What next for Jon McLaughlin, Chris Maguire and the Sunderland players facing uncertain short and long-term futures

Jon McLaughlin spoke earlier this week of the uncertainty footballers across the country are facing as clubs try to assess what will happen both to the current campaign and the next one.
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In a dramatic appearance before the DCMS committee earlier this week, EFL Chairman Rick Parry estimated that there are 1,400 players whose contract will expire on June 30th.

All are facing an uncertain future in both the short and long term.

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At Sunderland, there are 12 players, including loanees, currently wondering what lies on the horizon.

Jon McLaughlin is out of contract at the end of next monthJon McLaughlin is out of contract at the end of next month
Jon McLaughlin is out of contract at the end of next month

For most, the fate of this season, and whether or not Sunderland landed promotion, was always likely to be key.

The COVID-19 crisis makes these decisions even more complex as clubs reassess their budgets.

McLaughlin’s situation, of course, has been somewhat different.

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After talks initially took place, Stewart Donald publicly criticised the Scot’s agent, who he suggested had been ‘unrealistic’.

Despite vowing to return to the issue, and having stated earlier in the summer that such a key asset would not be sold due to his importance, McLaughlin confirmed in January that subsequent talks had not taken place.

With clubs across the country, including in the division above, on red alert, Sunderland risk losing one of their best and most valuable players on the open market for free.

McLaughlin remains keen to stay, and has also candidly admitted that at the moment, it is impossible to know what might be on offer from other clubs.

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What may have been lucrative offers from elsewhere could now look very different.

Conversely, clubs may now be placing an even greater emphasis on payers in the division below whose contracts have expired, rather than paying significant transfer fees.

These are the questions that both clubs and players will be weighing up….

What’s the short-term situation for Sunderland’s twelve?

The first question for Sunderland’s twelve players is on what terms they will or will not be asked to complete the current season.

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There remains significant doubt as to whether the 2019/20 season will resume, with Parry’s evidence this week highlighting the scale of the challenges to overcome.

When even Coventry City, dominant at the top of League, are suggesting that it could be over, then the direction of travel is clear.

The view in the game is increasingly that the Premier League and Championship could play to a finish, while Leagues One or Two come to an early conclusion.

However, the government’s statement on Sunday is likely to be key, with any decisions then made next week.

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If the season does resume, it is clear that games will have to be played throughout the month of July, and that is where the EFL have been attempting to draw up resolutions for those who will see their deals expire before that point.

A number of clubs throughout the pyramid have expressed the view that as players released are given severance pay for the month of July, they could be expected to play on.

The EFL do not object to this, but they have raised some concern over the practicalities of this approach and clearly, it is also dependent on support from the players themselves.

The key question is whether they would be prepared to potentially risk endangering future contracts by playing for a club they know they could well be leaving.

As such, the EFL have proposed some other measures.

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Most notably, one that if enforced, would set a June 23 deadline for clubs to offer players either a new long-term contract or a short-term extension, which would then expire on the new end-date for the season.

This is preferable to FIFA’s proposal of a blanket extension for a couple of reasons.

One, the legal implications are less significant as players would be free to leave should they choose to do so.

They can sign with a new club from June 23rd, but would not be able to play until any new campaign begins.

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It is also a better solution for clubs who may be unwilling to commit to paying significant salaries during a challenging time (and is especially key for those facing almost certain relegation), particularly if they are playing behind closed doors.

There have been concerns raised about the potential impact on the integrity of the competition if this approach is taken, with many clubs potentially turning to significant numbers of young players for the final games.

Of course, this issue has already been fiercely debated this season, when Bolton Wanderers were forced to do exactly that to fulfill their fixtures in the opening weeks.

No decisions have been taken yet, and would likely only be done so if clubs do take the decision to try and resume.

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Sunderland’s situation is slightly more complex as well, given that the club does have the option to extend some of their deals for a further year.

The clause in Luke O’Nien’s deal is believed to have been activated earlier this year, while there is a similar option on Chris Maguire’s deal.

In terms of loans, it is another area where there is uncertainty.

Deals are likely to be extended to the new end date of any campaign, but across the pyramid, some clubs are taking the decision to let their loanees return early.

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Whether Sunderland decide to take that route remains to be seen.

Though Antoine Semenyo and Declan John have made little impression so far, they still remain important options in the case of injury and if the season does resume, fixture congestion could make their contributions key.

Similarly, there will be some level of uncertainty surrounding Jack Baldwin and Aiden McGeady, both currently out on loan until the end of the campaign.

What about the long-term picture for the twelve?

Before the current postponement of league fixtures, Phil Parkinson had said that it was unlikely that any decisions would be made on contracts until Sunderland knew what division they would find themselves in for next season.

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At this stage, an early postponement to the campaign would seem certain to mean a third season in League One.

It is difficult to see how any of the ‘sporting merit’ solutions that could be implemented would result in the Black Cats winning promotion, unless an extended version of the play-offs was played.

For now, Sunderland and new CEO Jim Rodwell have been working on two potential playing budgets, one for League One and one for the Championship.

What is clear is that the current crisis and the financial implications it brings will have significant consequences.

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That will be especially true if next season was to start behind closed doors, which many clubs believe to now be almost inevitable.

Rodwell has already stated his belief that playing budgets are going to be reduced across the board right throughout the three divisions, and it is clear that player wages are going to suffer.

Some have privately predicted that wage offers could decline by as much as a quarter from last summer, a process that could be accelerated if clubs, as expected, vote to introduce a salary cap.

This would have significant ramifications for Sunderland, whose wage bill will currently tower above any likely cap.

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Sunderland’s belief before the lockdown was that retaining the likes of Josh Scowen and Bailey Wright would almost certainly be significantly easier if Sunderland were to win promotion.

That will remain the case, but right across, the board, one of the most interesting aspects of the summer will be how the market looks for these players.

Will the declining budgets bring them into the range that Sunderland could do business in?

Or will, as we have discussed in the case of McLaughlin, the need to cut costs mean that experienced players available on a free are suddenly a far more appealing prospect to Championship clubs?

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That could define the futures of many, particularly the likes of Joel Lynch and Duncan Watmore.

Similarly, what of talented prospects like Ethan Robson?

With his gametime limited, a summer departure looked if not probably then certainly possible.

Could the changing financial landscape necessitate a rethink?

By this time next week, it seems certain that the short-term future will look far clearer for both the club and its players.

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Parkinson will no doubt have in mind the decision he will look to take with each player, depending on what division he is looking ahead to.

What happens next will then be defined both by market forces, and the cost controls that seem certain to be implemented by the EFL in the coming weeks and months.

Only time will tell where Sunderland will fit into that landscape.

The twelve players set to leave as it stands…

Bailey Wright

Declan John

Antoine Semenyo

Jon McLaughlin

Joel Lynch

Tom Flanagan

Alim Ozturk

Ethan Robson

Josh Scowen

Chris Maguire

Kyle Lafferty

Duncan Watmore