ADAM JOHNSON has geared up for tonight’s first friendly in the Algarve by claiming Sunderland’s patient approach in the transfer market should ensure there is no repeat of last season’s struggles.
While fans have become slightly frustrated by an apparent lack of progress on the recruitment front, Gustavo Poyet has been regularly on the phone to sporting director Lee Congerton in a bid to make the additions he craves.
Poyet would prefer to have more new players figuring in tonight’s game with Recreativo de Huelva in the Estadio Municipal de Albufeira, but Johnson does not think it is necessarily a bad thing at this stage.
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Left-back Patrick van Aanholt, who joined from Chelsea on Friday in a £1.5m deal, followed Billy Jones, Costel Pantilimon and Jordi Gomez to Wearside and are the only summer signings so far, which leaves the squad still short of where Poyet would like.
But Johnson, who admits more deals need to be done, remembers 12 months ago when Paolo Di Canio and the then director of football Roberto De Fanti brought in more than a team of new players.
Coupled with Di Canio’s confrontational style of management, Sunderland got off to the worst possible start to the Premier League season and it took them until the last week of the campaign to preserve top-flight status.
Johnson said: “We haven’t got that many numbers and it is not hard to see that we need players but it has been good to see the manager has not rushed to get any players in. He wants quality players in, which is what you prefer to see.
“Maybe last year was too many too soon. You need players who are going to improve your team not who are going to sit and make the numbers up, which is what the gaffer has said he wants. He wants to push players who are already in the team. You want 18 who can play in the first team.”
Poyet has only taken 20 players to Portugal – where they also play CD Nacional tomorrow and Vitoria Setubal on Saturday – and has not ruled out more joining them before the end of the trip.
A £14m offer for Fabio Borini remains with Liverpool and it is not thought Liverpool’s failure to sign Loic Remy, who failed a medical over the weekend, has affected the situation. Persuading Borini to return to Wearside, however, remains the problem.
Sunderland have held further talks with Atletico Madrid over Uruguayan winger Cristian Rodriguez. It was claimed that the player’s representatives were in London to discuss terms with Sunderland over the weekend. There is also an interest in Arsenal's Carl Jenkinson and Serge Gnabry.
“It is so easy for players to come into clubs now and every player who has come in has settled straight in,” said Johnson. “No one will ever say they have not settled but they have fitted right in and being English on the whole makes it much easier. It has been good and a lot of good friendlies coming up to gel a little bit more.
“I’m just glad the games have started, hopefully the running stops a little bit. This is the first pre-season with the manager and it’s 50 times better really, we’ve had lots of football, we have done our work in the morning and played football in the afternoon which has been good. The lads have definitely benefitted from it.”
Having been around 12 months ago when Sunderland’s season started disastrously, leading to a player rebellion against Di Canio, Johnson is happy there is more stability this time around building up to the new campaign.
“I hope we can hit the ground running,” said Johnson. “I don’t want another season like the last two and I’m sure the fans and all the players don’t want to be going through all that again. Two years running and that’s enough.
“We want to be playing in games where we are comfortable and there isn’t that pressure of fighting relegation, we want to go out and express ourselves and win games we should have been winning and performing.
“We showed last season, and in the last four months we were a totally different team with top eight form. If we can carry on like that I don’t see any reason why we can’t be at the right end of the table.”