IF there is one thing that frustrates Martin O’Neill, it is people presuming to know his transfer blueprint.
Buy British, spend a lot and invest in players to suit the rigid 4-4-2 system that he prefers – those are the three tenets of transfers that O’Neill watchers would have you believe he sticks religiously to.
There might be a kernel of truth to it but January has shown O’Neill is just as savvy and modern as the next manager when it comes to scouting, recruitment and tactical flexibility. It was exactly what Sunderland required. Take Alfred N’Diaye, for example.
His impact in the win at Wigan at the weekend was significant, and a definite sign that Sunderland’s high hopes for the former France Under-21 international are not entirely unjustified.
He can pass, he can play and he offers the sort of muscle that the Black Cats have needed for a while. Yet had any other Premier League team been prepared to do the cut-price deal that Sunderland did for him?
It is a triumph of scouting that N’Diaye was secured early, and he was recruited with the minimum of fuss. He has potential too, with O’Neill admitting that he has brought a powerhouse of potential as much as a ready-made player.
Senegalese defender Kader Mangane (pictured left) adds yet more muscle to a Sunderland team that, has showed a worryingly weak underbelly. The 6ft 5ins defender is good in the air and will offer threat at the other end of the field as well as authority in his own penalty area. O’Neill has also listened to his players. Steven Fletcher is understood to prefer playing alongside another striker and the Sunderland boss has identified Danny Graham as a player with a sure touch that complements his natural aerial authority.
This latest window has seen O’Neill finally add his own flourish to the squad he inherited. The decks have been cleared, with Ji Dong-Won and Fraizer Campbell allowed to leave, while David Meyler – another player associated with the Steve Bruce era – has also departed.
Sunderland will never go down the same route as Newcastle in diluting their British core but they look less predictable than when O’Neill took over.
As results begin to turn, there are signs that the Sunderland manager is beginning to get to grips with the club a year after taking charge.
Cautious optimism is the theme of the moment on Wearside.