The inside track on Declan John’s loan spell at Sunderland - and why he’s yet to start under Phil Parkinson
It has been a source of perplexion among Sunderland fans since his arrival - but what is actually happening with Declan John?
A deadline day signing from Swansea City, John was brought in with the intention of challenging Denver Hume for the starting role on the left-hand side.
His signature was a much-needed one, with Hume without any real competition following the departure of Laurens De Bock on January 1.
But to date, John is yet to make the bench in League One - let alone make an appearance for Sunderland.
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So what has happened, why isn’t he featuring, and what is the feeling on John behind the scenes?
We take a look:
WHAT HAS HAPPENED SO FAR AND WHAT HAS BEEN SAID?
Phil Parkinson has frequently been asked about John’s situation, and has provided various updates on the full-back during his spell on Wearside.
Here’s what has been said - and when - on the Welsh international:
Speaking after the win over Ipswich Town, Parkinson explained why John wasn’t involved.
Having arrived late on deadline day, the full-back was ineligible for the visit to Portsmouth the previous week and so the clash with the Tractors Boys was the first time he could have featured.
“Declan is fine,” said the Sunderland boss.
“He's been fine this week in training, but Bailey [Wright] had started the week with a bit of a tight groin and I just felt I needed another centre back on the bench.
“It's unlucky for Declan that he didn't make the 18 but he kind of understood. He's fitted into the group really well and he's going to push Denver really hard for that place.”
Another Sunderland win, this time against Bristol Rovers, but another game where John wasn’t involved.
By this point, it was approaching a month since he had arrived on Wearside and the defender was still yet to make the bench.
But as Parkinson explained, it’s all a balancing act: “The scenario on the bench is that I know with an injury, I could put Conor [McLaughlin] right wing-back and Luke [O’Nien] left wing-back, or if we're chasing a game we can put Goochy there.
“So the difficulty is that defensive cover.
“Obviously if Luke got injured then Conor can play right wing-back, so we choose to have one centre back and Conor at the moment.”
Another week on, and still no opportunity for John.
He did feature in a behind-closed-doors friendly with Carlisle United, but still wasn’t handed an opportunity in League One.
After the defeat at Coventry City - in a game where Denver Hume struggled - Parkinson hinted that John was still very much on his radar.
“It's hard on Declan because he's come in and done well in training, he played well on Wednesday and he's pushing for a place.”
But the following weekend, when Gillingham visited the Stadium of Light, John still wasn’t in the squad.
If we’ve learnt anything about Parkinson from his time on Wearside, it’s that he isn’t a fan of change for change’s sake.
Regularity is the key word at the Academy of Light when it comes to both tactics and personnel.
Parkinson isn’t one to rip up his playbook when things aren’t going to plan, nor is he one to respond to clamours for change.
It’s very much a case of trusting the process - as we’ve seen when Sunderland have been chasing games, and through his persistence with Charlie Wyke as the lone striker for the majority of his reign.
And so too has Parkinson stuck with Hume. The Sunderland manager trusts the academy graduate to deliver in this system and for the most part he has delivered.
Throwing John - an untested quality in this system and this team - into the side would constitute a risk in Parkinson’s eyes.
There is also the desire to reward Hume for some impressive performances, even after some of his more difficult hours.
Speaking after the defeat to Coventry, Parkinson said: “I've got to be fair to Denver, he's had a very very good run and played well.”
But there have been no qualms over John’s attitude and application away from the pitch.
“Declan has been training well, and more importantly he has been great in and around the boys,” Parkinson has said.
“Obviously you come to a new club and you want your opportunity, but if it comes he'll be ready.”
THE DRESSING ROOM VERDICT
John’s arrival was welcomed by the dressing room - and in particular, Hume.
For much of this season he has been without serious competition, with De Bock not viewed as a natural wing-back by Parkinson.
The arrival of John, therefore, provides Hume with a much-needed rival.
“I think it’s always good to have people in the same position as you to push you on - you kind of push each other on,” he said recently.
“He’s a really good player. I’ve seen him in training and obviously he’s played at a high level, so to have that competition it’s only going to be good to drive me on.”
WHAT COMES NEXT?
John’s loan deal currently runs until the end of the 2019/20 season - which was set to conclude at the end of May - but that could now be extended in line with the rescheduled campaign.