Reflecting on what comes next for Sunderland and Will Grigg after striker's candid comments

COMMENT: After Will Grigg’s honest assessment of life on Wearside so far, Phil Smith ponders how things could develop into the summer and beyond

Thursday, 25th June 2020, 4:22 pm
Updated Thursday, 25th June 2020, 4:23 pm

It is unusual to see a player speak so candidly about their current club but when it comes to Will Grigg, given everything that has been said in the last twelve months, you can't help but think, why on earth shouldn't he have his say?

In a wide-ranging interview with The Athletic, Grigg admits that while he has not watched Sunderland 'Til I Die, he is well aware of the noise surrounding it.

Through no fault of his own, Grigg has been one of the most talked about footballers outside of the Premier League.

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Will Grigg's Sunderland future remains uncertain

On Wearside, too, he is a player who has attracted more comment than most.

Part of this is an inevitable reflection of the fact that as he candidly admits, the move thus far has not worked and that he’s not been able to produce his best.

Part of it, though, is that the move from Wigan Athletic has come to represent something else entirely.

Those panicked decisions made late on deadline day, out of an Oxfordshire office, have come to symbolise the muddled communication, structure and lack of long-term planning that many believe define Madrox's tenure at the club so far.

Quite rightly, the deal has been heavily scrutinised and criticism levelled at those who put it in place.

But as Grigg has rightly stated, none of that has much to do with him.

The question now is where he and Sunderland go from here.

Sunderland had been open to sanctioning a departure in January, but having spent such a significant sum a year previous, there was a reluctance to allow a move to a League One rival when it was clear that such a deal would not be financially advantageous.

Even if it was not working on Wearside, Grigg's track record spoke for itself and no one doubted his ability to score crucial goals elsewhere.

The risk far outweighed the reward.

Will that situation change this summer?

It does not seem like a question that will easily be answered.

Few clubs, if any, will be operating on a bigger budget as the impact of coronavirus continues to take hold.

Sunderland, without a doubt, will be more likely to accept his departure ahead of a new season, particularly at a time when any revenue raised could potentially be key in reinvesting in the squad.

The great unknown is whether that inevitable divide can be breached.

Grigg has been candid in his assessment of life under Phil Parkinson so far and in truth, it is hard to quibble with any of it.

The opening weeks of Parkinson's tenure saw a team badly struggling to adapt to a new style, and Grigg was not the only who looked ill-suited to the task at hand.

Marc McNulty was another who struggled in a difficult period and there were issues right throughout the spine of the team.

Could the situation improve in the future, if no satisfactory suitor is found?

Sunderland certainly look more at ease in the 3-4-3 system, with the more aggressive wing-backs Parkinson recently favoured allowing the side to play with a lot more width and intent.

Lynden Gooch and Chris Maguire were playing for much of 2020 with the kind of quality that should theoretically create more chances for a striker such as Grigg.

It's also true that Grigg's best performance in a Sunderland shirt came under Parkinson, when he delivered a high-class performance in a thumping win over Tranmere Rovers that raised hopes of a revival.

The Northern Ireland international got on the scoresheet but what was most notable was the overall impact he had on the game, making good runs and often dropping deep to link up attacks.

It was a stark and welcome difference from so many of the games previous, when he cut an isolated figure with so few attacking players buzzing around him.

Yet the evidence of Parkinson's tenure so far strongly suggests that he will continue to favour Charlie Wyke.

The Black Cats boss regularly praised Grigg, and quite genuinely so, for his efforts in training and his professionalism around the Academy of Light.

Even in the long periods where first-team football was limited for the striker, there were few suggestions of any discord or animosity behind the scenes.

The arrival of Kyle Lafferty, however, and his subsequent rise in the pecking order, underlined that the manager's preferred style of striker is one comfortable playing with back to goal.

Yes, stretching the play and turning defenders is important, and Parkinson's backroom staff have made a point of working with Wyke on this, but physicality seems to remain key.

18 months on from his arrival, Sunderland remain a side who do not seem suited to Grigg's skills.

There have been missteps along the way, including that missed chance against Blackpool. It is perhaps a little too simplistic but even now, you wonder whether things might have different in the weeks that followed had that close-range effort gone in.

Grigg's signing was a roll of the dice from Sunderland's chairman and so far, it has yielded disappointment for player and for club.

It is hard not to sympathise with Grigg, who could never have imagined the kind of storm that would come his unwittingly central role in a Netflix documentary.

If he has not reached the level that he has capable of on Wearside, then there have been many reasons for it.

The way forward for all still seems unclear.

You can read Grigg’s full interview with The Athletic here.