Jan Kirchhoff is no automatic pick for Sunderland now but they MUST offer him new contract
The whispers don't travel as well across the Atlantic as they do around Wearside, but it has all gone very quiet on Jan Kirchoff's contract situation.
During the summer, it looked a mere formality that Kirchhoff would extend his stay at the Stadium of Light and the German seemed to be equally eager to pen fresh terms after such a seismic impact to last season’s successful survival battle.
“I feel good here and I would like to stay. I think we will find a solution,” he said at the end of July.
But fast-forward four months, and Kirchhoff’s Sunderland future is still hanging in the balance.
In fact, it’s in far more jeopardy. In a month, he can formally begin talks with overseas clubs over a Bosman move at the end of the season.
Now, perhaps Kirchhoff is hedging his bets in case Sunderland are relegated – which despite recent improvement remains a vivid possibility – or perhaps the club are being cautious to hand the 26-year-old a big money deal in case of inevitable financial cuts in the Championship.
But surely, regardless of how Kirchhoff has suffered with injury problems this season, the fear of losing a player of such obvious quality and influence for nothing must trigger everyone into action.
If the former Bayern Munich man can overcome the hamstring issues which have blighted him over recent years, he is a player who can literally and figuratively tower above other Premier League midfielders.
To maximise Kirchhoff’s impact on the remainder of this season’s relegation battle, David Moyes is evidently taking an ultra cautious approach over his return to first-team action. It was telling that Seb Larsson was handed a spot on the bench at Liverpool, rather than Kirchhoff.
Sunderland need to keep Kirchhoff fit, rather than merely rush him back and cause a fresh injury. There have been far too many players sidelined with long-term problems already during this campaign.
Kirchhoff needs to restore some faith in his own body too.
There was an air of inevitability about that hamstring strain suffered in last month’s draw against Crystal Palace. His body language at the start of the season reeked of a player who feared his muscles were about to give way on him at any second.
If he can get back into his stride, then Moyes’ men will clearly reap the rewards.
However, would a fully-fit Kirchhoff be an instant inclusion in the starting XI?
Didier Ndong and Jason Denayer have been excellent together in the middle of the park. The pair hunt like a couple of wolves, constantly harassing the opposition in their attempts to nick possession.
It’s one of the reasons why Sunderland have picked themselves up off the canvas. Suddenly, it’s not so easy to benefit from the time and space, which was constantly afforded to foes at the start of the season.
Paddy McNair was of a similar breed to Ndong and Denayer and his absence for the rest of the campaign is a blow both to Moyes and particularly the ex-Manchester United midfielder, himself, after he was just beginning to find his feet in a red and white shirt.
But does that make Kirchhoff an automatic alternative for McNair’s replacement, Steven Pienaar? Not necessarily.
That may seem ludicrous after Pienaar frustrated at Liverpool, and has done throughout his short spell at Sunderland.
For all the signs of quality that the 34-year-old still shows – and there are a fair number – he also produces complete head-scratchers; the awful miss at Spurs and the rightfully punished red card at Bournemouth.
But at least Pienaar will make runs beyond the strikers and get into the penalty area. Kirchhoff won’t do that on a regular basis and neither will Ndong and Denayer.
Their natural instinct is to defend and protect, rather than attack, even if Denayer made a superb dummy run for Jermain Defoe’s goal against Hull.
For the balance of the midfield, Kirchhoff may have to bide his time in waiting to regain his place, particularly when Moyes will be loathed to take any risks in two absolutely pivotal encounters against Leicester and Swansea.
A patient, cautious approach has to be the most prudent way of ending Kirchhoff’s cycle of injuries.
But in the meantime, stuff the patience and sort out that contract.