Contract talks for Sunderland quartet set to begin as Jack Ross reveals the latest
Sunderland are having to play catch up but Jack Ross says new contracts for the club's best young talent is now top of the agenda.
Chairman Stewart Donald admitted last weekend that the complex drama with Papy Djilbodji and Didier Ndong had hampered any attempt to tie down a number of impressive academy products.
Josh Maja, George Honeyman and Lynden Gooch, who have started every league game so far this season, all see their current deals expire at the end of the campaign.
The same applies to full-back Denver Hume, who has recently broken into the senior set-up and earned high praise from Ross for his performances.
Ndong remains AWOL but with Djilobodji given notice that his contract is to be terminated, the Black Cats will look to step up their attempts to seal new deals.
“We had a meeting on Thursday afternoon about how to progress that,” Ross said.
“If you look at the different challenges we have, that’s one where we should have been able to put a plan in place quicker than we have done but it has just been impossible.
“Now you have to assess those younger players, because it has been really good that they’ve come through the academy and made positive contributions.
“We had four from the academy [against Fleetwood] and that probably hasn’t happened very often.
“Even for me as a manager, I want to build around them. Not just those four, I don’t want to have to continually turnover 15 players every year.
“You want some continuity in the group and so that’s fairly high, if not top of the agenda in terms of where we want to go next.
“It’s difficult of course to say how it will progress but we want to address it as soon as we can.”
Ross is well aware that all four will have suitors elsewhere.
The quartet will be free to speak to other clubs in January if an agreement has not been reached on a new deal by that point.
Maja is currently joint-second top scorer in League One while Gooch was nominated for the Player of the Month award in August.
Honeyman was taken on the club captaincy role after scoring eight goals last season.
Ross has not spoken to them about their individual situations but is confident that they are enjoying life on Wearside.
“I’ve not spoken to them about that matter individually, mainly because there wasn’t anything to say other than we’ll get round to it,” he said. “The communication will probably be with their representatives.
“The one thing I do know is that they’re enjoying themselves at the moment.
“You might think that they’ll always say that to me but you can always see with it your eyes.
“You can sense when you speak to them whether they’re dead behind the eyes or whether they’re engaging with you.
“I spoke to George in training on Thursday and you can see that there’s a spark there, they’re enjoying what they’re doing. They have ambitions that only they can describe.
“Whether that’s here or elsewhere I can’t say but they feel good about themselves, they’re enjoying life and football and that shouldn’t be something you turn your nose up at.
“It’s not always the case that it all comes together like that.”
Honeyman earlier this week opened up on his pride at wearing the armband this season.
“It’s been a bit surreal but I’m loving it,” he told SAFC.com. “There’s a lot of different responsibilities that you’re not always aware of when you’re just a player but for me to get the captaincy so early in my career I’m delighted.
“But it’s only half the dream at the minute, I want to be lifting some silverware for Sunderland at the end of the year so I’d die happy if I got that.
““We’ve had a great start, the amount of changes we’ve had at the club it’s never easy
“We’ve had a whole new squad of players, a new manager, new ideas, new owners, it all takes getting used to.
“For us to be unbeaten seven games into the league, it’s a great start and we would have definitely taken this at the start of the year.
“We know we’re just going to get stronger as the season goes, with more players coming back, getting more experience in the league, learning how to win games again, so I’m delighted with how we’ve started the season.”