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Barnesy’s Blog: Looking ahead - what could be on the cards when January rolls around?

BBC Radio Newcastle’s Sunderland match commentator Nick Barnes is back with his monthly RR column - and he’s musing on the future of Scotland forward Ross Stewart, and what lies ahead for the club in January.

Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Football returns! Well, football as we know it.

The weekly churning of the stomach, debating the team, debating the result, mass debating - but has there been one debate that refuses to go away?

Arguably so... the future of Ross Stewart.

The short term future of course is focused on his return to the first team. He’s been training on the grass but he’s not been involved in a first team game of any description, and with a long-term lay-off such as the one Stewart has had to endure, a swift return is clearly not on the cards.

The hope had been for a return following the World Cup break, and while it has not been ruled out, at the very best I suspect we’re looking at a few matches sat on the bench, much like Ellis Simms. Simms was thrown back into the melee at Huddersfield ahead of the schedule Tony Mowbray and his staff had pencilled in, but will that be a blueprint for Stewart. One suspects not if Simms remains fit. Stewart will be wrapped in cotton wool.

The Scot is unquestionably Sunderland’s biggest asset, and as such has a value on his head.

The January transfer window is a month away and Sunderland will be tested.

Injured or not, clubs know what Ross Stewart is about.

Sunderland v Rotherham United - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

They will have monitored him from the get-go and all last season. Much in the same way Sunderland are taking a gamble on signing young players with potential, clubs will be eyeing Stewart in the same way.

For a Premier League club, and Championship too, Stewart as a striker is at a premium. The outlay for a club in that position is inconsequential. It will barely register in the accounts. They will be able to offer a tantalising package for the player as well as a not-insignificant sum for Sunderland.

Sunderland on the other hand will now be trying to persuade Stewart, or his representatives, to remain at the club and will be offering what they see as a fair deal to achieve that, but a deal tailored to the restrictions the club is not operating under their ‘model’ for sustainability.

There will be an upper limit and one fears it will fall a long way short of what is potentially on offer from elsewhere. The fact Stewart is yet to put pen to paper on a new deal, albeit he technically still has a year and a half left on his existing deal, is a concern.

It suggests negotiations are difficult and the prospect of a tug for his services in January cannot be underestimated.

Sheffield United v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

Ultimately it’s down to Ross Stewart.

What does he want? What does he see as best for his future?

He’s 26. He’s proved his ability at League One level and arguably has done so with his return in the Championship in only seven appearances. Will he be thinking now is the time to prove to himself he can play in the Premier League?

I fear so.

If he remains at Sunderland, and I sincerely hope he does, he will prosper on the pitch without question but he will want to look after his future too - and the temptations on offer from above cannot be overlooked in any shape or form for a player approaching his prime.

Step back from the emotional and put yourself in a position of objectivity.

What would you do if you were in Ross Stewart’s boots?

I hope we don’t find ourselves in another Josh Maja scenario.

That was a disaster for Sunderland.

If January does prove to be a turning point for Ross Stewart, and I think it will, let’s hope at the very least an attempt is made to secure him on loan for the rest of the season.

Though ultimately I think we all know (and have to accept) that Ross Stewart has a finite shelf life at Sunderland - it’s just a case of: how wide is that shelf?

As Tony Mowbray pointed out before the World Cup break, it’s not in a club’s best interests to keep a player who doesn’t want to be at that club, nor on wages significantly higher than his teammates.

There was more than a hint of a suggestion he was referring to Ross Stewart and the scenario that awaits the club and the ‘Loch Ness Drogba’ in January.

Ross Stewart could well be minded to stay if the club’s ambitions match his own, and in fact I’m sure they probably do - what is more pertinent is will their ambitions be matched by their ability to match his ‘off-field’ ambitions?

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