GUS POYET has outlined his plans for Connor Wickham’s development in sit-down talks with the Sunderland striker.
Wickham has spent much of the season out-of-position on the left flank, yet has shown a marked improvement over the last three games, culminating in an excellent display in last weekend’s goalless draw against Chelsea.
The 21-year-old ideally wants to play in a central role, while his long-term future at the Stadium of Light remains firmly in the balance with talks to extend the contract which expires at the end of the season yet to reach a successful conclusion after six months of negotiations.
But Poyet hopes that Wickham is more settled after holding private discussions with the England Under-21 international, and believes that is one factor in the upturn in his performances.
The Sunderland boss told the Echo: “I think there’s been two or three things that he’s really changed (over recent games).
“There was one of the games when he was very static. We talked to him because we don’t want him to play wide and just stay there.
“There was another situation where we reminded him of his link-up with Fletch (Steven Fletcher) during the summer.
“And then it’s been down to himself.
“We had a great chat about football together, only him and me.
“We talked about everything involving football – the future, decisions, everything that is going to happen this year.
“I think that made him understand things a bit better and he took that as a great option, rather than a problem that he wants to play in the middle.
“More people than you imagine are talking about Connor.
“People from all over the world are saying ‘mamma mia, that number 10. He’s massive, powerful’.
“I thought at the end against Chelsea he was tired, very tired. But I think (Branislav) Ivanovic was even more tired.
“It was a great game to challenge himself against one of the top defenders in England and I think he proved to himself how good he is.
“He needs to maintain that because he’s so young.
“He’s old in experience because he’s been here for so long, but players don’t achieve their maximum until 25-26.”
Poyet admits that Wickham’s contract situation inevitably cropped up in their discussions and he gave his recommendations to the former Ipswich Town man, the subject of a failed £5million bid from West Ham during the summer.
But Poyet has continued to largely stay out of the negotiations on Wickham’s future, with sporting director Lee Congerton still leading the ongoing contract talks.
“Yes, of course we talked about the contract, my opinion, his opinion and the situation,” added Poyet, due to hold a meeting with Congerton tomorrow morning.
“But that has been dealt with by Lee.
“I try not to get involved in the financial side.
“First, I don’t like it and secondly, if you know everything and there’s a problem, it influences you, without a doubt.
“I don’t want that. If he’s under contract, fit, playing well, then the rest doesn’t matter.
“I would like him to do the same and let his people deal with it.”