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What now for Sunderland’s young star Jordan Pickford?

Martyn Cooke

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In a season that has been characterised by gloom, disappointment and negativity, the one shining light for Sunderland supporters has been the emergence of young goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.

The 23-year-old is a local boy, born and raised in Washington, and whilst he ultimately failed to prevent The Black Cats from suffering relegation to The Championship there are few that could question his effort, attitude or application over the last twelve months.

In fact, Pickford has pulled off so many stunning stops, blocks and finger-tip acrobatics that he has cemented a reputation as being one of England’s brightest young goalkeeping prospects.

On Saturday he produced another Man of the Match performance in Sunderland’s two goal victory at the KCOM Stadium and his deluge of saves may well play a key role in dragging Hull City into the second tier of English football along with the beleaguered Black Cats.

However, Pickford’s starring performances have attracted an ever-lengthening list of admirers throughout the top-flight and Sunderland are now in the unenviable position of having to decide whether to fight to retain their young goalkeeper’s services or cash in over the summer.

The Telegraph have reported that Arsenal, Everton, Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool and West Ham United are all keeping tabs on the 23-year-old and it would appear that it is simply a question of when, rather than if, a multi-million pound offer lands in the inbox at the Stadium of Light.

David Moyes, assuming that he retains his position as manager over the summer, now has a key decision to make.

Does he strive to ensure that Pickford remains a Sunderland player, providing the Black Cats with a quality goalkeeper as they look to challenge for promotion next season, or, knowing full well that transfer funds will be in short supply, does he look to cash in? His ultimate decision could decide the club’s trajectory for the next decade.

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What next for Sunderland and Pickford?

Moyes has scoffed at claims that Sunderland have placed a £17,000,000 asking price on Pickford’s head and reports in the media suggest that the Black Cats are looking for offers in the region of £25,000,000. In a squad that currently lacks any valuable assets, barring their young goalkeeper, such a large income of cash would provide the club with a substantial amount of money to invest in players over the summer.

It would provide Moyes with the funds to rebuild and remould a team capable of bouncing back into the top flight whilst giving him plenty of room to wheel and deal in the transfer market. With continuing uncertainty surrounding the motives of Ellis Short and the lack of investment from the American over the last eighteen months, selling Pickford may be the only option for Moyes if he wants to fund an overhaul of the playing squad.

Whilst Sunderland’s primary concern will be to maximise the profit made on any potential sale, Pickford will need to ensure that he chooses a new club wisely. At the age of 23 and still very much in the infancy of his career the goalkeeper will require regular game time in order to continue his development – sitting on the bench at an elite club would be of no benefit.

With this in mind a move to Arsenal or Manchester United would not seem beneficial, with Petr Cech and David de Gea firmly cemented as first choices, whilst it is unclear as to what the thought processes of Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp in relation to their club’s goalkeeping departments.

At the Etihad Stadium Joe Hart seems destined to depart in the summer with his replacement Claudio Bravo failing to impress whilst at Liverpool neither Simon Mignolet or Loris Karius have made the number one jersey their own this season. Pickford will certainly need guarantees that he will be first choice before seriously considering a move to either of the latter two clubs.

Everton and West Ham United would be the more logical options, although it remains to be seen whether Ronald Koeman or Slaven Bilic would be prepared to spend such an excessive amount on a goalkeeper.

If Jordan Pickford is to be sold in the summer it would undoubtedly break Sunderland hearts as well as his own. However, his sale could fund the rebuilding project that the Black Cats desperately need if they are to challenge for promotion next campaign whilst regular first team football at a top-half Premier League club could push the 23-year-old into consideration for a call-up to the senior England squad. It seems like the only question is when and for what price the young starlet will depart Wearside.

Featured Image: All Rights Reserved Tim Hickman (Tim Hickman)

Martyn is currently a PTA and Research Assistant in the Department of Exercise Science at the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). In addition to his teaching role he is also undertaking a PhD in Sports History that is exploring the origins and development of football in Staffordshire. Prior to working at MMU, Martyn spent a decade operating in the sport and leisure industry in a variety of roles including as a Sports Development Officers, PE Teacher, Football Coach and Operation Manager.

Sunderland

Three reasons for Sunderland supporters to be optimistic about the New Year

Martyn Cooke

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Sunderland
Photo: Reuters

To say that the last couple of years has been turbulent period for Sunderland supporters would be a significant understatement.

Sam Allardyce departed the club in the summer of 2015 to begin an ill-fated spell in charge of the England national team and the Black Cats replaced him with David Moyes, who proceeded to oversee a half-hearted campaign that ultimately concluded with relegation to The Championship.

The club quickly discovered that life in the second tier of English football was no easier and Simon Grayson was dismissed just three months after taking charge, leaving the team stranded in the relegation zone and facing the realistic possibility of slipping into League One.

However, there have been some tentative signs of recovery around the Stadium of Light in recent weeks and there is a cautious optimism among the supporters who are hoping that the appointment of Chris Coleman is the catalyst for a change in the club’s fortunes.

Here, The Boot Room highlights three reasons for Sunderland supporters to be optimistic about the New Year…

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The arrival of Chris Coleman

Since the dismissal of Roy Keane in December 2008 there has been a continuous conveyor belt of managers that have attempted, with differing levels of success, to facilitate progress at Sunderland.

Chris Coleman became the Black Cat’s tenth manager in less than eight years when he was appointed as Simon Grayson’s successor in mid-November, but the Welshman’s arrival has created a sense of optimism around the Stadium of Light and the hope that the club can begin to build for the future.

The fact that Sunderland were able to tempt Coleman to take up the role is an impressive feat considering the 47-year-old’s reputation has never been more prominent after a successful spell in charge of the Welsh national team.

A manager of his calibre is exactly what the Black Cats require and his experience, no-nonsense style and ability to make teams hard will provide supporters with hope that the team can climb away from the relegation zone. Whilst in charge of the Welsh national team Coleman demonstrated that he could mould a group of, in reality, average players into an efficient unit capable of reaching the semi-finals of Eur0 2016.

Since his appointment there have already been signs of progress with Sunderland looking better organised, more competitive and look capable of picking up positive results. Coleman still has an awful lot of work to do but the general feeling on Wearside is that he is the right man for the job.

Lewis Grabban

Goals have been in short supply at the Stadium of Light this season but Lewis Grabban’s efforts have made him one of the few bright sparks in what has ultimately been a dismal start to life in the second tier of English football.

The 29-year-old is something of a journeyman having played for ten clubs so far in his career but his arrival on loan from Bournemouth has probably been the sole reason that Sunderland are not cut adrift at the foot of the Championship.

The striker has scored 11 goals in 17 league appearances so far this season, which is a quite astonishing feat when you consider the absence of quality in the team, the lack of service he receives and the club’s consistently poor performances. To score on such a regular basis for a struggling team is some achievement.

Grabban is certainly not the perfect striker but goals are the most valuable commodity in football, especially if you are in a team that is stranded in the relegation zone. The fear for Sunderland supporters now is that Bournemouth might considering recalling the forward in January, yet if the Black Cats can keep hold of him he will play a crucial role in Chris Coleman’s bid for survival.

The January transfer window

The main positive for Sunderland supporters is that the January transfer window will provide Chris Coleman with the perfect opportunity to start constructing a team that is capable of securing safety.

The current squad lacks strength in depth, is weighed down by the inflated wages of failed so-called Premier League stars and is vastly unbalanced, but when the window reopens in the New Year the rebuilding process can begin.

It is unclear how much money Coleman will be given to spend in January and it is vital that he brings in four or five new players that will galvanise the team – that will mean signing an experienced goalkeeper, adding quality to the spine of the team and starting to trim the deadwood around the squad.

However, if the Welshman makes the right moves in the transfer market then he can begin to build a team competitive team that can climb away from the relegation zone whilst starting the process of laying the foundations for the future.

What Sunderland need now is to sign young, progressive talent rather than wasting money on seasoned ‘old pros’.

The team needs to be built around players that are hungry, determined and focused on carving a career for themselves in the upper-tiers of English football and that have something to prove, in contrast to the likes of Darren Gibson, Jack Rodwell and John O’Shea who have neither the financial pressures or motivations to drive the club forward.

The January transfer window is the perfect opportunity for Coleman to begin rebuilding the club.

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Brighton and Hove Albion

Five FA Cup third round ties to look forward to

Jake Jackman

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FA Cup

The FA Cup third round is one of the most anticipated weekends of the footballing calendar and the draw was made for this season’s competition on Monday night.

It was an intriguing draw with four of five fixtures that stand out as great matches and there will be a lot of options for the television companies.

Arsenal are the current holders of the competition and they will be looking to retain their trophy.

However, Manchester City look to be the best team in the country and they remain in the hunt for the quadruple. Based on their current form, they are the overwhelming favourites to win the FA Cup.

Here are five third round ties to look forward to…

Liverpool vs Everton

This was the mouthwatering tie of the round, as the two Merseyside clubs meet at Anfield. They face each other in the Premier League this weekend and this draw means that the bragging rights will be up for grabs again in a month’s time.

Jurgen Klopp will be looking to win his first trophy of his Liverpool career and this competition could offer his best chance in doing that. Meanwhile, Sam Allardyce will want to win his first major honour as a manager and has his best chance with Everton.

There is a lot to play for in this match and it will make for a great spectacle for the neutral.

Brighton and Hove Albion vs Crystal Palace

Although it is one of the weirder rivalries in English football, these two clubs have a storied history and this tie will be one to watch out for.

They have met once already this season as the two sides finished goalless at the Amex Stadium. However, there was crowd trouble and the local police won’t have been pleased when they were drawn to face each other again in the FA Cup.

This will be a physical affair and a loss for either team would be have a damaging effect on their morale ahead of what is likely a relegation fight for both clubs.

Tottenham vs AFC Wimbledon

This will be a great occasion for the League One club as they get the opportunity to play at Wembley against Tottenham.

Their climb up the pyramid has been a story that has caught the attention of the country and this match will serve as the latest landmark in their ascent. They famously won the FA Cup in the 1988 season in their earlier guise and the supporters will be delighted to be back at the national stadium.

For Spurs, there is a lot of pressure on Mauricio Pochettino to win a trophy and another failure in the FA Cup will be a disappointment.

Fleetwood Town or Hereford United vs Leicester City

There will be a lot of neutrals hoping that Hereford United manage to make it to the third round, due to their history in the competition.

They famously beat Newcastle United in the 1972 competition in what was one of the biggest shocks of all-time. It is a rare occurrence for a non-league team to beat top-flight opposition and Ronnie Radford’s goal is replayed countless times every year.

They competed well in their first match against Fleetwood Town and earned a credible draw.

Leicester City are recent winners of the Premier League and it would be a great spectacle if it is to be Hereford that make the third round.

Middlesbrough vs Sunderland

Sunderland fans would have been hoping to avoid a local derby against Newcastle United and they managed to do that, but they are set to face another North East in Middlesbrough.

They are both in the Championship now and struggling to bounce back from relegation during the 2016/17 season. The Black Cats are hoping that Chris Coleman will be the manager to rebuild the club, but it is a tough ask.

Neither team will really want to be in the competition, but they won’t want to be knocked out by a rival. This should be a fiercely contested affair at the Riverside Stadium.

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Sunderland

Why Chris Coleman’s decision to take the Sunderland job is not as crazy as you may think

Martyn Cooke

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Chris Coleman

If Chris Coleman had been in any doubt over the enormity of the task that he faces at Sunderland prior to being appointed as manager, then it will certainly have been made abundantly clear to him on Tuesday night at Villa Park.

The new Black Cats boss took charge of the team for the first time in mid-week but the 2-1 defeat against Aston Villa will only have highlighted the issues that have seen the club slump to the foot of The Championship table.

There were signs of more heart and fight from the players, yet Coleman will have come away from the Midlands knowing that his team are in serious danger of suffering a second consecutive relegation.

The statistics do not make for good reading.

Sunderland currently sit bottom of table and have won just one league contest all season, despite initial hopes that the club would be able to mount a promotion push and bounce straight back into the top-flight at the first time of asking.

The Black Cats have conceded 38 goals in 20 games across all competitions this season, averaging over two per match, and have failed to win in any of their previous 20 fixtures at the Stadium of Light, a run that can be traced back deep into the last campaign.

So when it was reported that Coleman would be appointed as manager last week the news was met with raised eyebrows, scratched heads and confusion across the football world.

The 47-year-old’s stock has never been higher having guided Wales to the semi-finals of Euro 2016 and, although he ultimately failed lead the team to qualification for the forthcoming World Cup in Russia, he could undoubtedly have found a much more prestigious job in club football rather than at The Championship’s worst side.

The Sunderland job, on paper at least, is hardly appealing.

The club have been in terminal decline for the best part of half-a-decade and relegation from the Premier League last season was facilitated by a lack of investment in the transfer market, a lack of stability in the dugout and a growing apathy both in the stands and in the boardroom.

Sunderland is now seen something of a poisoned chalice and, despite undoubtedly being a proverbial ‘sleeping giant’, the fact that Coleman will become the club’s ninth manager in six seasons tells its own story.

The Stadium of Light has seen an almost continuous conveyor belt of managerial talent attempt, and ultimately fail, to turn the fortunes of the club around.

A crazy decision by Coleman?

So, from a distance, the idea that Chris Coleman should risk his managerial reputation at Sunderland is, for want of a better world, crazy. However, if you look underneath the surface then the decision actually begins to make sense.

First, Coleman has absolutely nothing to lose at Sunderland. If he can guide the team to safety then he will be lauded as a managerial maestro whilst if he fails then people will shrug their shoulders and just add him to the lengthening list of managers who have failed at the Stadium of Light.

In truth, with the club just five points from safety, over half a season still to play and the January transfer window still to come, Coleman has everything on his side to transform the club’s fortunes.

A little bit of work on the training ground to make the team more solid and a scattering of new faces being introduced in the January transfer window should be more than enough for the club to climb out of the relegation places.

Second, one of the main issues at Sunderland is the apathy around the club. The Black Cats are certainly not a united institution and there is a feeling of frustration, disappointment and lethargy across Wearside.

However, as Roy Keane demonstrated when he was appointed as Sunderland manager in 2006, once the club begins to move in the right direction and gather some momentum then it can be almost impossible to stop. If Coleman can galvanise the players and supporters then the possibilities are endless for a club of Sunderland’s size.

Thirdly, at some point in the near future the club will turn a corner. Much has been made of Sunderland’s gradual decline and the current unwanted record of going 20 home games without a win, but the club’s downward trajectory and home form will not last forever.

Coleman may well have made a calculated gamble that, with the club at arguably its lowest ebb in almost a decade, the only way is up.

So maybe Coleman’s decision to take the Sunderland job is not so crazy after all. If the Welshman can galvanise the club, which he has plenty of time to do, and convince Ellis Short to invest in the January transfer window, then guiding the club to safety will be seen as a masterstroke.

The Black Cats are currently at rock bottom and Coleman is gambling that the only way is up.

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