Charlie Wyke to Wigan Athletic: How it happened, Sunderland's next steps and what it could mean for Will Grigg

If the reaction to the departure of the striker who last became the first striker since Kevin Phillips to score 30 in a campaign seems a little mixed, then perhaps that reflects the curious dynamics of Charlie Wyke's Sunderland career.

Wednesday, 7th July 2021, 12:45 pm

Recruited in the summer of 2018, his time on Wearside had three distinct chapters.

The first was that opening campaign, blighted by injuries that prevented him making any serious impression. Though he scored on his debut, the decision to push him back from injury proved premature.

The second, under Phil Parkinson, saw Wyke prove effective if not prolific, but in a style that fans generally found difficult to warm to.

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Charlie Wyke scores one of his 31 goals from last season
Charlie Wyke scores one of his 31 goals from last season

When the goals finally did flow, and with quite remarkable regularity, fans were shut out from grounds. It was a strange, surreal campaign, and one in which Wyke's exploits couldn't get the rapturous reception they deserved.

Without doubt, his departure leaves Sunderland with a major rebuilding operation.

Wigan's readiness to commit significant resources to land Wyke shows both the rarity and importance of a player capable of scoring 20+ goals in a season. Wyke showed last season that he is above else an excellent poacher, who will thrive of good delivery from wide areas.

The Black Cats are now without their top four goalscorers last season, and Wyke was by a significant distance their most prolific player.

At the same time, there has been acceptance long before the end of last season that were Sunderland to be successful in the long term, they would need to diversify their often too-predictable attack.

Wyke's departure will accelerate the club's change in style, but leaes them with a major recruitment challenge in the short term.

We take a closer look at some of the key questions...

WHAT HAPPENED?

It was notable that when Sunderland released their retained list in May, Wyke was placed in a different category to the other three players the club were seeking to sign to new deals.

While they had been offered a contract, the club were merely 'continuing discussions' with Wyke and his representatives.

That was a reflection of the early expectation from all sides that the striker would seek a new opportunity. When he said his post-season goodbyes at the Academy of Light, most were left with the overwhelming sense that he was not likely to return.

The reasons for that were fairly clear.

With 31 goals under his belt, his stock was never higher and at 28, it was a prime opportunity to land a major contract.

Sunderland, meanwhile, had been making it clear both publicly and privately that there would be no lavish spending under Kyril Louis-Dreyfus.

Johnson had even spoken about operating on a slightly reduced budget for the upcoming campaign, albeit from a high level.

Discussions continued, with Sunderland 'leaving the door ajar'.

Despite the interest from Championship clubs, the Black Cats noted that it was the second tier, where wage bills have been running dangerously high for some time, that had been hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic.

There remained, then, an element of doubt as to whether interest would lead to a concrete offer.

Ultimately, Wyke's move to Wigan is a reflection of the altered financial dynamic this summer. Bolstered significantly by summer takeovers, both the Latics and Ipswich Town have made ambitious moves in the market.

Ipswich were considered a strong early contender for Wyke's signature, with Wyke revealing this morning that Leam Richardson's side had moved into strong contention last month.

In the end, Wigan offered the kind of contract most sources had ultimately expected the striker to secure this summer, even if the destination would have come as a surprise.

Finances, though, were only one part of the move.

From the beginning of the summer the feeling behind the scenes was that Wyke was also open to a new opportunity, after three years of highs and lows on Wearside.

With that new ownership and an experienced new squad coming together, Wigan offered a very different challenge.

With Sunderland moving in a new direction and set for a significant overhaul under Louis-Dreyfus, a departure had for some time felt inevitable even if the Black Cats were open to agreeing a new deal.

WILL SUNDERLAND REPLACE HIM DIRECTLY?

The expectation is that Sunderland will bolster their forward line again before the end of the window, but Johnson was keen to stress on Saturday that planning for Wyke's possible departure began in January with the arrival of Ross Stewart.

Stewart needed time to get over some niggling injuries after his arrival, but showed the athleticism that Sunderland rated so highly towards the end of the season and looked in good order in the club's first pre-season outing.

The Black Cats have high hopes for the forward this season.

"You have to plan for every eventuality," Johnson said.

"In fact, that already started with signing Ross Stewart in January.

"They're different players, styles, but they have some similar attributes.

"And in fairness, he's not really been fully, fully fit for us yet and so this pre-season is very important."

Johnson also noted that the Black Cats also have Aiden O'Brien and Will Grigg under contract, and that will have some impact on what happens between now and the end of the window.

Sunderland have established potential targets but the scale of business they do will likely depend on what happens with Grigg in particular.

SO WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR WILL GRIGG?

One of the surprise elements of Wigan's swoop for Wyke is that it looks to have taken them out of the running for a player who had been expected to be one of their main summer targets.

Wigan already have Will Keane and Callum Lang on their books, and so Wyke's arrival leaves them well stocked in the final third.

Grigg would represent another significant investment when they still have other areas of the squad that are seemingly in need of more pressing attention.

Wigan, of course, are far from the only suitors for Grigg's signature.

MK Dons, where Grigg enjoyed a successful loan spell in the second half of last season, remain very keen on a deal and boss Russell Martin has been in regular dialogue with the striker over the summer.

On Saturday, Johnson suggested that the decision would largely be Grigg's.

That, of course, was only partially true and any deal will be dependent on all parties arriving at a financial solution that suits the Black Cats.

As has been the case in the last two windows, there remains some element of doubt of whether a League One club can manage that.

Johnson's point was that as far as he is concerned, the door is still open for Grigg.

The Black Cats boss says he rates the player, and the 30-year-old impressed against Spennymoor Town despite an early miss from close range. Grigg looked sharp, linked up with team-mates well and would have had two assists if Stewart and O'Brien had been able to convert good openings the striker forged.

It would still come as a considerable surprise were Grigg to remain at the club beyond the end of this transfer window, but Saturday served as a reminder that the situation remains fluid.

Johnson said: "Whether Will stays remains to be seen, but he's here at the moment and we think he's a good player. We like him as a player.

"Obviously, that isn't always the key thing in term of whether a player wants to stay or not."

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