Sam Allardyce has challenged Jeremain Lens to justify his big money price tag after proving to be underwhelming during his first six months at Sunderland.
The Dutch international clearly has talent, yet concerns over his application and work-rate have prompted him to be used primarily as a substitute under Allardyce.
There has been interest from Roma in a player who Sunderland spent an initial £8million last summer, with another £5m in potential add-ons.
But if Sunderland receive a suitable bid for Lens, should they cash-in this month and cut their losses on one of the top earners at the club?
Sunderland writers Chris Young and Richard Mennear debate the hot topic.
Richard Mennear: Sunderland need to cut their losses on Lens and reinvest cash in committed players.
Jeremain Lens clearly isn’t fully content with life at Sunderland.
Sam Allardyce hasn’t been too happy with the club’s big summer signing.
And the club’s fans aren’t best pleased with Lens’ attitude either since he arrived at the Stadium of Light.
So, with seemingly nobody happy, isn’t it best for all parties to part company?
Should Sunderland cut their losses on Lens – who cost upwards of £8million from Dynamo Kiev – or stick with him in the hope he rediscovers his early season promise and improves his workrate?
It is a big question and there is no easy answer given how much money the Black Cats invested in him.
But with the key parties far from happy, I think it would be best for the club to cash in on one of their most saleable assets this month.
Sunderland need to improve the squad. Fast.
Of that, there is no doubt.
Allardyce is going to have to be canny in his dealings this month and freeing up some funds – and wages – is going to be key.
One of either Vito Mannone or Costel Pantilimon are likely to be sold.
And Lens could find himself exiting the Academy of Light for one final time too.
A lot was expected when he signed a four-year deal in July.
But aside from an impressive debut against Doncaster Rovers in pre-season and goals against Aston Villa and West Ham United (which was stunning), he has failed to impress.
Lens was left out of Sunderland’s squad for the recent defeat at Chelsea for disciplinary reasons following an incident at the end of the loss against Watford, the Dutch international has also spent time training with the Under-21s.
He has not started for Sunderland since October’s Wear-Tyne derby but has been back on the bench over the festive period.
Allardyce has concerns about his work-rate, while Lens clearly doesn’t fit into the style of play adopted by Big Sam since he took charge.
Sunderland, in their perilous state, need everyone pulling in the same direction.
Last month Lens said: “A transfer in the winter? That could happen. Once the window is open, we will see what will happen.”
For me, Sunderland need all the help they can get so I’d try to sell him and use the money to bring in some quality, committed replacements.
Far easier said than done, though.
Chris Young: Overseas imports take time to adapt to the Premier League.
Jeremain Lens’ descent from certain starter under Dick Advocaat to sporadic substitute under Sam Allardyce is a timely lesson about the perils of changing managers.
Advocaat had reservations over Lens’ work-rate and temperament, but had no doubts that the winger was a match-winner in Sunderland’s ranks.
But Lens’ token willingness to track back, immediately concerned Allardyce, who has selected the ex-PSV man just once during his tenure.
On the evidence of Lens’ half-hearted display against Liverpool, he is not particularly happy either.
If Sunderland are offered £8m or so by Roma over the next three weeks and instantly make their money back, then clearly it’s an option which might benefit all parties.
But there are two big arguments against cutting short Lens’ Sunderland career after just six months at the Stadium of Light.
Firstly, it’s unlikely that Sunderland would be offered the chance to balance the books by making their money back on Lens.
This is a 28-year-old who is clearly unsettled, not a hot prospect with his best years ahead of him.
Perhaps the best Sunderland could get would be a loan exit until the end of the season, with a view to a permanent move in the summer.
When Allardyce badly needs funds to reinvest in the side, that’s not a great windfall.
The other reason for Sunderland to give Lens some leeway is that overseas imports invariably take time to adapt to the Premier League.
Allardyce has talked about the problem repeatedly over recent weeks when discussing Lens’ situation.
There’s an acclimatising period in realising the physical and work-rate demands of English football. It’s not like the slower pace on the Continent when attacking players can relinquish any defensive duties.
Allardyce has brought the best out of overseas imports before.
If Lens can improve his off-the-ball contribution, then he could still be a key figure for this side.