The rebuild starts here.
Three days after our play-off campaign ended at the hands of Lincoln, Sunderland published the list of players released, retained, and offered new contracts ahead of what will be a sizeable summer rebuild.
The swiftness with which the list has been released is encouraging. It suggests that no time is being wasted, and that a clear, focused plan is already being put into place.
After the sticking-plaster solutions of previous summer transfer windows, you get a sense that, under the management of Lee Johnson and the guidance of Kristjaan Speakman, our recruitment will finally be done sensibly and pragmatically, with no rash decisions AND no signing players just because they happen to be available.
So, what to make of those who are staying and those who are going? Upon first glance, I don’t think there are any real shocks, albeit there are several points of major intrigue.
On the list of those who remain under contract, it is surely imperative that the likes of George Dobson AND Will Grigg are moved on, and it also feels as though Tom Flanagan and Aiden O’Brien may be playing their football elsewhere next season.
There is no doubt that a defensive and attacking overhaul would leave those two players on the fringes, and therefore transfers to new clubs might suit all parties.
As to the players offered new contracts, I don’t think that it is a major surprise to see the versatile and ever-willing Luke O’Nien given the chance to extend his stay. He divides opinion, without a doubt, and will never be universally loved, but you get the sense that Lee Johnson values his adaptability and workrate, and with the inevitably packed schedule we will face next season, perhaps that has worked in his favour.
With any luck, Denver Hume can enjoy an injury-free season next time round, and if Aiden McGeady chooses to stay, he will undoubtedly move into the role of ‘elder statesman’ (possibly as an impact sub), and can hopefully maintain his excellent form for one more season.
The big question mark, however, hangs over Charlie Wyke.
His thirty-one goals in 2020/2021 were a superb return, but will he be tempted by a move elsewhere, particularly if, as we expect, attacking reinforcements are brought in?
On the other hand, who’s to say that he couldn’t chalk up another 15-20 goals next season, with the right level of service? He turned his form around superbly last season, and if he did stay I think he could certainly play a part.
The released list is equally interesting, and, looking past the inevitable departures of the likes of Remi Matthews and Callum McFadzean, two names stand out.
After three years at the SOL, it is time to bid farewell to Chris Maguire and Max Power, two players who have been at the heart of the club’s endeavours since 2018.
There are some misconceptions about these players that have been bandied around in recent times. Maguire was not simply a wind-up merchant (remember the volley against Portsmouth that provided us with a crucial advantage in the 2019 playoff semi-final), and Power was not a spineless footballer.
Both of them have tried their utmost to help this club make a return to the second-tier. Ultimately, they fell short, along with many other players, but that doesn’t disgrace them or diminish their efforts, by any means.
Perhaps most painfully, it is a second goodbye to the Stadium of Light for Grant Leadbitter, a man who experienced it all in red and white.
From the pain of relegation in 2006, to the elation of promotion in 2007, many memorable goals, and above all, a transparent love of the club that nobody could overlook, Leadbitter would’ve felt the pain of our failed promotion challenges more acutely than anyone else in the squad.
Perhaps a return to the club, either in a coaching or ambassadorial role, could be a future possibility.
The decks are being cleared and the journey towards the new season is already underway. Saturday felt like the end of the road for this incarnation of Sunderland AFC, and this list suggests that was an accurate prediction.
Football teams always go through periods of being dismantled and rebuilt. We are in that position now, but for the future success of the club, it is an absolutely vital step.