Phil Smith's Sunderland AFC Q&A: The state of play with transfers, contracts and the current squad discussed and assessed

Sunderland’s first pre-season game is now just three days away, with the Black Cats squad returning to the Academy of Light on Monday.

Wednesday, 30th June 2021, 3:00 pm

In his weekly Q&A with readers, Phil Smith has been discussing all the latest, including the significant news of a new contract for Aiden McGeady.

You can read all his answers below...

We are letting players leave but nobody is signing. What’s going on at the moment?

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Lee Johnson welcomed the Sunderland squad back to the Academy of Light this week
Lee Johnson welcomed the Sunderland squad back to the Academy of Light this week

The low numbers are obviously something of a concern but I don’t think it makes much sense to stand in the way of any departure if the player is not in the long-term plans.

George Dobson for example, is a player who featured very little under Lee Johnson and therefore was unlikely to get a lot of playing time this season.

We’ll wait and see if his departure is confirmed but I strongly expect the club have been planning to recruit a replacement for some time.

If he does move to Charlton Athletic, then that is a great move for him and testament to how he turned around his form and made a real impression at AFC Wimbledon.

Aiden McGeady’s return is a big boost and already makes the wide areas a lot stronger. You’ve now got McGeady, Diamond, Embleton, Gooch and potentially Josh Hawkes who can all compete for two or three positions, and there may well be another who comes in.

Lee Johnson has spent a lot of time speaking to potential recruits and expects there to be something of a ‘trickle’ effect over the next couple of weeks.

Hopefully McGeady’s signature is the start of that process.

What kind of team do you think we will see at Spennymoor on Saturday?

I’m expecting to see a lot of youngsters get a chance to make an impression somewhere along the course of the game.

There is of course a relatively small group of senior pros, who I would imagine will all feature: Burge, Wright, Flanagan, Winchester, Gooch, Stewart. Jack Diamond and Elliot Embleton are also very much being considered established first-team players this season and so expect them to have a prominent role.

I suspect this game might come a little too soon for Arbenit Xhemajli, but we’ll see on that one.

So you can see where the obvious gaps are, most notably in the full back and central midfield positions.

That should give opportunities to Ollie Younger and Dan Neil, while I also expect Ellis Taylor and Josh Hawkes to get chances right across pre-season.

Given the squad is currently threadbare and the need to manage minutes so early on in the programme, I wouldn’t be surprised if on this occasion we see a few more of the U23 group for next season involved.

The other players who were offered contracts are out of contract today so when will we hear what is happening with them?

Those weighing up offers can re-sign for the club at any time, so it isn’t necessarily cause for concern if we don’t hear today that they have also agreed new deals.

They are of course free to speak to other clubs, but that has been the case for a while anyway.

Clearly, it’s not ideal that there still hasn’t been a resolution and Lee Johnson will be eager not to lose any more time in terms of the pre-season programme.

That Aiden McGeady is now officially on board is very clearly a big boost.

Sunderland are going to bring the average age of their squad down this summer and to balance that out with real experience and proven quality is massive.

McGeady has shown his commitment to getting this team promoted on a number of occasions and it can only be a good thing for Johnson that he has signed up.

And should it be the case that any of the other players do decide to go elsewhere (and the expectation pretty much from day one has been that Charlie Wyke would leave), you would expect there has been enough time now to do proper contingency planning.

Kristjaan Speakman spoke after the season of hoping that it would be a ‘quick process’, so the fact that pre-season has begun without answers in three cases is not ideal.

The sooner it is sorted, the better for all parties.

But if that’s not today, then that does not necessarily mean it’s the end of their time on Wearside.

Do you think we can still hit the ground running, despite it being largely quiet on the transfer and contract front?

I don’t think it’s too late for Sunderland to get themselves in a position where they can hit the ground running.

Pre-season is only a few days old and the way they’ve structured their programme, there are plenty of games close to the start of the season for new arrivals to get game time.

If, for example, you were to get one or two of those out of contract players signed up on top of McGeady over the next week, then you have a decent core of your XI in the building from early on, and with a good basic understanding of what the manager wants already.

When you factor in that Embleton and Diamond are going to be key players next year, and that the likes of Dan Neil and Josh Hawkes could join them if they impress, then it doesn’t look quite so threadbare.

Yes, there will still be some key positions where the club needs to strengthen but that is by and large the case for every club.

WIthout a doubt, the speed with which Sunderland announced their retained list in the aftermath of the season raised hopes that incoming recruitment would begin swiftly.

And as I’ve said earlier, it’s clearly not ideal to be starting pre-season with so much to be sorted, and some concern is understandable when we don’t yet have a chance to gauge what kind of players are going to be brought in.

Hopefully there’ll be movement on that soon and we can start to look towards the new campaign with some optimism.

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