Lee Johnson has clear message on Jordan Willis' Sunderland future as he discusses how he'll replace influential defender
Lee Johnson says he sees a long-term future for Jordan Willis at Sunderland after the centre-half was ruled out for the remainder of the current campaign.
Willis has ruptured his patellar tendon and is set to undergo surgery imminently.
The 26-year-old has been managing tendonitis for over a year and Sunderland’s head coach is hopeful that he will now get the treatment he needs to make a full recovery.
Willis was signed in the summer of 2019 in what was publicly announced as a two-year deal.
It was not confirmed at the time whether player or club had the option of an extension, but Johnson is clear that either way, the player can have a future on Wearside once he has made his recovery.
Any future negotiations would be the remit of Sporting Director Kristjaan Speakman.
“I see Jordan as a good player for us for the future,” Johnson said.
“Anything is possible but obviously in the short term the main thing is to support him in the proper way, get him the best possible treatment and give himself the best possible chance of coming back in top nick.
“I'm more than happy for him to stay and see him as a really good player in both leagues [League One & Championship], simple as that.
“I rate him really highly,” he added.
“In one sense, this was probably going to happen at some point and the operation was probably needed.
“Jordan has coped with really well I think and was fantastic in terms of, almost soon as he'd done it, saying 'OK, this happened, I've got a comeback trail now'.
“It's something like 96% who have this come back and continue and continue really well, so the odds are in his favour due to the modern techniques and modern medicine.”
Johnson now faces a challenge in managing his defence through the rest of the season without arguably its most consistent performer, and certainly its most athletic.
The head coach said he would ‘look at everything’ when asked about bringing in additional cover, but has been clear that he is reluctant to expand his squad further unless absolutely necessary.
Johnson will weigh up a change to his usual Sunderland system but says he has plenty of options to help deal with the absence of Willis.
"[Tom] Flanagan will be back soon and of course Dion [Sanderson] can play that role,” Johnson said.
“Oliver Younger could step up, I think.
“Luke O'Nien has done well when playing in a three, though I haven't seen him in a two. I have to decide whether to flex the system, which I didn't really have an intention of doing, or to continue down the path [we're on]. I do think you've got to put round pegs in round holes as much as possible. We haven't always been able to do that.
“I do trust Oliver Younger, he's a great kid. I obviously haven't seen him enough in games, but in terms of training performance and his personality, he's been really impressive.
“He's injured at the moment but it's just a little knock, he should be training next week.”