Richard Mennear: Determining Jeremain Lens’ future key priority for new Sunderland boss

Jeremain Lens celebrates scoring at Watford last year.
Jeremain Lens celebrates scoring at Watford last year.
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It could be a touch frosty at the Academy of Light this week when one of the Sunderland players returns to training.

Outcast Jeremain Lens sparked controversy last season when he appeared to suggest it would be easier for him to sort his future out if the club was relegated.

As we all know, that sadly became the reality with Sunderland falling out of the Premier League in dismal fashion after a decade at the top table.

While Sunderland’s fate was sealed in convincing fashion, Lens’ future remains very much up in the air.

He wasn’t part of the squad that travelled to Austria at the weekend for a five-day training camp.

There was nothing untoward about that, though, the Dutch winger had simply been given some extra time off after his international commitments at the end of last season.

John O’Shea and Didier Ndong were also afforded more time with the trio due back at the Academy of Light this week.

Lens took to Instagram this week to post a picture of him in Sunderland training gear from last pre-season with the caption ‘Almost that pre-season time again’.

How long he remains a Sunderland player is one of the big talking points.

Sunderland have already cashed in on Jordan Pickford to the tune of £30million, while Jermain Defoe has joined Bournemouth and Fabio Borini landed himself a great move to AC Milan.

More departures are expected in the coming weeks as Sunderland adjust to life in the Championship and new boss Simon Grayson moulds his own squad in his style.

It would be no surprise to see Lamine Kone, Wahbi Khazri and Lens depart Wearside before the curtain raiser against Derby County at the Stadium of Light on August 4.

There is strong interest in Lens, especially from Turkey after his very successful loan spell at Fenerbahce last season.

Fenerbahce want him back, Besiktas president Fikret Orman has already confirmed his club’s interest while Feyenoord have also been heavily linked.

Whether those clubs can come up with a financial package that suits Sunderland - and Lens - remains the big sticking point.

Sunderland will want to recoup the majority of the £9million they paid Dynamo Kiev for the Dutch international under Dick Advocaat but with relegation comes the realisation that Sunderland are not in a strong bargaining sense when it comes to selling their players.

Though, the club did well to secure a deal worth up to £30million for Pickford, who has a huge future ahead of him.

Lens’ future clearly isn’t at Sunderland having previously made it clear his future lies elsewhere.

He promised a great deal when he arrived but his performances in a red and white shirt often frustrated, flitting in and out of games.

Four goals in 23 games for Sunderland in 2015-16 before featuring in two games at the start of last season before moving to Turkey on loan.

No doubt there is a player of high quality in there but the 29-year-old didn’t show it enough.

When asked about his future at Fenerbahce earlier this year, Lens was quoted in the Turkish press as saying: “I hope I could get a signature that will allow me to stay here. I do not want to talk about my contract, but many things will be easier if Sunderland drop down. Let’s wait and see.”

His comments infuriated then Sunderland boss David Moyes who blasted: “I think it’s disgracefully disrespectful to the club who hold his registration.”

Lens returns to Sunderland this week. For how long remains to be seen.

Determining his future will be high on Grayson’s ‘To Do’ list but his departure from Wearside seems inevitable.