Is James McFadden a good signing for Sunderland?

October 26, 2012 in Premier League

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James McFadden became a household name with an outstanding goal in arguably Scotland’s most famous victory of this century, a 0-1 victory against France in the qualifying stages for Euro 2008. However, since that famous night in Paris, McFadden has struggled to settle at a club and only managed eight games last season for Everton before being released in the summer. Now with the free agent on the verge of joining Sunderland, can he became the player he once was?

Well, the Black Cats could use some help. Although main summer transfer target Steven Fletcher has started the season well with five goals in six games, Sunderland have struggled to create chances and score goals. In fact, their only other scorer this season in the Premier League was an own goal by Demba Ba in last weekend Wear-Tyne derby. That game, more than any other this season, highlighted the Cats’ inability as a creative force. With Newcastle 0-1 up, Cheick Tiote was sent off in the 30th minute. And yet, in the remaining 60 minutes, Sunderland struggled to really open up a stern Magpies defence, despite the man advantage and the majority of the possession.

Sunderland’s other main bits of transfer dealings have failed to spark yet, with both Stephane Sessegnon - who was signed to a long contract - and Adam Johnson - the other big bit of spending the Cats did – struggling to recreate the form that has seen them play for some of the biggest clubs in Europe.

So on the surface, McFadden could be a good bet on a free transfer. At his best, he was a tricky attacking midfielder who was comfortable either behind the striker or out on the wing. He had a good long shot, which he showed in the France game. He also has a decent eye for a pass and is tenacious enough in the tackle.

There are, however, several downsides. In 2010, while playing for Birmingham, McFadden suffered a serious knee injury. The anterior cruciate ligament injury has kept him unfit for the last two years and stopped dead the promising career he was creating for himself at Birmingham. He became a free agent despite Birmingham wanting to give him a new contract, and successful trials at both Wolverhampton and Celtic failed to lead to an acceptable offer of his services. Instead, he rejoined his second club Everton on a year-long contract. His first start took until April to come, where he started, incidentally against Sunderland. The Toffees won 4-0 that day although McFadden failed to score. It was his first of three starts which was also supplemented with five appearances off the bench.

His fitness is definitely the biggest risk in signing him. Although he failed to add to his goal tally while at Everton, this shouldn’t be too worrying for Sunderland boss Martin O’Neill. He has an overall goal tally of one goal in every five games. And should he be kept fit, his ability in front of goal should not be diminished. O’Neill seems to have factored in this risk factor and has only offered McFadden a 3-month deal until Christmas. In essence, Sunderland have said that if he can prove that his fitness is no longer a concern, they can reassess their position in the new year.

He also will not be a first teamer; bit more an option from the bench. Sunderland have one of the smallest squads in the Premier League, and if one of the midfield three gets injured, then it is only Sebastian Larsson that can really fill in as a creative force.

Of course, I am hoping that he can regain the form and fitness that earned him a reputation as one of the most promising youngsters to come out of Scotland, and led him to become one of their best players of this young century. If he can get a few goals or assists from the bench, then it will have been more than worth the small risk O’Neill has taken.