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Sunderland should use Chris Maguire’s contract situation to work in their favour - here’s why

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Chris Maguire has admitted that he’s playing for his Sunderland future, with the prospect of earning a new deal motivating him to prove himself all over again. The club must use this situation to their advantage - doing so could see us achieve promotion.

Sunderland v Doncaster Rovers - Sky Bet League One Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

I started the season well and then things kind of fell away. As players you always want to play week in, week out and play 90 minutes. I know there are times when you have to come off, but I think before the start of the season I was getting taken off early and that was annoying. I had to go away and work hard to get myself right.

I knew I had to get myself fitter and I know there have been certain pictures of me online that make me look a little fat, but that’s certainly not the case.

I had a word with the manager when he came in and he said that I could get fitter and that it would benefit me and the team. I have put a lot of work in after training on my own to get fitter and sharper, and at the moment it is paying off – hopefully it can continue.

Chris Maguire - Sunderland Match Programme (Doncaster, H)

When I sat down to write this piece for Roker Report about Chris Maguire back in October, I studied the numbers (courtesy of InStat) to see whether my gut feeling on the ability of the Scottish playmaker was backed up by the statistical playing data. To my delight, it did - the reports showed that when Maguire plays in the space between Sunderland’s attack and midfield, he’s our most consistent creative outlet.

Obviously, there’s a reason why someone as talented as Maguire has found himself playing third tier football as frequently as he has since he arrived in England from Aberdeen.

His career path prior to signing for Sunderland has been littered with bad choices; whether that was by chasing the money and heading to Bury - where he was unmotivated, and playing in a bad team - or signing deals with Derby and Rotherham. He left a comfortable environment to sign for Derby, where he wasn’t fancied, and he turned down a new contract after a successful spell with Sheffield Wednesday to sign for their regional rivals Rotherham, where he eventually saw his deal cut short and cancelled.

Soccer - Pre Season Friendly - Rotherham United v Leicester City - New York Stadium Getty Images

Even during his time at Sunderland, Maguire has occasionally fallen into bad habits. Earlier this season he appeared visibly unfit, and wasn’t playing anywhere near the level that he’s capable of. Throughout last season, under Jack Ross, he was in and out of the team. Ross clearly didn’t feel as though he could rely on Maguire to produce regularly, instead placing more faith in Aiden McGeady to be the main man in his Sunderland attack.

It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, that Maguire’s best form this season coincided with the departure of Ross in October. Unlike McGeady, Maguire has responded well to the methods of Sunderland’s new, fitness-focused regime - news that I imagine would be met by a raised eyebrow if you delivered it to Sunderland’s former gaffer.

Maguire spoke candidly in the club’s match programme on Friday evening about his current situation and admitted that, with the end of his contract looming near, he’s willing to do whatever it takes to earn a new deal in the summer:

Last season I had an injury which put me out for a little bit, but there were times when we got to 50-60 minutes and if things weren’t happening, you’d look up and I’d be the first sub off – that was obviously frustrating.

I am out of contract in the summer and at the moment I am playing for my future. I want to stay here for as long as I can, so it is up to me to prove to people I deserve the right to be here. This is a great club and I have enjoyed every moment that I have been here. For me, I have got to work hard to get to where I want to be.

It’s up to me, no one else can do it, but it’s nice to have the backing of the manager. He has questioned parts of my game and I have had a think about those and knuckled down to show that I can still learn at this age.

Milton Keynes Dons v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Despite always being a massive fan of Maguire, even I was shocked to read him speak with such humility. I’d hazard that he’s not always been the easiest player to work with through his career, so to hear him admit that there are flaws in his game and that he’s responded well to criticisms levelled at him by the manager is enlightening.

But then it’s hardly surprising, is it? Maguire has just turned 31, and it goes without saying that he’ll never play for another club as big as Sunderland. We know this, he knows this. If he’s not offered a new deal here in the summer then he really only has himself to blame.

The stage afforded to him by this club is immense, and Maguire finds himself in a rather unique position. The fans largely adore him, he’s now playing in a role that allows him to express himself on the pitch, he stands currently as our highest scorer and assist-maker, and he now no longer has Aiden McGeady ahead of him, hogging the limelight.

The second half of this season could be a fruitful one for Sunderland, but only if Chris Maguire accepts that he’s could have a huge part to play in what is to come.

Of all the players in this current squad, Maguire has positioned himself as the man who fans can occasionally look at to provide a deadly set piece delivery, a thunderous finish, or even a killer pass when the time and situation calls for a moment of quality. Despite having not played particularly well on Friday, he split open Doncaster’s watertight defence with an excellent pass that really should have seen Luke O’Nien put Sunderland ahead - a reminder that even when he’s not quite at it, he’s capable of producing something special.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Perhaps, then, the secret to keeping the mercurial Scot motivated is to dangle that contract opportunity in front of him for as long as we possibly can. As long as Maguire buys fully into the ideal of being Sunderland’s premier talisman, with the opportunity to potentially even end his career with the club, he will surely remain hungry to succeed and prove himself.

As he himself admits - he’s playing for his future.

If he truly means what he says, then I don’t doubt for one second that he will do what it takes to earn that deal. Chris Maguire may well be a third tier playmaker, but I believe that his ability exceeds that of most in his position at this level.

Whether Sunderland remain in League One or gain promotion back to the Championship, I firmly believe that he can play a huge part over the coming seasons - he’s good enough to play in the league above when he’s fit, motivated and playing in his proper position.

Now, it’s up to Maguire to prove his worth. He’s the one player in this team that I truly believe can inspire us to promotion, and should he do so he’ll secure his future with the club.

I understand that’s a huge burden to place on one man’s shoulders, but you get the feeling that Maguire is the type of character that thrives on such pressure.