January is going to be an interesting month for Sunderland, not least because it is the first winter transfer window of Kyril Louis-Dreyfus’ tenure and Lee Johnson’s side sit just outside the automatic promotion places in League One.
Given the play-off heartbreak the Black Cats have suffered over the past three years, you feel the club chiefs will want to do all they can to ensure a top-two finish can be achieved in 2021/22 and a strong January window would be a step in the right direction.
Incomings are likely to be the main thing on the mind of supporters but there may be a few worried about the potential departures of some key players.
Among those is Dan Neil, the 20-year-old that is having a breakthrough season in the heart of Johnson’s midfield.
The Sunderland academy product has been a mainstay in the centre of the park this term, helping to control the tempo of games as well as adding three goals and eight assists.
Neil showed a glimpse of his quality on a big stage on Tuesday night, providing the assist for Nathan Broadhead’s goal, and speaking on Sky Sports club legend Kevin Phillips highlighted the concern among fans that he could depart next month.
When any young player emerges in the manner that the midfielder has this season, there is likely to be speculation and while supporters won’t like to admit it, Sunderland have fallen down the English football food chain in recent years.
That may mean other clubs fancy their chances at prizing away the Black Cats’ best talent but should any offers come in for Neil next month, they need to be told that a sale is not an option.
Have Sunderland signed a player from each of these 20 clubs in the last 5 seasons?
The 20-year-old has a huge future ahead of him but is set to play a pivotal role in the promotion push this season and by cashing in Louis-Dreyfus would send supporters the wrong message about his priorities.
Given all the talk of a long-term vision when he took over if the Frenchman now looks to cash in on one of the club’s brightest prospects and risk damaging their promotion hopes for the sake of a fee, it would be a worrying indicating that his actions are financially driven rather than based upon what is best for the future of the club.
What we’ve seen from Louis-Dreyfus in his short tenure as Sunderland owner so far has been impressive but the January window could be enlightening, one way or another.