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Retained and Released - the Lads list is out and it will shape Sunderland’s summer

The club have released the list of retentions for the men’s senior squad, which sees the end of McGeady, Burge & Willis’ time on Wearside as well as the continuation of Wright, Roberts & Gooch’s SAFC career.

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

The Sunderland men’s senior squad retained list was released on Tuesday evening, and sees the departure of some fan favourites and the retention of some key players. There will be a few holes to plug in the squad this summer, but in moving quickly to try to secure the services of key players the Lads are already looking in good shape for the Championship campaign to come.


Key Departures

Aiden McGeady

A true fans’ favourite, a player with Champions League experience and Premier League quality who almost single-handedly dragged us into the playoffs in 2020/21 after his recall by Lee Johnson. McGeady initially joined Sunderland from Everton following our relegation from the top flight in 2016, and in the six years that have followed he has been one consistent presence - someone with the vision and technique to create opportunities at key moments and the ability to score spectacular goals on the biggest stage.

He had been frozen out of the squad by Phil Parkinson due, we can surmise, to him being a big personality who wouldn’t take the low expectations and lower league standards we witnessed during the darkest period in our time in League 1. Pushed out on loan to Charlton in the Championship in spring 2020, he came back and took a pay cut to stay with our club.

McGeady’s partnership with Charlie Wyke in 2020/21 may go down as one of the most productive in the club’s history, and he played his part in this year’s successful campaign too with three goals in 14 games.

But after five seasons, age and injury have meant that now is probably the right time for us to part. It was nice to see him back on the bench in the last few games and to see him enjoy being part of the celebrations at Wembley last weekend, one final wonderful memory with Geads.

Portsmouth v Sunderland - Checkatrade Trophy Final Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

Jordan Willis

One of the best defenders we’ve had at the club during our time in League 1 and a genuinely nice guy by all accounts, Jordan Willis’ recurrent knee injury has ultimately brought to an end his time as a player on Wearside. He played 50 times for the Lads after moving from Coventry in summer 2019 and showed his class on a regular basis during the following season, and there’s a good argument to say that his absence in 2020/21 was a key reason why we failed to get that promotion.

Willis has been used in an informal coaching role at the Academy and is regularly seen in and around the changing room. If he does continue his playing career, we all hope he can stay fit as he has the game intelligence and leadership skills to be a top performer in League One. If not, it wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility to see him joining the coaching team at Sunderland AFC or elsewhere.

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

Lee Burge

A very decent League One goalkeeper who has served the club well since joining from Coventry City in 2019, Lee Burge has been overtaken in the pecking order by Anthony Patterson after also having to play understudy to Thorben Hoffmann at the start of this season.

The impact of a covid-19 infection, which appears to have caused heart issues and ongoing fatigue, has probably played a role in his release by the club at the end of his contract. It’s a harsh reality of football that fitness is absolutely key, but we all wish him well as he’s been a faithful servant of the club over his fifty-dd games between the sticks.

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

Arbenit Xhemajli

The Kosovan international central defender has had a terrible time with injury after joining the club in September 2020. A knee injury sustained on international duty only a month after joining the club meant that Arby, who was highly rated when he signed, only made a handful of first team appearances, and most of those were in 2022.

It’s been a tough couple of years, moving to a new country during the covid-19 pandemic and then having a career-threatening setback like that cannot have been easy. We and the whole Sunderland fanbase will wish him well for the rest of his career, and I’m sure if and when he ever returns to face us at the Stadium of Light he will receive a very warm welcome.

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

Ron-Thorben Hoffmann

We already knew that the clause requiring us to take the German keeper on a permanent transfer after a certain number of appearances was not triggered, largely due to Patterson’s good form. Another player who suffered during the Omicron wave of the covid-19 pandemic, he had showed good early promise but a number of errors and a lack of consistency mean he will return to the Bundesliga champions this summer.

Sunderland v Morecambe - Sky Bet League 1 Photo by Will Matthews/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Callum Doyle

Another young player who earlier in the season we were raving about but whose errors and inconsistencies were not tolerated under Alex Neil, it looks likely that Manchester City will have to find another host for their promising central defender’s next stage of development.

Doyle played a lot of football for a 17/18-year-old under Lee Johnson, and still featured off the bench as the new gaffer sought to see games out - including in the playoff final. He could be an option for the club later down the line, and this stint on Wearside will certainly have helped his game develop overall.

We can only assume that the Sunderland recruitment and analytics team doesn’t think he’s quite ready for Championship football.

Sheffield Wednesday v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Play-Off Semi Final 2nd Leg Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

Uncertain: Loanees Nathan Broadhead & Jack Clarke have returned to their parent clubs

Also released: Cieran Dunne, Will Grigg, Jack McIntyre, Kenton Richardson, Nicky Gyimah-Bio, Patrick Almond, Sam Wilding, Stephen Wearne, Tyrese Dyce, Ugonna Emenike, Vinnie Steels, Will Harris


Key Retentions

Lynden Gooch

“The Californian Messi” has worked his backside off to earn himself the offer of another contract at Sunderland AFC, despite the sniping and criticism from sections of the fanbase. Nobody puts a shift in like Gooch; he will play number 10, left back, right back, on either wing, wherever he’s required by the manager. Alex Neil seems to have put the fire back in his belly and given him the constructive feedback that he needed to improve his end product.

On occasions he frustrates, taking too many touches, but when he’s on his game he’s unplayable. The performance against Cambridge at the Stadium of Light in April was astounding; he demonstrated a Beckham-like ability to deliver quality into the box and a series of inch-perfect slid through-balls into the channel. He’s certainly a form player but has the heart to fight for the club he loves and we can be certain that he will play his part in the squad next season.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Play-Off Final Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

Patrick Roberts

He’s found his home, at last; that the club has offered him an extended deal is absolutely no surprise to anyone. Patrick Roberts is a player of true quality, pacey, skillful, and with a few tricks up his sleeve, Alex Neil has brought the best out of the former Manchester City man in the latter part of the season.

A bit like Alex Pritchard, League 1 was well below the level of a player who has played Champions League football and won trophies for Celtic, scoring that tie-winning goal against Sheffield Wednesday means he has already secured his place in the club’s history books.

A player who would not be out of place in a Premier League squad, Roberts has the potential to become a legend on Wearside if he continues to develop and we rise through the Championship with him on the wing.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Play-Off Final Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

Bailey Wright

The Australian international will turn 30 this summer and is now looking like he’s coming into his prime. Wright played in the Championship with Bristol City and was recruited as a player who could move up with us, so again, it’s little surprise that he has been offered a new deal.

Wright’s form for the club has been up and down over the last two years, largely due to a series of niggly injuries that have seen him come in and out of the side under the various managers. Now fully fit and in top form, his performances under Alex Neil have been astounding - he’s benefitted from having an experienced Championship-hardened partner alongside him in Danny Batth - and he is proving himself to be a true leader on and off the pitch.

Despite him having played 70 games for the club, we may not yet have seen the best of Mr Wright.

Shrewsbury Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images

Leon Dajaku

Promotion has reportedly triggered a clause in the deal that brought the former Stuttgart and Bayern Munchen winger to England on loan from Union Berlin, meaning the German Under 19 international is now listed as a contracted Sunderland AFC player.

He had a great start to the 2021/22 campaign under Lee Johnson, but wasn’t favoured by Alex Neil during the run-in. Four goals in 22 games isn’t a bad return for a lad who is only 21 and playing his first full senior season in a foreign country. He clearly has talent, but the coaching staff will be looking to see progression over the next 12 months if he’s to be retained in the long term.

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

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