The talented Sunderland youngster who has divided opinion and looks to be heading for a summer exit

The growing sense is that football may never quite be the same again.

Sunday, 5th April 2020, 3:00 pm

In the short and long term, clubs are facing immense uncertainty and one of the thorniest issues is inevitably going to be surrounding player contracts.

Particularly if the season, as now seems certain, runs into July.

It is not just at first team level that big decisions are being made, however.

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Benji Kimpioka celebrates a crucial Sunderland goal

Academies are planning for future campaigns after their own leagues were suspended, and there could yet be a curious dynamic if a host of promising young players are released, particularly from Premier League academies, when clubs further down are still trying to finish their senior camaigns.

One of many considerations in this unprecedented time.

Sunderland’s work in terms of general future planning already well underway.

The decision has already been made to overhaul the vast majority of the U18 squad, and some key calls will have to be made in the U23 set-up, too.

The one that will be most interesting to watch unfold will be that of Benji Kimpioka.

It emerged this week that Kimpioka has been training with his old club IK Sirius during the postponement.

In itself, that reveals little.

Kimpioka had travelled home in light of the COVID-19 outbreak and with restrictions in Sweden significantly less severe than in the UK, it gives the youngster the opportunity to keep fit and active.

The development means little in terms of his Sunderland future but it certainly seems the case that Kimpioka is heading towards the exit at Sunderland.

Though for a moment it looked as if the impasse surrounding a new contract could be broken towards the end of last year, it now seems as far away as ever.

Towards the end of Jack Ross’ tenure, KImpioka’s Sunderland career was drifting.

He had made an impression during the Scot’s first season, unpredictable and often frustrating, but a livewire and often impressive figure in the club’s run to the Checkatrade Trophy final.

Ross knew there was a vast amount of work to be done of Kimpioka’s tactical understanding of the game, but it was obvious that the Swede had a raw talent that could not be ignored.

Kimpioka’s future, in its own way, became affected by the controversial departure of Josh Maja, back in the headlines this week due to the release of Sunderland ‘Til I Die season two.

Stung by how that had developed, Chairman Stewart Donald vowed to ensure that Kimpioka was not winding a contract down (he had 18 months left at this stage) while his profile was potentially growing.

By April, though, little progress had been made and Donald said he would not be part of the first team squad until the matter was resolved.

Ross played down those comments, and Kimpioka was part of his squad during pre-season.

Here, though, a telling dynamic emerged.

Kimpioka remained a talent but Elliot Embleton had returned from loan a more experienced and mature player.

He began to take on a prominent role in the squad and became a genuine attacking option for Ross.

Kimpioka’s chances became increasingly limited and the situation came to a head in September.

Kimpioka’s agent told Roker Report that the forward would only sign a new contract if it was guaranteed that he would be considered a first-team player, and that he had no interest in going out on loan or playing in the U23s.

Ross’ response was withering.

He said a ‘very good’ offer was on the table, and that Kimpioka would have to prove himself on the pitch to be considered a first-team player.

Kimpioka’s career on Wearside looked as good as over when a couple of weeks later, U23 striker Lee Connelly was selected in the squad ahead of him for a Trophy game.

His agent’s comments had gone down extremely poorly but key to his exile was the backroom staff’s belief that his performances in the U23s were not that of a player banging on the door to be considered a League One regular.

Yes, there were some showings of his ability and talent, but it was certainly not week in, week out.

The change of manager brought a fresh start and though Kimpioka struggled when given an important opportunity to impress against Leicester City U21s, his crucial equaliser against Coventry City opened the door.

Phil Parkinson said he was working closely with the Swede to try and improve his efficiency in games and it looked as if he was making progress.

Crucially, though, when discussing his future after that equaliser, Kimpioka remained coy.

He said he would like to stay at the club, but it was equally clear that little progress had been made.

Since then, not much has changed.

The injury situation improved significantly and Parkinson was able to strengthen his options by bringing in Antoine Semenyo.

In the interim, Kimpioka has not even been a regular in the U23 side and though Parkinson had looked to loan him out in the January window, there was little in the way of developments.

Fundamentally, the distance between the two parties at the heart of this impasse has not altered.

There is no disputing Kimpioka’s talent but Sunderland remain unconvinced that he is ready to be considered a regular squad player.

Kimpioka and his camp clearly believe the time for regular, senior football is now.

In truth, there has to this date not been a great amount in a red-and-white shirt to back that up, and so at this stage it seems as if a parting of ways is on the cards.

It’s only when we can see what comes next that we’ll know for sure who was right.