Why Sunderland are in a strong position should Rangers step up their interest in Ross Stewart

At some stage, Sunderland will sell a key player.

By Phil Smith
Tuesday, 14th June 2022, 1:00 pm

The club is determined to move long term to sustainability and to put it bluntly, outside the Premier League that is not possible without raising funds.

Attracting a better calibre of player over time will require a bigger budget, and the income from making a significant profit on players will be a crucial part of that process.

The question at the moment is whether the first player in this process will be Ross Stewart and whether the time will be this summer.

Stewart's outstanding campaign, which ended with a vital goal at Wembley and a richly-deserved international debut, has undoubtedly drawn attention.

Rangers are one of a number of clubs who have scouted him regularly, and the potential attraction there is obvious. Competing for trophies, playing in Europe, and likely improving his Scotland credentials along the way. There are also a number of English clubs who have been tracking the 25-year-old's rapid progress on Wearside.

Sunderland's stance is clear. They do not want to sell, and intend to reward the Scot's form with a new, improved long-term contract.

Sporting Director Kristjaan Speakman told The Echo that this was not just about protecting the club's asset, but part of his broader plan to incentivise high-level performance over a period of time. Stewart is one of a number of players who will be offered fresh terms before the Championship campaign begins.

Ross Stewart scores for Sunderland at Wembley

Talks are thought to have tentatively begun earlier this season, but were shelved to focus on the push for promotion.

Sunderland's hand is now significantly stronger, as there would have been a queue of second-tier clubs ready to test the Black Cats had they fallen short. There likely still will be, but the club can now offer the chance to test himself at a higher level in an environment he knows well.

For both club and player, it would surely make sense to build on the momentum for at least another campaign.

Sunderland's position should Stewart opt not to sign a new deal at this stage is also a lot stronger than it appears at first glance.

Stewart has one year left on the contract he signed when arriving from Ross County in January 2020, which clearly leaves the Black Cats vulnerable as it stands.

However, the club also negotiated a clause which allows them to automatically extend that deal for a further year if they so desire.

While clearly the hope is that Stewart commits his future long beyond just next season, they know they have that protection if talks do not for whatever reason reach a successful resolution in the short term.

It means that if any club does firm up their interest in the coming weeks, the power is with Sunderland when it comes to transfer fee.

First and foremost, you suspect the first port of call for Stewart is to rest. It has been an immensely demanding campaign, in which he started every league game before his recent Nations League appearances.

His stock has never been higher, but Sunderland will hope it will rise even further on Wearside.