The difficult conversations looming for Tony Mowbray at Sunderland as he explains where Trai Hume stands
Tony Mowbray is talking about a difficult conversation that is inevitably looming at Sunderland.
"It's exactly that," he says, explaining why Aji Alese's form has allowed him to be extra cautious in bringing Dennis Cirkin back into the fold after his recent hamstring injury.
Cirkin will be in the squad when Blackpool visit the Stadium of Light but it will almost certainly be from the bench.
For now, Mowbray is focused on getting through a punishing October schedule but Cirkin's return means he can't help but think a little about the longer term, about how his team might begin to look when new signings have settled and injured players return.
Alese and Cirkin may be one of his first difficult conversations but particularly in defence, he knows there are going to be quite a few.
"Dennis will understand that, we don't need to rush him back because Aji is doing exceptionally well," Mowbray said.
"I try not to propel too far forward but sometimes you do and I'm thinking.. when Dennis is fit, when Dan Ballard is fit... what does the team look like? We've got Danny Batth, Bailey Wright, Luke who is doing well.
"It's only positive in my mind but you know there are going to be some difficult conversations there.
"If you're trying to become a top team and club with good players all over the pitch, that's what you need. Can Dan Ballard displace Danny Batth, for example? Let's see, and of course you're always going to have injuries and suspension. But there's going to be a lot to think about, will Aji be a left back or is Dennis going to play there? Is Luke O'Nien going to challenge again at right back in a few months? I don't need to think about any of this too much right now but it'll come.
"The thought of having Cirkin and Aji though is really positive for me, Cirkin was fantastic before he picked up his injury and Aji has done exactly what you want someone to come in and do. He's made it very difficult for me.
"You absolutely can play Aji and Dennis together - but the two centre-halves at the moment have done really well so it's not easy to shift them. So if you're on the outside right now you have to be patient."
One of those players is Trai Hume, who found himself out of the matchday squad on Saturday following Bailey Wright's return.
Hume has impressed behind the scenes on Wearside since his arrival in Linfield in January, but the form of Lynden Gooch has meant that up until this point chances have been limited.
Mowbray has urged Hume to remain patient with Sunderland's current back four in impressive form. Should Ballard return as expected after the World Cup break and the situation remains largely unchanged, a loan move in January could be a possibility.
In a long chat with the defender on Sunday, however, the head coach reminded him how quickly things can change in football, and that if the chance comes he has to be ready for it.
After all, it's not so long that Alese's path to the first team was uncertain with Cirkin in such impressive form. Right now he looks indispensable.
"I had a long conversation with Trai Hume yesterday, he didn't make the 18 the other day and I can sense his disappointment because he's done nothing wrong, he's working really hard and he's just been away playing international football," Mowbray said. "He looks good to me in training, but I can't get him on the bench.
"So we had a cup of tea, and I'm very conscious not to give manager-spiel, I learned that as a young footballer. He feels at the moment as if he can't see his chance but that's football, it's a competition within a competition. When your chance comes, you have to be ready. Then it's the other guy moaning because he can't get back in, and I'm telling that player, well Trai has four clean sheets and three assists etc.
"And if the player in front of you doesn't get injured and he's playing well, then maybe you knock on my door in January and tell me you want to get out and play. Then we'll assess it and it'll be up to the player and the club, I'm player-orientated as a manager and I want what's best for them.
"That's just me trying to explain how it works with an example, you have to make sure the players can see your logic, and then it's up to them to keep working hard."
Mowbray is also being handed a longer-term dilemma by Luke O'Nien, who is not only performing well at centre-half but thriving.
"The main thing with Luke is the competitive edge that the kid brings," Mowbray said.
"He wants to win at everything he does. We'll be doing some little relay sprints in groups today and he will want his team to win, and he'll be emotional about it. He plays the same and that's why it is very easy for me to understand why different managers have played him in a lot of different positions, because he will bring you that competitive edge and total commitment wherever you put him.
"Right now, he is bringing me an athleticism around Danny Batth, who is there to win his headers and dominate. Luke has those legs and that athleticism, and the balance with Aji the other side is good.
"I would say that Luke O'Nien has been a pleasant surprise for me, in terms of the physicality and drive he's brought for us. That's helped us get the job done."