What Sunderland have said about Josh Hawkes' future amid summer transfer speculation
Sunderland want to give Josh Hawkes a chance to force his way into the first team during the pre-season campaign, despite reports linking him with a summer exit.
Ipswich Town are the latest club to be linked with a move for the 22-year-old, who is also said to be of interest to a number of Premier League clubs.
The 22-year-old has enjoyed a superb campaign in the U23 side this season, scoring 14 goals and adding seven assists.
He signed a two-year deal following his departure from Hartlepool United and has trained regularly with the senior group over the course of the campaign.
Though first-team chances have been limited, Sporting Director Kristjaan Speakman said last month that Hawkes would get his chance when the players return for the 2021/22 campaign.
"Josh's performances with goals and assists has been really, really good," Speakman told the Sunderland club podcast.
"He's right up there in both charts. A player at his age now, he needs to be able to come into the first-team environment. He's trained an awful lot with the first-team.
"He's not quite managed to squeeze himself onto the starting XI, which speaks probably more about the quality in the team than to say Josh has fallen short. Myself and Lee are watching almost all the games, Josh has performed really really well and he'll be in the first-team squad for pre-season.
"Every player is different and what we've tried to do is structure it so that he's been across training with the first-team quite a lot and he understands what the requirement is.
"Naturally there's going to be a reshuffle of the squad in the summer and pre-season provides those players with a great opportunity to get involved in the games and perform.
"That's the next step he needs to take."
For his part, head coach Lee Johnson has said that the forward's summer programme will be key to boosting his chances for the new campaign.
"I’ve had a great chat with him about his summer, because he hasn’t quite got that physical maturation yet at senior level to be able to from the start,” Johnson said earlier this year.
"I’m not saying he wouldn’t be able to from the bench – to go and dominate an opponent technically, which he can, tactically, which naturally he’s got a little bit to do, but physically I think is the key for him.
"If we can and he can fast-track that physical maturation by the right food, the right sports science programme and a summer – I think pre-season he comes in with a clean slate on everybody else knowing that he’s got that man’s frame now.
"I think that’s something that is quite exciting about somebody like Josh.
"We know he has got that ability to be able to turn a game on its head.”
Oliver Younger is another play likely to be handed pre-season opportunities as Sunderland rebuild their squad, after his own superb U23 for this season was rewarded with a one-year contract extension.