THE MANOEUVRING in the Connor Wickham contract talks clearly continues.
A story in one of the Sunday papers last weekend indicating that Wickham was contemplating a move to the Continent next summer as the best route towards progressing his career, was evidently sourced with a purpose.
Now, Wickham may genuinely hanker for La Dolce Vita by plying his trade in Serie A, La Liga or Ligue 1.
The champagne in Marbella clearly tasted sweet during the summer.
But even the most open-minded could pour an ice-cold bucket of cynicism on the source behind the reports.
If Wickham moves abroad – and he can freely negotiate with overseas clubs from January – at the end of his Sunderland contract next summer, the Black Cats won’t receive a penny in compensation.
Nil. Nowt. Zilch.
It’s a handy piece of leverage to hover around Sunderland’s neck in attempting to maximise the offer on the table for the 21-year-old.
Leaking such stories provides a strong indication though that the two parties are still a fair few quid apart in their respective positions over a new deal.
These talks have dragged on for six months now. We’re approaching make or break time.
Despite Wickham understood to be keen to remain at the Stadium of Light, his representatives and Sunderland are thought to have been a fair way apart in their respective wage demands.
The problem for Wickham’s camp is that his strongest negotiating position has arguably been and gone.
His stock will never be higher than it was at the end of last season after his contribution towards Sunderland’s survival.
Since then, Wickham has been unable to emphatically prove that he can be a regular Premier League scorer on a consistent basis, although in fairness, the service into Sunderland’s strikers this season has generally been pathetic and he has been predominantly used out-of-position.
The £8million man’s camp may have to back-track.
However, Sunderland’s bid to extend Wickham’s deal was not helped by Poyet declaring during pre-season that the club would have to offload the frontman if he did not pen a new contract.
Jack Colback’s departure to Newcastle on a freebie was still fresh in the memory, but those close to Wickham were left disgruntled by Poyet’s comments, particularly as Sunderland hadn’t made a firm contract offer at that stage.
But while Poyet perhaps should have kept his counsel, his point was right.
If Wickham hasn’t penned a new contract by January, then Sunderland should and probably will look to sell the England Under-21 frontman, IF there’s a decent offer on the table.
It’s far better to boost the bank account with a reasonable fee then, than gamble on what they could receive from a tribunal when his contract has expired in June.
Sunderland are clearly sensitive over Wickham departing of his own accord after the Colback debacle.
Wickham’s only interviews this season have been done through club media.
It wouldn’t be great PR to see another young, prominent member of the first-team squad depart at the end of his contract, particularly after his contribution towards Sunderland’s survival last time around.
Would fans be so upset by Wickham’s departure though?
There wasn’t much sympathy for Wickham on social media after the weekend’s story, although that was probably to do with Sunderland’s current predicament than any specific impatience with the ex-Ipswich man, who struggled to make an impression at Crystal Palace on Monday.
As has happened with Steven Fletcher, public opinion on Wickham will quickly change if he starts finding the net again.
But perhaps it would be in the interests of all parties if the jostling for position ends and a resolution is finally agreed.
Sunderland want to keep a player who still has so much potential, with Jozy Altidore by far the most viable striker to be replaced in January.
And after being confined to a bit-part role, sent on loan to the Championship and stagnating with a big price tag around his neck, surely it is in Wickham’s interest to stay at a Premier League club where he is finally getting a regular game.