Richard Hill and Tony Coton, the club have identified Craig Dean and Guy Branston as potential new heads of recruitment. Both have considerable experience and success in recruiting and developing exciting young players through data scouting.

It all points in the direction of this exciting new model been put into place that will see Sunderland look for young, untapped talent.

And that's exactly what Sunderland should be doing, after the club's most recent financial results were revealed.

An interesting thread on Twitter from football business expert Swiss Ramble included the data on Sunderland's players sales in the last decade. On only three occasions have they made profits of over £10m on player sales in the past ten years - all three of which show the importance of long-term planning.

In 2012 academy product Jordan Henderson was sold to Liverpool, while in 2016 Jordan Pickford was sold to Everton. Both transfers show how Sunderland should use their academy far more than they do - although club officials will point out that Lynden Gooch and Denver Hume are both regulars and that Brandon Taylor, Elliot Embleton and Jack Diamond could also see themselves involved heavily next season.

Stewart Donald at Sunderland's game against Ipswich

Why should you sign up?

The ownership situation a Sunderland has been the talk of Wearside in recent weeks, with Stewart Donald in talks over selling the club to an as-yet-unnamed bidder

By signing up to our twice daily newsletter, you'll get all the latest news on the bid - and all things red-and-white - straight to your inbox.

We'll also send out special newsletters with any breaking transfers news.

How do you sign up?

It's really easy and only takes a few seconds.

Just click on this link to our newsletter sign up form and select SAFC - all you have to do is enter your email address and you're all done.

If you decide to unsubscribe at any stage, simply follow the unsubscribe link on any of our newsletters - but we don't think you'll want to.

The third year that Sunderland made eight-figure profits from player sales, meanwhile, was 2013 - the summer they sold Simon Mignolet to Liverpool.

Much like Xhemajli, Mignolet was a young star in his home country of Belgium, but relatively unknown outside of it. For just £2m, Sunderland landed the young goalkeeper and after three hugely successful years on Wearside, they turned that £2m into a roughly £7m profit (with the sales of James McClean, Ahmed Elmohamady and Stephane Sessegnon) boosting that to take the club's player sales income over the £10m mark.

Sadly, transfer dealings like that of Mignolet were few and far between at Sunderland. But hopefully that is about to change.

Xhemajli isn't the only player of that ilk that Sunderland are looking at this summer - both in the UK and further afield into Europe. It's the right approach to take and couples ambition on the pitch with sustainability off it provided it's done right. early signs suggest they've made a positive start.