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Sunderland’s 2021 round of contract poker has come to an end - did the club play its hand right?

Following the completion of last season, the club played a round of ‘contract poker’ that only ended when Denver Hume agreed to sign last week. Did they play their hand right?

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

With the end of the Denver Hume contract saga comes the end of a process that started way back at the turn of the year. It was a process that just wasn’t limited to his own future at the club, but was just a small part of an evaluation of the whole first-team squad by our new owners and management.

The decision was taken early on in the reign of our new regime to not offer contracts to any of the first-team squad whose contracts were due to expire until the season had ended. At the time I thought this was a mistake, and there was a very real risk of not retaining all the players that we wanted to keep.

After all, Jack Diamond signed a new deal early in the year so why not offer deals to the senior players that we wished to retain, rather than see them walk away for nothing.

As it turned out, at the season’s end the higher management deemed that only four players were worthy of keeping as they looked to refresh the squad from top to bottom, and I for one had no argument about the choice of players they decided to release and those that they choose to offer deals to.

However, there were still questions over the chances that the chosen four would sign. Aiden McGeady and Luke O’ Nien were pretty much nailed on to put pen to paper from sources in the club.

Charlie Wyke was a different story, with reports that he had told the club back in March that he would only stay in the summer if Sunderland were promoted to the Championship.

At the time, irrespective of what he had done in previous seasons, he was one of the leading scorers in League One and it seemed to be a decision born of ambition on his part to play at a higher level. But as he ended up signing for Wigan when his contract did expire, it leaves questions if there was something else? And surely not money.

Sunderland v Wigan Athletic - Sky Bet League One Photo by Will Matthews/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Who knows? We are not privy to the negotiations, and can only guess.

That left Denver Hume. Having read some of the comments aimed his way on social media over the prolonged delay in signing his contract, I have to say I have no problem with his approach. I am a Denver fan, so maybe there is a bias on my part, and from an attacking point of view he looked one of the most dangerous threats for a lot of the games under Phil Parkinson.

I can think of many big-name Sunderland players over the years who have held out on signing a new deal, or simply not signed at all and moved to other clubs. Being injured, actually probably bought him some time to not sign and see if the club would come back with a new and higher offer.

Some people may criticise him for doing something which was within his right, but all I know is that I wouldn't like to go five rounds of poker with him, as I would likely finish minus one house and the shirt on my back. As it turned out, the club put on its best straight face and chewed a long cigar when they signed Dennis Cirkin and Nial Huggins who can also play left-back, leaving young Denver without any Aces up his sleeve.

So, three out of the four chosen to be retained signed. We do not know how close it came to being only two.

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

Ever since the club announced early in the year that contracts would only be negotiated at the end of last season, I felt it was a mistake. But now, I can possibly see reason as to why they did it.

Simply back in February and March, as the management had decided that they were only likely to keep four players and release nine, they also had to ask what the demotivating effect it would have on the players that were to be released. Sunderland were still in a hard push for promotion and many of the players that were likely to be released were still playing for the first team every week.

How would they feel about putting in their all on the pitch, when they could see contracts offered to four of their teammates but nothing on the table for them?

I am after all guessing, that this was the rationale back at the turn of the year, for a new regime that hadn’t had time to assess what they had inherited.

It cant be repeated next summer for the likes of Dan Neil and Elliot Embleton. We cannot take the risk of waiting until the end of the season to offer new contracts when their present deals expire. Both have been instrumental in Sunderland’s flying start to the season, and Neil in particular could be argued has been our best player so far. There is no need for the higher management to take time to assess the players they have on their books.

They already know this time.

Now that the recruitment process is over, the priority should be to secure the future of the players who are a key in our present success and begin contract negotiations now.


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