Everything the key players have said about Jon McLaughlin's contract impasse and what comes next
In Sunderland’s modern history, there have not been too many seasons where the goalkeeper has been a problem position.
A number of cult heroes have emerged between the posts and it is one of the few areas where the club have consistently recruited well.
Of course, that was turned on its head dramatically in the 2017/18 season as Sunderland were relegated to League One, but the arrival of Jon McLaughlin steadied the ship.
This season, they look in safe hands again.
Lee Burge has impressed, and his excellent display against Accrington Stanley in the Carabao Cup caught the eye.
Just days later, though, McLaughlin underlined his importance with a commanding display against Portsmouth.
Afterwards, Jack Ross hailed him as the best goalkeeper in the league. Ross is not one for hyperbole and very few would quibble with his statement.
The Scot is a major part of the club’s plans going forward, but a slight unease is growing that his contractual situation remains unresolved.
So what’s been said and is it a cause for concern?
Here, we look through everything the key players have said, before assessing what is likely to happen next and why a positive resolution still seems likely….
What the player has said….
“I want to stay – I've said that from the start,” McLaughlin said, speaking days after the opening day draw with Oxford.
“Myself and my family are very happy here, we saw the potential and that's why we came here in the first place.
“Last year was a setback of course in the long term plan but it doesn’t derail everything you imagine is possible with a club like this, it [just] sets it back one year as far as getting to the Championship is concerned.
“But as I've said and the manager has said, we have to wait for the owner and the powers that be to come to us because I have a year left on my contract at the moment, and until I get offered another contract there is nothing that we can do.
“You can't sign something that's not there so we just have to wait until the club conclude their other business and get everything else sorted before they come to the contracted players.
“But, yes, from my point of view I'm happy and it will be great if I could come to some agreement, but I have to wait for them to come to me.”
McLaughlin went on to say that an initial discussion between the club and his agent had not yielded a concrete offer.
The Scot is eager to resolve his future but the above comments reflected his awareness that the club still has business to conclude in the transfer window, and subsequent revelations regarding a potential change in ownership structure add further context.
He also stressed that this was not an issue so early in the season and pointed out that he was no different not just to most players in the squad, but also in the division.
“At the moment we haven't had any more contact and in the meantime it's not a problem because I'm a contracted player and we get on with the job,” he said.
“If they come to us we will start talking but for now everybody is in the same boat, because I think there's only Aiden McGeady who has extended his contract.
“Everybody else is still on the same contract they were on last season so I'm no different to those players.”
What the Chairman said…
Speaking to the Roker Rapport podcast, Stewart Donald gave his view on why that initial discussion did not lead to an offer, and where it goes next.
Supporters will have been encouraged that Donald intends to put this high on the club’s agenda and that he is ‘very confident’ it will be sorted.
“We’re talking to Jon next week,” he said.
“I had that conversation yesterday and said we’ll just tidy up this transfer window but we’re pretty confident on where we’re going with that now.
“Jon wants to stay, I’m certain of that, we want him to stay so we need a sensible starting point for the negotiation.
“I don’t think we got in a position when the negotiation first started that was particularly sensible. Jon is probably one of the best-paid goalies in the league so when you renegotiate that you know he probably deserves a bit more money and a longer-term deal but for that you expect to be protected if somebody comes in. You don’t do a deal that says this person gets loads more money and then can go for free and I think his agent didn’t quite start the negotiation off right.
“We’ve said, ‘Let’s sit down and just start that bit again.’
“Football contracts sometimes aren’t as straight forward as you’d like them to be but ultimately where there’s a will there’s normally a way.
“If he is sensible financially and we are sensible financially I’m sure we’ll extend his contract. I’m very confident.”
What the manager has said….
Jack Ross gave his view on the situation on Monday, and was eager to stress why there was no ‘real panic’.
He wants it sorted and keen to ensure the situation does not develop as Josh Maja’s did last season. As such, he was eager to point out what a low maintenance, high-quality professional McLaughlin is.
Crucially, he also made clear that he does not expect McLaughlin’s demands to ultimately be a problem.
“I’ve been consistent that I want to keep him at the club as long as we can otherwise I’ve got to go out and find another goalkeeper as good,” he said.
“Things had stalled, not through Jon’s fault, it was for a variety of reasons.
“My wish is that they are kickstarted and that we find an agreement.
“He wants to stay, he’s made that clear to me. He has a year to go on his contract so really, there’s no panic.
“We just want to keep good players at the club and my ask is that the negotiations start properly and we go from there, and my understanding is that they will.
“I’ve said often enough, Jon is low maintenance as a player and he’s not demanding,” he added.
“The way negotiations take place between representatives is not always a fair indication of a player’s thoughts. I know people believe it should be but from Jon’s point of view, he should certianly be immune from any potential criticism because I can’t speak highly enough of his professionalism and also his want to stay here for the right reasons.”
What comes next….
That there is a firm resolution on all three sides to secure an agreement bodes well.
Yes, the same may well have been said about Josh Maja this time last year, and McLaughlin has used the market exceptionally well in his career so far.
One of the most level-headed operators you could ever find in the game, he has consistently made smart decisions that have seen him continue to build his reputation as a consistent performer.
Free transfers to Burton and Hearts have gradually enhanced his stock. Make no mistake, there would be suitors at a higher level come next summer.
His determination to stay and climb through the divisions with Sunderland, though, is obvious.
Early last season, he spoke effusively of the size of the club and the environment. He said then that his time here could well be the pinnacle of his career and on that front, nothing has changed.
Shortly before the Checkatrade Trophy final last year, he spoke about the unique opportunity winning promotion with Sunderland would offer, should they achieve it. Not only would he be able to test himself again at the next level, but he would be doing so at automatically one of the biggest clubs in that division.
He will want to make that step up but without a doubt, wants to do it with Sunderland.
So as it stands, an extension on Wearside is the best option for him.
From the club’s perspective, there are a couple of factors at play.
One is that there are clearly very significant issues to sort. Above all else potential new investment, but also the closing stages of a transfer window in which Jack Ross badly needs cover at left-back.
Contracts are not quite as pressing and McLaughlin showed typical humility in pointing out that on front, he is no different to anyone else.
That’s the reality of life in the lower leagues.
Donald, though, also admitted in his podcast appearance that he does regret moving late to secure Maja’s future last season.
There are a couple of players he will surely want to tie down sooner rather than later.
Luke O’Nien you would expect to be one, and McLaughlin is clearly another.
As it stands, there is nothing to suggest that can’t be sorted.
Above all else, what we can say with absolute certainty is that however this develops, McLaughlin will continue to be an exceptionally dependable operator, on and off the pitch.