Will Buckley’s credentials as a Premier League player are open to debate after a hard year at Sunderland but clubs in the Championship know what they think of him.
Several enquired about Buckley last month, Leeds United included, and a sizeable wage was the only the reason why he failed to find a new home before the transfer deadline. Ipswich Town rated the 25-year-old but did not fancy taking on a salary in excess of £20,000 a week.
Leeds were similarly prudent and their refusal to dive into a deal will pay off next week when Buckley joins the club on a 93-day emergency loan. Sunderland’s determination to move him on just 12 months after valuing the winger at £2.5m tells the story of how Buckley’s situation has changed.
His move to Sunderland and his opportunity in the Premier League came about last summer on the strength of three years with Brighton. Quick and old-fashioned in style – “knock the ball past the full-back and cross,” as one journalist puts it – Buckley’s career followed a steep trajectory from the days when he eared a few hundred pounds a week at Rochdale. Watford took him higher up the English pyramid in 2010 and Gus Poyet tempted him to Brighton 18 months later for a club record fee of around £1m.
Adam Virgo, a former Brighton defender who now works as a football pundit for Channel Five, said the interest in Buckley during the recent transfer window was a legacy of form on the south coast which as not been forgotten.
“Clubs have seen what he’s capable of in the Championship,” Virgo told the YEP. “Sunderland doesn’t change that.
“When you get a call from a Premier League club you’re going to take it. And don’t forget that when he went there, Brighton were selling all of their best players – Ulloa, Bridcutt, Ashley Barnes. It was the right decision to go.
“In the Championship you’d call him a very good signing, a winger who clubs who want to sign. He’ll help Uwe (Rosler) because he’s versatile. In a 4-3-3 formation he can play left or right without a problem. He’s right-footed but he puts in a decent delivery from both sides. He’s naturally quick and away from home he’s very good at carrying the ball 20 or 30 yards upfield, taking the pressure off.
“That’s a pretty valuable skill in the Championship because Championship teams don’t keep the ball that well. There’s a lot of transition. The way he plays will let Uwe’s midfielders get into the box more. I think you’ll see more chances created for the likes of Chris Wood. That’s his game and that’s what he does.”
Brighton reached the play-offs in both of Buckley’s last two seasons at The Amex. Poyet masterminded the first of those runs before leaving amid a bitter and public fall-out with the club. The Uruguayan tried and failed to sign Buckley midway through the following season but went back to Brighton in August 2014 with an offer of £2.5m. Buckley by that stage had indicated his desire to leave.
Buckley’s debut for Sunderland was encouraging – 79 minutes in a 1-1 draw at home to Manchester United – but other impressive moments came only in flashes. Some who watched Buckley believed that he lacked the strength and a yard of pace to thrive in the Premier League. A knee injury suffered in January didn’t help and by the time Buckley recovered, Poyet had been sacked.
Buckley started one game under Poyet’s replacement, Dick Advocaat. He was substituted at half-time of a 1-1 draw with Stoke City. Advocaat’s decision was said to have been designed to alter Sunderland’s shape, rather than pointing the finger at Buckley, but it was a warning to the winger nonetheless. At the end of last season Sunderland began seeking a buyer for Buckley and valued him at £1m. Advocaat warned him that he would be limited to game with the club’s Under-21s if a move did not materialise before the deadline.
Leeds held talks about Buckley as late as August 28 but decided to sit tight until the emergency loan window opened. Their patience was rewarded over the weekend when Sunderland agreed to a loan which will start a week on Friday and run to January 2. Buckley began training at Thorp Arch yesterday and is preparing to make his debut against Birmingham City next Saturday.
“I don’t know how his fitness is because he won’t have played much at Sunderland,” Virgo said. “It’s pretty clear he’s got no future there.
“He had hamstring problems at Brighton, especially in his second year, and that sometimes stopped him from getting into fifth gear. He wasn’t the same player in that period, mainly because he seemed to be holding back slightly.
“But my only concern with him would be confidence. He’s a confidence player. On his day he’s almost unplayable. On a Tuesday night you’d watch a game and think ‘Will Buckley’s the reason Brighton got three points’. Then on Saturday he wouldn’t see so much of the ball, he’d get frustrated and go into his shell pretty quickly. Wingers can be like that.
“Leeds needed to sign someone like him and at his best the fans will love the way he plays. Fans always love a winger who runs at defenders and managers do to.
“It might not have worked out at Sunderland but it’s not a surprise that so many Championship clubs wanted him. He’s a great signing in this league.”