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Re-Signing Connor Can Be Biggest Sunderland Statement Signing Of Summer

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It appears Connor Wickham is not going anywhere, and that represents a giant opportunity for Sunderland.

Mark Runnacles

Given all that has happened since, the sale of Simon Mignolet last summer almost feels like a lifetime ago.

Many will say, fairly, that it probably turned out okay. Mignolet headed off to Liverpool for a huge fee and Vito Mannone came to the north east for a fraction of the cost and finished up sweeping up the player of the season awards. Sunderland somehow not being relegated helped too, of course.

However, it's also fair to say that it caused something of a fuss at the time amongst the support and understandably so. It's never good to see your best players sold.

The reaction wasn't really unfounded. Mignolet was just the latest in a long line of Sunderland's better players who had been allowed to leave the club. Darren Bent, Jordan Henderson and Asamoah Gyan went before him, while Stephane Sessegnon would soon follow him out of the door.

Each of those were the result of a unique set of circumstances rather than being the product of some clear policy. However, you can't really deny that there is, as a result, something of a stigma now attached to the club. Let's not beat around the bush here: put simply, fans don't trust Sunderland to retain their best players.

This summer, however, has provided us with some serious food for thought there - specifically regarding the ongoing situation with Connor Wickham.

In a lot of ways, the Wickham situation mirrors that of Mignolet last summer. Like the latter, Wickham is entering the phase of his contract where his value is only going to start dropping off. Interestingly, though, while last summer stalling negotiations over a new deal prompted a decision to sell, this time around has prompted a very different reaction.

Forget reports that claim Sunderland have responded to West Ham United's offer for the striker with a counter-proposal including a desired asking price. They are not true. Fact is, as things stand right now, Sunderland are not looking to sell at all and have been very strong on that. That is a point that has been reiterated by Gus Poyet too:

Connor Wickham is a player we want to keep, a massive part of our miracle last season and a very important part of our plans.

Of course, good intentions are all very well and good, and they alone are worthy of acknowledgement. No one would deny that. Making plans is always the easiest part, though - it's seeing them through which is the true test. Whether Sunderland can get Wickham to commit to the club very much remains to be seen.

And what a statement that would be too if they could deliver it.

Yes, Wickham has mostly disappointed during his three-year stay on Wearside and, yes, there remains questions over his attitude. Di Canio questioned it, Niall Quinn questioned it and, frankly, his product - or lack of - since his big-money move from Ipswich has questioned it too.

Forget all that for a moment, though. Attitudes can change and customarily do for people of Wickham's age. The fact is, if you get hung up on the few very changeable negatives, you risk allowing yourself to miss the positives, and Wickham is a player with a huge upside.

Right now, he has all the technical and physical qualities you could dream of in a modern striker. He has a devastating turn of pace, and imposing stature, a very good touch and is capable of striking a ball cleanly with power on either foot. He's already proven he can be a genuine impact player, and at the age of 21 he's only going to get better.

In Poyet too, Sunderland have a coach who will make him better. When the Uruguayan was appointed, I promised myself I wouldn't turn into one of those pretentious berks who talk about playing 'the right way' and snootily look down my nose at any team who kicks a football further than 10 yards, and it's a promise I'll try to keep.

However, Poyet is a coach who improves players. We've seen it already. Seb Larsson's form last season, especially in the run-in, was beyond anything I considered him capable of. Lee Cattermole has never looked better than he did last season. Adam Johnson produced a blistering run of form under Poyet, unquestionably the finest of his career.

We've already seen a taster of what he could do with Wickham, and it was genuinely exciting. With the greatest respect to Sam Allardyce, I'm pretty sure he'd pigeon-hole him into some lump of a target man, teaching him how to use his body to be a handful but neglecting any other actual meaningful footballing education.

This summer, the fans have been desperate to see some kind of statement from Sunderland. So far, with the signing of Jack Rodwell and the Fabio Borini pursuit, I'd argue they are doing their utmost to satisfy that demand and repair a little trust.

Re-signing Wickham to a long-term deal could well be the biggest statement signing that Sunderland can make this season, though, because it would break a pattern and tear away a stigma. It's a tremendous opportunity for the club, and one that is probably worth paying a premium to capitalise upon.

It's also, at the moment at least, looking like an opportunity the club appear determined to grasp.