Phil Smith's Sunderland AFC Q&A: Contract decisions, transfer latest and pre-season under the microscope

Sunderland’s pre-season campaign is nearing and as ever, Phil Smith has been answering questions from readers in his weekly Q&A.

Wednesday, 16th June 2021, 12:53 pm
Updated Wednesday, 16th June 2021, 2:10 pm

You can read his responses below on all the latest from the Stadium of Light...

What is the hold up with the out of contract players making their decisions? Surely they either want to stay and they sign, or they want to leave and they turn down the contract and we can then move on.

I think there’s probably two elements to it.

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Charlie Wyke could be set to leave Sunderland this summer

One is that, for sure, there comes a point where Sunderland will need to move on and quickly if they are unable to come to an agreement.

I think, in fairness, these situations are always going to take a bit of time because there are so many different factors involved.

The best example of that is probably Aiden McGeady

He’s given a lot to the couple over the last couple of years, playing through injury and waiving the right to a potential automatic extension in order to start in the play-offs.

All the indications are that he want to stay, but from Kristjaan Speakman’s perspective, he wants to ensure that any deal fits in with the club’s vision of long-term sustainability.

So even if all parties are starting out from a position of good faith, you can see why it might take some time to reach an agreement.

As for Charlie Wyke and Luke O’Nien, it’s widely expected that the pair will have Championship offers and you can understand the need to weigh up what is a big decision for them both.

I think the main thing there is that the club will have been aware of the possibility of a departure for a while and so hopefully should be prepared if that comes to pass.

With pre-season likely to be starting in a couple weeks should we be expecting any signings before then?

I’d expect there’d be some movement before that first pre-season game.

The pre-season schedule is going to be crucial for Johnson in terms of implementing that pressing style and getting his ideas across, so he’ll want a good chunk of his business done as early as possible.

Having said that, I think it’s inevitable given the scale of rebuilding that there’ll be some transition as we near the start of the season.

One of the positives of that, as Speakman has already hinted at, is that it should mean those early pre-season fixtures give an opportunity to the likes of Josh Hawkes and Ollie Younger to impress.

They deserve that after such a fine season in the U23 group last time out and it would be great to see them make a mark.

There's been no activity so far, should we be worried?

At this stage, I’d say not particularly.

If you look across the EFL more generally, there has been very limited activity up to this point.

In League One, very few teams have been particularly active.

There is still some uncertainty over what level of crowds will be back for the start of the season, while more generally the impact of the pandemic has had a massive impact on the market.

Wages generally are going to be coming down and so I think it’s only natural that we’re seeing a period of adjustment.

There are one or two clubs who’ve made an eye-catching start, for sure.

Wigan Athletic are clearly going to be well backed by their new ownership and have made some impressive additions, while Ipswich Town look like they’re going to be very aggressive in their recruitment.

It’ll be a tough division next year and Sunderland will have to recruit well, but I don’t think there’s any real need for panic at this stage.

It’s encouraging to me that there has been some continuity behind the scenes going into the summer, and I’m hopeful we’ll see the fruits of some proper planning in the next couple of weeks.

Are we looking at all free transfers or is there a transfer budget?

I think it will be a mix.

For example, I don’t think Sunderland have made particularly good use of the loan market since they dropped into League One and if you look for example at the way Johnson used it to his advantage at Bristol City, that seems to me to be one very obvious area for improvement.

I’d expect the club to be exploring the free agent market, and I don’t think there should be any concern around that. Jon McLaughlin was arguably the best signing the club made after relegation from the Championship and underlines the value you can get by going down that route.

I do think we will see fees spent more often than has been the case under the previous regime and I’d suggest that Ross Stewart is a bit of a blueprint for that.

The club invested to bring him in, confident that he was a player whose value they could grow over the course of his contract.

I would be amazed if there weren’t a couple more arriving in this bracket over the summer.

Kyril Louis-Dreyfus and Kristjaan Speakman have both been very clear that there will be no lavish spending this summer.

Louis-Dreyfus has stressed the significant financial impact of the pandemic, while Speakman has also spoken of the desire to promote academy talent.

Sustainability is a big word behind the scenes, so don’t expect major spending in terms of fees or wages.

I think that’s fair enough, as Sunderland have run a huge wage bill for the level but never really extracted a huge amount of value from it.

I do think, and hope, that we will see some targeted investment but expect it to be measured for the time being.

Will Sunderland pull out all the stops to sign Dion Sanderson this summer?

If he’s available, they’ll be part of the discussion.

I think that’s absolutely clear.

Sanderson made a big impression off the pitch as well as on it, and Lee Johnson never hid from the fact that he’d like to bring him back if possible.

I think there’s a chain of events that have to fall first and we’re still fairly early on in that.

One is that Sanderson, understandably, has always said that he wants to give himself every chance of making it in the Premier League with his boyhood club.

At the moment that looks a tall order, with Wolves seemingly being on the brink of signing 20-year-old centre-back Yerson Mosquera from Atletico Nacional.

It’s obviously a club in transition at the moment so it remains to be seen what the change of coach means for Sanderson.

If he is available for either loan or transfer, I’ve absolutely no doubt that there will be Championship interest.

So it then becomes about what Sanderson would see as the best option, and whether the Black Cats are in a position to compete financially.

Based on your recent survey do you generally agree with what the fans say regarding signings with pace, youth and desire. If so, what would be your three signings?

Absolutely.

I think a lack of variety has been one of the key issues for Sunderland since they dropped into this division (and actually the years before then).

They’ve recruited some good players, but by and large there has been a lack of pace through the spine of the team.

I also think they’ve lacked some creativity in midfield and that’s got to be a big priority this summer.

In terms of names, well I’m quite content with the new approach that might bring in some under-the-radar players we don’t know a great deal about.

In terms of profile and the kind of attributes needed, Dion Sanderson transformed the team with his pace and composure on the ball at the back.

I’ve always admired Scott Fraser at both MK Dons and Burton Albion, and I enjoyed watching loanees Brennan Johnson and Morgan Rogers at Lincoln City last year.

When do you think we'll find out more about pre-season and who will Sunderland likely play?

I think there’ll be more details on that fairly imminently.

Lee Johnson told us towards the end of the last campaign that they had been looking towards Scotland as potentially a good avenue for games, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a fixture or two that way.

There was a clause in the deal to sign Ross Stewart that means Sunderland are to play a friendly there at some stage over the next couple of years, so that could be one option.

I’d definitely expect more details soon.