What we learned from Sunderland's retained list and the big recruitment clues already dropped

It always felt like it would be a significant moment and Sunderland's retained list proved to be exactly that.

Wednesday, 26th May 2021, 4:45 pm

Telling not just in the decisions made, but in its decisiveness.

It had been broadly expected that Sunderland would offer new deals to Denver Hume, Luke O'Nien, Aiden McGeady and Charlie Wyke.

The former two of that quartet are players who have performed well and still have significant room for improvement.

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Sunderland head coach Lee Johnson

For a club where long-term sustainability and developing players is central to the plan moving forward, retaining both (should they decide they wish to stay) is an obvious move.

McGeady and Wyke have been the key attacking players for the Black Cats since Lee Johnson arrived and so unsurprisingly, the head coach was keen to keep them as he looks to strike a balance between overhauling the squad and maintaining some of its best talent.

It will be up to Kristjaan Speakman to try and reach terms that suit all parties and particularly in the case of Wyke, it looks like being a major battle.

The 31-goal striker is known to have significant interest from the Championship and behind the scenes, there is an expectation that such an opportunity may prove too enticing to pass up at this stage.

Sporting Director Kristjaan Speakman

Beyond that, the question was to what extent the club would look to make a break with the previous three seasons, where Sunderland have run close to achieving their goal of promotion but have always fallen short at the crucial moment.

The answer was swift, coming just three days after the club's campaign ended.

And it was clear, with every other player released (Lee Burge had triggered an option to extend his option for another year).

In an instant, it was made abundantly obvious that this will indeed be a transformative summer on Wearside.

There are only twelve senior players currently under contract for next season, and two of those, Will Grigg and George Dobson, seem likely to leave after loans were sanctioned in January.

The transition may not end there; with a strong sense that there is an openness to further upheaval even beyond those already departing.

With Kyril Louis-Dreyfus giving his strong backing to Lee Johnson on Wednesday, the shape of what comes next is a little clearer.

Johnson has already said that the club will look to recruit to a 4-3-3 formation, or at least a variation of it.

After the 1-1 draw with Hull City in April he said, "I think that’s always the preferred shape.

"I haven’t always been able to play that, but it’s what we’ll recruit to – a six, an eight and a ten.

"Sometimes, you play with two eights or two sixes and a ten, to whatever. But that version of 4-3-3 is what we’re well suited to.

"For whatever reason, sometimes this season we haven’t been able to do that. Mainly, it’s because we have five centre-halves out injured!"

More important than the system is the style and after the semi-final defeat to Lincoln City, Johnson gave his clearest insight yet on what is to come, citing the high-pressing of the first half at the Stadium of Light as the key to the club's vision moving forward.

"We definitely need players who can play at a high-intensity," he said.

"Robust players who can play at that tempo and don't get injured, and the footballing ability as well.

"We've got a great academy and a chance to develop those players.

"We want more and more of them and we've got to supplement them with top players at this level. The size of the club gives us the chance to draw those players in and anyone watching today would see that this could be a really powerful beast.

"Straight away we've got to start."

Player profiles for each position have been drawn up by Speakman, and will form the basis of head of recruitment Stuart Harvey's search.

The clear move is to bring down the average age of Sunderland's squad, and to make it both more dynamic and aggressive.

It did not feel coincidental that in those remarks on recruitment, he cited the way Lincoln City had used the loan system to build an agile, dangerous squad.

None of this will come as a surprise to anyone who has listened to Johnson over the last couple of months. On the eve of that second leg, he spoke of his biggest disappointment so far being the inconsistency of the 'pitch personality' shown by his players. In short, his criticism was that too many players were not being brave enough often enough, particularly in possession.

The gaps where Sunderland need to recruit to make that high-intensity style are obvious.

Some business will clearly depend on what those offered contracts decide to do next but either way, Sunderland need at least three full backs and even more specifically, full backs

capable of adding to the team's attacking threat from deep.

Even more pressing is the situation in central midfield.In releasing Grant Leadbitter, Max Power and Josh Scowen, Sunderland are losing three players with 152 appearances between them last season.

Dion Sanderson will need replacing at centre back and a player who matches his pace and composure in possession is a necessity.

There is a need, too, to add at least one new member to the club's goalkeeping group.

Sunderland's new regime have pledged to be bold and their decisiveness at this first step of a pivotal summer will hopefully point towards plans firmly in place.

Now the hard work begins.

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