Although not the most high profile transfer this summer, the transfer of 23 year-old Welsh right back Adam Matthews to Sunderland within the past week was one that caught my attention. At a reported fee of £2 million, this is a potential steal for the North East club, having managed to prize Matthews from Scottish champions Celtic four years on from his move north of the border from Cardiff City.
A regular in Celtic’s side since arriving in Glasgow in 2011, Matthews racked up 150 appearances for the club, winning four top flight titles in the process. This included 30 appearances in Europe, both in the Europa League and the Champions League, including being a vital part of the side that beat Barcelona 2-1 at Celtic Park in November 2012. It’s easy to see therefore that, certainly for someone of his age, he comes to the Premier League with experience of winning and playing at the very top level in Europe. Experience of this kind could prove invaluable to the Black Cats, following on from what was undoubtedly a difficult season in 2014/15.
So, on paper he looks like a good prospect. The stats are all there to suggest he has earned a move to England’s top flight, but it doesn’t tell us much about his various qualities and how these can benefit a club like Sunderland.
What should be said first is that Matthews is an incredibly industrious player. ‘The boy’s got a good engine on him’ is a well worn cliche but couldn’t be more appropriate for a player with the work ethic of the young Welsh international. Signed by Neil Lennon, Matthews played a major role in both an attacking and defensive sense as part of a dominant and dynamic Celtic side. Like left back and team mate Emilio Izaguirre, he was able to use his considerable pace to support the attack with balls from wide, never failing to maintain his defensive duties through his endless tracking back. The latter quality is one particularly admired by Celtic fans, given that Hondouras international Izaguirre sometimes lacked this quality. Although affected by injury for some time during his stint in Glasgow, there’s no doubt that, when fit and available, Matthews was always one of the first on the team sheet.
While motivation has never been an issue for Matthews, Sunderland fans can be assured he will be fired up following his move and is out to prove his quality. According to STV Sport, one of Matthews’ main motivations for moving south was the potential to improve his chances of adding to to the 12 international caps he currently has for Wales. With manager Chris Coleman preferring other options playing in England’s top divisions of late, Matthews was all too aware that a move to a league with a higher calibre of opposition would be required for him to improve, saying,
“The league in Scotland isn’t great and I think the Welsh manager saw that and hopefully this move will help me improve my chances of getting into the Welsh team because they are doing really well at the minute. But I just needed a new challenge. I have been at Celtic for four years and enjoyed every minute of it but I spoke to my agent and it seemed to be a good move for me at this stage. I’m happy to move forward and playing in the English Premier League was a big factor in my decision – Sunderland are a massive club, there is no doubt about it.”
With words signalling strong intent, the young player is obviously out to prove his worth. Not only is the chance to establish himself at a club in one of Europe’s top leagues at stake, but also a place in his national side, who, under Coleman, look set to reach the finals of a major international tournament for the first time in nearly 50 years at Euro 2016, their last (and only) appearance being at the 1958 World Cup finals in Sweden.
There’s no doubt that drive and motivation of this kind will be welcomed in the dressing room at the Stadium of Light. Having spent much of last season and the previous one struggling for form and results under Gus Poyet, they will be desperate for a strong start in the upcoming season in order to avoid becoming embroiled in yet another relegation battle. Poyet only managed to secure Premier League status with one game remaining in the 2013/14 season, having been appointed the previous October. At the time of his sacking in March of this year, they were 1 point above the relegation zone in 17th place. Only a late rescue at the hands of Dutch stalwart Dick Advocaat kept them in the top flight, and the Black Cats will be hoping to build on that in 2015/16.
Whatever happens in the North East in the coming season, fans will be hoping for more than they have seen in recent seasons past. There’s no doubt that, with a work ethic and natural athletic ability that should see him settle well in the Premier League, Adam Matthews can contribute to a more successful run for Sunderland this term. Though young in years, he has a CV and a medal count of a player many years his senior. Advocaat and co will be hoping he can bring the winning mentality he has no doubt become used to at Celtic and use this to aid his new club in establishing themselves once more as a reliable and permanent fixture in England’s top flight for years to come.
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