CONNOR WICKHAM will reach his peak during the duration of his new Sunderland contract, insists Gus Poyet.
Sunderland splashed out £8million to bring Wickham from Championship club Ipswich Town as an 18-year-old in the summer of 2011, but it wasn’t until his pivotal contribution towards the Black Cats’ survival last season that he began to provide some payback on that investment.
Wickham has gone on to start all but one of Sunderland’s Premier League fixtures this season, with the club agreeing a new four-year deal with the England Under-21 frontman this week.
Sunderland boss Poyet has been delighted by Wickham’s progress over recent months, despite the striker spending much of the campaign out-of-position on the left.
But he believes there is far more to come from Wickham after stressing how easy it is to overlook that he is still only 21.
Poyet said: “When you sign a player that young, for that amount of money, we forget the age.
“That’s the problem.
“We think that everything is done, but there is always something to improve.
“He’s only 21. It’s not like he’s 27.
“There’s still another five or six years to get to his best moment.
“When you are 25 to 27, you are still young enough to run around and experienced enough to know the game.
“Imagine in four years time what he can do.
“He doesn’t stop learning.
“When I arrived here one year ago, I don’t think he was in a position to play against (Branislav) Ivanovic like he did the other day against Chelsea.
“That progress, understanding, power and belief to compete that way with Ivanovic wasn’t there yet.
“He will get better, so I was very pleased when they called me to say he was signing the contract.”
Poyet held sit-down talks with Wickham last month to outline his plans for the frontman’s development and how he could make an impact even if he was used in a wide role.
The head coach believes that helped in the contract talks with Wickham, who now feels an integral part of proceedings at the Stadium of Light after the fringe role during his early Sunderland career.
“Connor came to see me and we had a meeting to talk about plenty of things involving football,” added the former Brighton boss.
“We talked about the reasons why he was playing there (on the left) what I needed from him and what he liked and didn’t.
“It was impressive how he took all that and changed a little bit.
“We want the opposition to be thinking ‘OK, they’ve got Connor Wickham’ and that takes time.
“Now he feels like he’s a Sunderland player and a Premier League player, and I don’t think he had that feeling before.
“I think he will become an even more important player for us.”
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