MARTIN O’Neill will cast the net for promising youngsters this summer in a bid to restructure his Sunderland squad and add strength-in-depth to his Black Cats options.
Although the Ulsterman is looking to add genuine Premier League class and experience to his Sunderland mix, he is also understood to have expressed concerns about the size of the squad in his first year in charge.
And having released nine players on Friday, he has instructed his youth and international scouts to be on the look-out for relatively inexpensive but promising players who can be brought in to challenge his established XI. Sunderland’s Academy has a good record of bringing players through into the senior set-up but most tend to be locally-based. O’Neill would like more in the James McClean mould – and has told scouts to start looking for European-based players for him to run the rule over in the close season.
The Black Cats are ready to overhaul their scouting team this summer with former Aston Villa talent-spotter Ian Storey-Moore understood to be in line for a role in O’Neill’s team.
He will bring specialist knowledge of the European markets as well as extending Sunderland’s scouting influence throughout the country. The Journal also
understands that trusted agents have been told to recommend European players under the age of 22 who are reaching the end of their contracts to supplement the crop of outstanding players already at the club.
Despite reports claiming that he would listen to offers for Louis Laing, O’Neill is understood to have earmarked a role for the promising defender next season if he continues to improve.
But striker Ryan Noble will need to make a steep improvement next season to get anywhere near the first-team squad. The youngster is prolific at reserve-team level and performed well at League One Hartlepool at the end of the season but will be made available for loan again in the summer.
The Sunderland boss does not want a repeat of the end of last season when, despite tiring legs, he was reluctant to utilise his squad because he wasn’t sure whether they were up to Premier League standard.
It sounds like a harsh assessment but that judgement was backed up by a retained list that illustrated the need for extra bodies in the development and reserve squads.
The Black Cats moved to clear space in their squad by letting Trevor Carson, Oumare Tounkara and Jordan Cook all leave as part of a mass clear-out on Friday.
They were three players who looked impressive at reserve and youth level but never managed to make an impact in the first-team squad, while Liam Bagnall and Jordan Lavender and midfielders Brett Elliott and James Brace were also released, along with reserve-team keeper Lewis Price.
As well as the wholesale restructuring of their back-up plans, Sunderland are also identifying established stars who will add to their squad.
Adam Johnson is on O’Neill’s wish-list – most likely with a loan move to cope with his wage demands – while Cumbrian Grant Holt is also being considered by the Sunderland chief.
Wilfried Zaha and Nathaniel Clyne, two of Crystal Palace’s outstanding youngsters, are also on Sunderland’s hit-list.
Reports in Egypt have confirmed that they will listen to offers for Ahmed Elmohamady, though.