Sunderland chief Kristjaan Speakman has clear January transfer message amid Burnley interest in Dan Neil

Kristjaan Speakman says Sunderland are looking to strengthen their squad in the January transfer window, but says any addition will have to meet a 'very high bar' to improve the current squad.
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The Sporting Director has also made clear that there is neither the appetite nor the need to sell prize assets to fund further additions or the club's operations more generally, after reports that Premier League side Burnley were preparing a bid for Dan Neil.

Sunderland are aware of the need to add depth and quality to their ranks, with injury leaving their striking options limited and with the squad still lacking an orthodox right back.

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Speakman added that there are funds available from the board for permanent acquisitions, providing the player meets the right criteria.

Sporting Director Kristjaan SpeakmanSporting Director Kristjaan Speakman
Sporting Director Kristjaan Speakman

He has hinted that as was the case last year, there will be a mix of short and long-term additions to the squad.

Like many clubs Sunderland have noticed that clubs in the top tiers are retaining more players in case of further COVID-19 disruption, making the loan market in particular slower moving to begin with.

The Sporting Director has nevertheless said that the club are monitoring a number of targets.

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"If you cast your thinking back a year, we entered the January transfer window only a short period of time after I joined," Speakman said.

"We tried to make acquisitions that were for the short-term benefit in terms of a couple of loan signings, and a couple of permanent in Carl Winchester and Ross Stewart, which I think have been really good acquisitions for the club.

"We'll always try to approach it in that way.

"It's about getting the right mix.

"January always comes with its difficulties in terms of players being under contract and teams being halfway through the season, so the motivation to let players go is often limited," he added.

"The other thing from our perspective is can someone come in and meet the level required in a short period of time, because you don't have that pre-season to acclimatise.

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"At the present moment we are seeing that some of the teams above us in the leagues are retaining players because of the impact of COVID-19 and postponements.

"We also have a really, really high bar in terms of bringing players into our club and we should always have that.

"There are numerous players on our radar throughout the whole year who we are constantly monitoring and tracking. If the opportunity to acquire one of those players comes up then we will do so.

"There shouldn't be any nervousness from fans around our ambition to achieve, you just need to be really clear about where your improvements need to be and whether you can make it through any particular player joining the group.

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"We have a really strong group at the minute but naturally we are going to have our eyes wide open over the next 30 days.

"I have been here a year," Speakman added, when asked by The Echo about the ambitions of the ownership group this month.

"In the January window we made acquisitions that cost transfer fees and salaries on long-term deals, and we did that again in the summer.

"We are in a period within the football cycle generally were there are not as many transfers of high value occurring.

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"We're trying to run the club in a really responsible manner but we're also trying to improve constantly.

"In the previous windows we have spent money on transfers and salaries, and we've also made really significant bids on other players who unfortunately we weren't able to acquire.

"The owners have invested continually in the squad and the club itself."We're in a good place, so it's just about making sure we make the right type of signings.

"The opportunity is there for us to acquire the new players.

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"We are doing our very best in this window to put ourselves in the best possible place, but I won't commit to saying exactly what that is because it would be remiss of me to do so based on the fact that there are a lot of variables out there."

Speakman says that the recruitment team will, alongside head coach Lee Johnson, try to get the balance between giving all players a realistic prospect of gametime, and ensuring there is enough depth to deal with the challenges of the second half of the season.

Sunderland are particularly wary of the prospect of further COVD-19 related postponements leading to a congested schedule in the latter stages of the season.

With promotion crucial this season, they want enough depth to cope with that possibility.

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"We've got a really good squad and we've got a lot of flexibility within that squad," Speakman explained.

"I think you've seen Lee use players in numerous positions and we've not seen a reduction in quality.

"I know we've had a couple of games where we've not performed as well as anyone would have liked, but if you look at the 24 games overall we're really happy with where we are.

"We've got a number of players returning from injury but we've also got two or three who are going to be absent for a period of time.

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"We said in the summer that we wanted a lean squad," he added.

"We were really conscious about the numbers we had and how our young players were going to integrate into our squad, which they have done.

"When you have a smaller group of players and they know they'll be involved either from the bench or in the starting line up, it can take away some anxiety.

"As long as you don't get any more additional injuries or suspensions then that can be quite smooth.

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"That's worked really well but as you exit January you wouldn't want to be quite so slim on numbers, because there are a lot of games and the fatigue factor does come in towards the end of the season. With the pandemic you also don't know whether you're going to have more postponements, which could down the line lead to a lot of games in a short space of time. We all know from the last 24 months the extent to which that can affect performance.

"If you exclude the injury situation to a couple of key players, we're sitting in a good spot.

"We've got absolute faith in the group we have to deliver the goal.

"We're not going to be rushed, hurried or pushed into making short or long-term signings that don't fit what we want to do, but as always we're absolutely going to be looking at improving."

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While there is always the possibility of outgoing business, Speakman insisted that the likes of Neil would not be leaving the club this month.

"We don't need to lose anyone right now," he said.

"The whole purpose of the project is to build those assets within the team, develop that strength in depth.

"There's nothing better than having other clubs interested in your players because I think that does suggest some good things are occurring, but we won't be entertaining any of those players leaving in the window.

"Everything for us is motivated on getting Sunderland to where it needs to get to at the end of this season."