Gary Engel says...
I think Lee Johnson is probably smart enough to play down talk of contracts for the moment - playing the long game. Let’s face it, if there were only one or two players to address, that would be one thing. But the unbelievable cost-cutting of Donald’s tenure has very much lumbered the Louis-Dreyfus era with a number of difficult situations, clearly contracts and the number of first team players is a serious concern.
A few of our recent showings have not set the world alight, but still the majority of this squad would form a pretty reliable basis for a newly promoted Championship side. There is a bit of a balance that needs to be struck, we don’t want to disrupt the club’s current positivity but one or two significant agreements may only swell the feelgood factor.
We could start with players like McGeedy, Wyke, O’Nien, Power and Willis. There will no doubt be question marks over a number of the other players, probably until the end of the season. With a good number of those falling into the category of squad player, meaning the decision on who stays and who goes, for some, could well go either way.
We certainly don’t want to fall into the drawn-out Maja trap once again. Only last week Middlesborough were apparently showing interest in Charlie Wyke, and loanee, Jordan Jones according to some reports. Obviously under Johnson’s stewardship, many of our player’s stock has risen in a short space of time. While the longer that continues the more player agents will use that to their advantage and potentially unsettle individuals who Johnson would like to build around.
I’d say, ideally get the most important players under contract as soon as possible, to send a strong message of intent to any would-be Championship vultures beginning to circle and make life a lot easier for the club come the summer.
Philip West says...
Securing the futures of our key players should be a matter of great importance, and I think it ought to be completed as soon as possible.
Yes, the issue of which league we will be in for 2021/2022 is still very much unresolved, but in my opinion, there are many players who, since Lee Johnson took charge, have shown that they are more than good enough to remain at the club.
The benefits of moving swiftly on this issue are twofold. Assuming we get promoted, it will enable us to maintain a core of promising players to which we can hopefully add in order to be competitive in the Championship, and if we fall short, we can still have the nucleus of a very strong squad for another tilt at League One next season. Keeping the likes of Charlie Wyke, Luke O’Nien, Denver Hume and Max Power on our books would be a huge positive, and would send us into the summer in an optimistic frame of mind.
The pandemic and its financial consequences may have hit football hard, but it is highly likely that our leading players will still be on the radars of clubs as we speak, and that level of attractiveness will only increase, as long as the team remains in good form and individual players keep shining, so I do believe that contracts ought to be drawn up without further delay.
Fundamentally, under the new ownership of Kyril Louis-Dreyfus, I want Sunderland to be seen as the place where players go in order to fulfill their potential, not a club that they have to leave in order to do so.
We must bid farewell to the days of selling players for peanuts, and make it clear that, as part of our new approach, Sunderland AFC is going to be the kind of club that shows loyalty to players who have served it well, and I do have faith that this will happen.
Malc Dugdale says...
My view is Johnson needs the spine of a good team, no matter whether we make it out of this league or not at the end of the present season, and hence he should start focusing on that central spine and the key partnerships now to ensure he makes his feelings clear to those who are part of that (and if he wants to, to make it clear who is not).
He needs that spine to carry on his rebuild work as we move forward into the ongoing reign of KLD, Speakman and Johnson as a team. The later he leaves this, the bigger the risk players’ heads will turn.
I would start at the back and make sure we hang on to Burge, Hume, McLaughlin, Willis and Wright. If we do have an option on Sanderson I would definitely try to retain him too, and if one of the above needs to make way, then it would probably be Conor McLaughlin. This core of 5 or 6 players (including McLaughlin) have really shown their quality under Lee, so can and probably should be the collective that we build the base of the team around. Should we go up, they will either force their way into the starting lineup or definitely help form a core of the squad which Lee and Kristyan need to re-design and move forward with.
In terms of midfield, I would consider retaining Power, for his demonstrable flexibility in positions as well as his leadership aspects. I wouldn’t personally carry on with a number of other present squad members approaching their contract ends. Those would include Leadbitter (who I’d love to see move into a coaching role when qualified), Scowen, Maguire and McGeady.
A couple of the latter four are simply too long in the tooth for the increase in complexity, pace and skill levels needed at the second tier, despite having more than enough when earlier in their careers.
For the others, I don’t think they have the suite of skills, the attitude or the potential to help us progress and grow. Nothing against any of them, as at times they have really made a difference we needed (especially McGeady after his resumption of duties post-Parkinson).
We need to allow more pace and power to be the core of our midfield, and these lads will in my view struggle to compete, especially if we get promoted.
As per Sanderson at the back, if we could retain one wild card in the middle of the ground, I’d love that to be Jordan Jones. He is way too good for League One and could definitely help us grow through the second tier.
In attack, I would re-sign all of Diamond, Wyke and Kimpioka, as similar to the other areas of the team they are at least good building blocks, and all have at least a chance at the next level. We have seen very little of the two younger lads due to injury of late, and we could loan them out from the Championship to a League One or Two side if more development is needed and we make it up a level.
Wyke has already earned a chance at the next level for me (assuming we make it) after his haul being so impressive to date, again under Lee Johnson more than any other. The coaching skills of the Johnson team can surely keep him firing enough to give the second tier a go, though I have no doubt we need to invest around him, and all other areas.
On that and moving away from players approaching contract ends, the other thing I also see as key right now is the scouting and buying network stepping up hugely from the pre-Speakman days.
In parallel to retaining a known solid core, we need to identify a selection of new squad members to add breadth and depth from position 1 to 11, and beyond.
We have a decent squad size for League One, and it may be one of the factors that helps us go up as the business end comes around. At the next level we need a level better again, and a tad more depth and tactical variability too.
Starting that scouting and buying work even before now is as important if not more so than thinking about who to retain from the existing crop of potential players exiting the club. The future will include some of these lads, but it will include many more we know nothing about right now, so let’s look up as we play our way out of this league.
Will Jones says...
I think now that we have a new owner, manager, structure, and plan, if any player wanted to leave previously, now they will surely be having second thoughts.
We have a manager getting the best out of the squad, and some individuals especially.
Charlie Wyke for example. He will have teams sniffing around him, and why wouldn’t he? The top goalscorer in League One will have a multitude of teams looking if they can without a fee. However, if you have a manager, who believes in you, and you thrive under, as many are, why would you ever want to up and leave? The squad looks like a family. They fight with each other and for each other and I don’t believe players will want to lose that.
Whether we offer the deal now, I believe will probably be on the table, IF we go up you can have X, but if we stay you can have (we can afford to give you) Y.
Players I’d love to stay are - believe it or not - just about all of them. Without a wage cap I don’t see a reason for actively letting many go, so I will mention the ones to that I wouldn’t want to stay.
If we stay down here I would like McFadzean, Matthews and Maguire to go, and reluctantly Leadbitter, due to wages and how we don’t seem to have a “fit” for him when adapting against better teams. And, finally, Flanno. He’s too hit and miss and I don’t think he will play above this level regularly.
The reason that I’d keep the rest is for that exact reason - I believe they would and could play a role in either league and letting those go would make room for Embleton and some other additions without jeopardising the club’s plan, and the togetherness of the squad.