Sunderland are embarking on their second season back in the Championship following promotion from League One last year.
Alex Neil was the man who led them into the second tier in 2021/22 and Tony Mowbray has built on those solid foundations since being appointed as head coach in August 2022.
The experienced manager has utilised his attractive style of football and astute man management to tune the Black Cats into a play-off chasing side having lost out to Luton Town in the semi-finals last term.
Whilst Sunderland have seen an upturn in fortunes on the pitch, that is largely down to their improved recruitment strategy off the field, with a focus on acquiring talent under the age of 23.
In the past 18 months, the North East giants have seen this model come to fruition, acquiring the likes of Daniel Ballard, Jobe Bellingham and Jack Clarke; three youngsters who have become revelations in red and white.
If astute and accurate recruitment in the transfer window is what Mowbray hopes will propel them towards the Premier League, it was their misfiring strategy of old that sent them crashing towards League One.
The club spent most of their top-flight years paying over the odds for terrible talent while missing out on quality stars who would have aided their bid for survival.
Their failures to capture Kevin De Bruyne in 2011 and Virgil van Dijk in 2015 emphasized that claim, however, that duo weren’t the only world-class talent that slipped through their grasp as they let an opportunity to sign Mohamed Salah pass them by.
When Sunderland wanted to sign Mohamed Salah
According to the Sunderland Echo [via the Daily Express] the Black Cats were interested in capturing Salah on loan from Chelsea in January 2015 after he had failed to impress Jose Mourinho following his £11m move from Basel.
At the time, the Egyptian wasn’t in ‘the special ones’ first-team plans, with the likes of Willian and Andre Schurrle preferred alongside automatic starters Oscar and Eden Hazard, and Mourinho was keen for the then 22-year-old to gain more experience before challenging in the following campaign.
It was reported that Poyet was plotting a move for Salah in the summer transfer window of 2014 amid concerns surrounding Fabio Borini’s future, but the Black Cats instead completed a deal to sign Brighton & Hove Albion’s Will Buckley.
While Buckley spent the majority of his career plying his trade in the football league and is now retired at the age of 33, Salah has developed into the world-class talent that his formative years promised, accentuating how bad Sunderland’s recruitment model was during that period.
Will Buckley’s career statistics
Sunderland captured highly-rated winger, Buckley, for £2.5m from Brighton in 2014, becoming their seventh signing of that summer.
At the age of 24, Buckley had made over 220 appearances at senior level, beginning his ascent towards the Premier League at Rochdale, rising to prominence at Watford before making a name for himself on the South Coast.
The wideman was blessed with skill and trickery with the capacity to excite but didn’t display the quality to go with those attributes in the final third, expressed by only notching up 19 goals and 16 assists in 109 appearances at Championship level for the Seagulls.
Poyet was foolish to expect him to deliver goals and assists in the top flight, especially considering the fleet-footed winger only posted seven goal contributions in his final season for Brighton, with the Uruguayan eventually paying the price for signing Buckley instead of Salah on loan.
While the Englishman recorded zero goals and two assists in 22 appearances in the 2014/15 campaign – and only eight goals across the rest of his career – Salah would eventually rise to stardom at Fiorentina and Roma before becoming truly world-class at Liverpool.
Mohamed Salah’s Liverpool statistics
In the summer of 2017, Liverpool made one of the most invaluable transfers in their history, prising Salah from Roma for a club record £34.3m at the time.
It is difficult to put into words how amazing the Egyptian has been since arriving at Anfield, but the statistics certainly do his talents justice, showcasing his ruthless consistency in front of goal while the fact the Reds rejected a £150m bid from Saudi Arabian club Al-Ittihad in the summer shows how ridiculously high he is valued.
Mohamed Salah’s Liverpool statistics by season
2023/24 (13 appearances)
10 goals / 4 assists
2022/23 (50 appearances)
29 goals / 15 assists
2021/22 (51 appearances)
31 goals / 16 assists
2020/21 (50 appearances)
31 goals / 6 assists
2019/20 (47 appearances)
23 goals / 13 assists
2018/19 (52 appearances)
27 goals / 12 assists
2017/18 (52 appearances)
44 goals / 16 assists
All stats via Transfermarkt
He’s never dropped below the 23-goal mark in a single season at Liverpool and that is a testament to his truly relentless finishing ability.
A crucial cog in Jurgen Klopp’s winning machine and a player largely responsible for propelling the Reds through a trophy-laden period, Salah has achieved everything he would have ever dreamed of on Merseyside.
From helping add a sixth Champions League to the Reds cabinet in 2019 to winning their first Premier League title in 2020, the explosive forward has scooped up a whole host of individual accolades over the years that honour his freakish goal-scoring talents.
He’s claimed the PFA Player of the Year award on two occasions – in 2018 and 2022 as well as the Premier League Golden Boot on three occasions (2018, 2019 and 2022) and while those awards are impressive, they don’t scrape the barrel of what Salah has achieved across his glittering six-year spell at Liverpool.
At the age of 31, the “special” talent – as lauded by Klopp – is still at the pinnacle of his powers, ranking in the top 1% against his positional peers across Europe’s top five leagues in the past year for non-penalty goals, top 1% for touches in the attacking penalty box and top 5% for assists, as per FBref.
The all-time Premier League great has started this campaign on fire too, scoring ten and supplying four assists in 13 matches across all competitions and was shortlisted for this year’s Ballon d’Or, finishing above the likes of Harry Kane, Jude Bellingham and Robert Lewandowski.
With 196 goals and 83 assists in 318 appearances for Liverpool, Salah’s status as a Reds legend is already solidified and for as long as he continues to tear through opposition defences at will, Sunderland supporters will forever pull their hair out knowing they could have witnessed one of the greatest players of this generation don the red and white jersey.