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Speakman Speaks: Reaction as Sunderland’s Sporting Director gives a club progress update

We react as Sunderland’s Sporting Director Kristjaan Speakman gives updates on Ross Stewart’s contract situation, the possibility of Ellis Simms returning, Amad’s recall clause, and the January transfer window.

Could Amad be recalled?

The short answer: yes, but it’s unlikely.

Erik Ten Hag virtually confirmed the other day that he doesn’t intend to bring Amad back from his loan spell on Wearside early, and when asked about the possibility of that happening, Speakman gave a calm response on the situation to Oscar Chamberlain.

He said:

Manchester United have an option on that up to a certain date.

All the feedback from them so far has been that they’re just delighted with how it’s gone for him here and how we’ve treated him, how he’s performed.

He’s come off the back of a loan which was generally accepted wasn’t as successful for him, so I’m sure that Man United fully respect the fact that it’s a really good sweet spot that he’s in at the minute, and everything at the minute is geared up for him to stay with us until the end of the season.

I just wish Everton had thought about their situation with Ellis Simms with as much clarity, but I digress - it was a minor fear, but a fear all the same, and barring some seriously unlucky injury issues at Old Trafford I think we can be safe in the knowledge that Amad will remain for us until the end of the season - hopefully by which point he’s fired us to the Premier League.

Sunderland v Millwall - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

The January window

Speakman’s take on the upcoming window was an interesting one.

Whilst he acknowledged that the current playing squad is, on balance, a very good blend of talented youth and respected experience, it could be tough to convince players to come in and break into that mix because they aren’t necessarily guaranteed to walk straight in to a team that’s currently winning a lot of games and doesn’t need an awful lot of fixing.

It wasn’t something I’ve previously considered, but I have to say I agree with him - when you’re speaking particularly with loan players who have a number of options, they’re likely to choose the one that is going to guarantee them the most amount of playing time out on the pitch.

That said, part of me thinks we’re probably better off without those players anyway - I want lads here who back themselves to steal the shirts of their teammates. I want more characters like Luke O’Nien, Amad and Ross Stewart to be added into the mix. What use are talented individuals if they don’t fully buy in to what the club is about and can’t see the benefit in working harder than their competitors in the squad for a place on the pitch?

Speakman used the words “quality, not quantity” - words that won’t surprise anyone, given we’re all fully aware that major surgery isn’t required. We need a handful of talented individuals to improve what we already have, thus allowing one or two to leave and find regular football elsewhere. Well-run clubs don’t need to make lots of changes in January, and I think that on the whole we’re in a good position going into this one - strikers aside.

Sunderland v Blackburn Rovers - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Rossco “100% committed” to Sunderland

The most pressing issue on the minds of most Sunderland supporters is the future of our best player, Ross Stewart.

The Scotland striker’s current deal is up in the summer but luckily for us, the club have an automatic one year extension clause that they can trigger - so effectively, he’s ours for at least the next year and a half.

I have to be honest, his contract isn’t something that’s concerning me overly right now. I know why people want it sorted and I too would prefer if he was tied down to something longer term, but the timing of some of the stories in the press right now (and infact, some of the journalists who the stories are being fed to) are curious.

Speakman, publicly at least, seems as calm as I am about it all and admits that whilst we’re still not close to a resolution, the club are working very hard on convincing him to sign up - and in turn, Stewart himself is very committed to the club.

Firstly, it’s important to say we’re really dedicated and being proactive [in] trying to get Ross to sign a new contract.

Everyone here is geared up to make that happen and we feel that’s the right outcome.

Certainly, if you look on the pitch his performances and desire to get back from injury show he’s one hundred percent committed to Sunderland.

So at the present time, that’s where the negotiations sit.

I don’t think that should be anything that should worry supporters.

I’d like to think that our track record since we’ve been at the club has been something that the fans can trust. At the present time we’ve got talented players who are contracted for a substantial period of time, which fully protects the club.

There are one or two players who are coming to the end of their natural contract this summer, and they’ve got certain clauses in there which mean they roll over into the next year.

So from our perspective, we feel really comfortable with the position, but we also want to try and make sure that when we’ve got high profile players like Ross that we get them tied down for the appropriate amount of time.

Blackpool v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

The door is open for Simms

To lose your second top scorer through no fault of your own is a huge blow, regardless of whether or not we’re capable of getting on with it and moving on.

When Ellis Simms was recalled early from his loan here by Everton, it certainly threw me off - and going by Speakman’s statement upon the 21-year-old’s departure, it feels as though he wasn’t quite expecting it either.

He’s back on Merseyside now as a Premier League player, but things could change and Speakman certainly hinted that the door is still open for Simms if things work themselves out come the end of the transfer window:

When you’ve got loan players in your squad, you have to have contingencies to ensure that if things like Ellis going back to Everton occur, then you’re in a good spot.

We’ve had those contingency plans in operation for the first half of the season, and what we’ve got to try and do is make the right choices to try to ensure we have as strong a squad as we went into January when we come out of it, if not stronger.

Its obviously disappointing. Ellis really really enjoyed his time with us. Speaking to him when he left, it was strange because he was bitterly disappointed to be going back, but he was also going back to participate in a Premier League team.

For him we are really really pleased because he came to Sunderland when he had options to go elsewhere. He’s really bought into everything about Sunderland, and he’s enjoyed our behind the scenes work to try and develop his game and try to improve it.

I think he respects that.

If there’s an opportunity for Ellis to come back then that’s something we’re open to.

The situation at Everton where by he’s played means that, through the two club rule, he can only play for us or Everton moving forward. So, it could be an interesting conversation at some point in January on whether that’s a possibility.

I’m a little bit torn on this one, but at least having the option of bringing Ellis back towards the end of the window would be nice.

In the meantime we have to try and bring someone else in as soon as possible, and if we’re lucky it may even be a striker who can offer us a little bit more up there than Simms did.

Tony Mowbray admitted that he was hoping to see some progress on that front over the next few days, but we’ll just have to wait and see - the fact we only have Ross Stewart currently as an out-and-out striking option is a little daunting, particularly since we saw what happened when he got injured earlier in the season and we had to do without a proper forward for a large chunk of the campaign.

Everton FC v Brighton & Hove Albion - Premier League Photo by Emma Simpson/Everton FC via Getty Images

Very happy with the start to the season

There can’t be many Sunderland supporters out there who aren’t happy with how Sunderland have taken to life in the Championship - and how, despite a series of setbacks, the club continued to progress throughout 2022, something echoed by Speakman during the interview.

He was keen to praise Tony Mowbray and his staff for steadying the ship and keeping us moving in the right direction, and it’s not until you sit and think about the last year or so that you realise just how far we’ve come.

Oscar Chamberlain reminded Speakman that it was under a year ago that we lost 6-0 away at Bolton Wanderers in League One - the team that day was managed by Lee Johnson, and Mowbray is the third permanent manager we’ve had in the last calendar year.

We’ve tried to get some good reflection moments, but I think ultimately everyone is just really, really proud of the work that’s gone on.

You have to admit that despite the various changes in manager, we haven’t skipped a beat - from gaining promotion to significantly strengthening the squad over the last two windows, sustaining ourselves in the Championship and improving the style of football, it’s been a very impressive twelve months at the club - perhaps surprising even Speakman himself just how quickly we’ve kicked on.


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