Phil Smith's tour diary: Sunderland to face former David Moyes flop so what next for the last survivors of the Premier League era?

The departures of Lee Cattermole and Donald Love before this trip to Portugal brought Sunderland very close to the end of the era.

By Phil Smith
Saturday, 20 July, 2019, 16:45
Duncan Watmore goes close against Benfica B on Thursday night

Now, only a couple of players remain who played in the Premier League.

George Honeyman is one, but by the time he really emerged Sunderland’s fate was secured and it felt like a nod to the future even then.

Duncan Watmore is another.

Head of Recruitment Tony Coton’s trip to a ‘speed-dating’ event at Stamford Bridge has set tongues wagging as the New York Times reported that the club were looking to offload their Premier League players.

So is Watmore’s departure likely?

It doesn’t seem so. Sunderland’s ‘one in, one out’ policy suggests any bid would be considered.

He has one year left on his deal, but between now and then will want to prove he can put together a long run of games, whether that secures his future at Sunderland or elsewhere.

Yes, he will be a very good earner at this level, but not an exorbitant one it’s hard to think of a player with less of an ego. There is no issue with team dynamic there and he has attributes that Jack Ross has been desperate to get into his side.

In pre-season he has looked sharp and ready to make an impact. The inside forwards Sunderland are playing in their 3-4-3 at the moment look perfectly suited to his skills, making the most of his energy to press and giving him the freedom to disrupt and run into space.

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His body still needs to be very carefully managed and that process continues, with some missed games inevitable. But all the signs in Portugal are that his Sunderland story has another chapter or two to run yet, and there would be no more enjoyable sight than him thiving this year. He remains one of the most popular and engaging characters you will find in football.

Bryan Oviedo, though, is likely to be something of a headache for Ross.

His attitude and professionalism has never been questioned but his wages are a severe burden for the club and he is not due back for pre-season until next Thursday after his involvement in the Gold Cup.

As such, he is missing out on crucial time on the training pitch as Sunderland try out new systems, build their style of play for the season and bond as a group.

Ross wants Denver Hume to be his number one and though no fault of Oviedo’s, a solution must be a very high priority for the club.

When it comes, it truly will feel like the end of an era, one that we will be reminded of tonight should Mika play for OS Belenenses.

Of all the bizarre Premier League signings, that was right up there. Granted, Sunderland had injury worries in goal at the time, but the frenzy of that deal and the drama of that deadline day felt surreal given the absolute lack of match action that followed.

Since leaving Wearside, Mika has made just four senior league appearances, though he did enough last year to earn another contract at a side that compete well in the top division, and will provide a stern test tonight.