Bruce's prudence is called into question

First published in The Roker Report Durham Times: Photograph of the Author by , Sports Writer/Sub-Editor

IN THE detached world of the Premier League, money is thrown about with any real accountability or concern.

A million pounds is considered a bargain. It appears to be the minimum denomination for most clubs. “Oh, he’s only a million, he’s worth a punt.”

I’ve said it myself, many a time. Titus Bramble has been hailed as a bargain, yet he cost more money than most of us can expect to earn in a lifetime. And it won’t hurt anyone to spend it. It’s just a million.

Steve Bruce said during the last transfer window that he spends his club’s money like it were his own. So he’s prudent, sensible, reserved, right? Wrong.

He is Sunderland’s biggest spending manager of all-time, despite serving just two seasons. Asamoah Gyan, Darren Bent, Lee Cattermole, Cristian Riveros, Lorik Cana, Fraizer Campbell, Stephane Sessegnon all cost a fair whack of money. If that’s prudence, I’d hate to see his shopping bill.

Revisiting last week’s theme, I’d suggest that Sunderland’s benefactor, Ellis Short, would be expecting a return on that outlay. Be that in terms of league position, or actual financial return – which he has seen, to a certain extent, in the case of Bent and Cana.

Steve Bruce inherited a squad which contained a lot of deadwood. George McCartney, (at the time) Anton Ferdinand, David Healy, Daryl Murphy. All players brought in which were not up to the task and needed to be moved on.

Now, Bruce, despite his self-proclaimed protests of prudence, has – two years on – created the same situation again. Signing players up that have not turned out to be the real deal.

In particular, I refer to the South American duo of Cristian Riveros and Marcos Angeleri. Now, bear in mind that these two are both international footballers for teams that made real progress in the World Cup in the summer.

Although Riveros was free, Angeleri was £2million. Both bought not through first-hand experience but on the word of Bruce’s South American scouting network.

Any Sunderland employee who remembered the likes of Milton Nunez and Nicolas Medina should have had a quiet word in Bruce’s shell-like.

You have to ask the question – if these players are so good, then why are they not playing regular football in Europe, where the leagues are developed and the clubs are more progressive?

Because it’s a gamble, that’s why.

Clubs have a budget and have to bring players in within their tight constraints. Those budgets get tighter as you go down the leagues. A measure of a manager’s success in the lower leagues is not who he brings in, but how well he does with what he has.

Rumours abounded this week that Bruce was looking to cash in on Angeleri, or that his contract had been cancelled “by mutual consent.”

One thing that is clear is that he has been an abject failure on Wearside, a £2million gamble which has gone belly up.

My question this week is simple – why does Sunderland’s scouting network avoid the obvious?

For this, I use the example of Darlington defender Dan Burn. Drafted into the Quakers squad, he was known to all the north-east clubs – except Sunderland. Nobody had him watched. He’s signing for Fulham in the summer. The same club which took a punt on Chris Smalling and sold him on for £10million to Manchester United.

Everton, hamstrung by a tight budget for many years, brought in the likes of Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott from the Championship for £2million each and have turned Jagielka into an England regular, and made a massive profit on Lescott, who went to Manchester City. These are success stories.

Why aren’t Sunderland doing this now? David Wheater went from Middlesbrough to Bolton for £2.5million. Steve Bruce could have watched him ten times before making his mind up. Why is this less attractive than buying a mail order defender from South America?

The injury problem at Sunderland has caused its problems. But despite Bruce having 13 first-team players fit at one stage, Angeleri and Riveros had not been given their chance.

Bruce did not rate them. It raises the question why he bought them in the first place.

I’m all for Bruce building a young, fresh, hungry team. But I implore him to make sure he knows what he is paying for before getting the chequebook out again.


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