Connor Wickham says he has “nothing to lose” after being given another chance to make the grade at Sunderland.
It is nearly three years since the Black Cats paid more than £8m for the then-18-year-old, however he still has only one Premier League goal to his name.
But an Achilles injury to Steven Fletcher earned the England Under-21 regular a reprieve which he is determined to make the most of. With no one yet established as the club’s first-choice centre-forward, Wickham has a real chance to force his way back into coach Gustavo Poyet’s plans.
“I’ve got nothing to lose,” he said after coming off the bench against Southampton in the FA Cup on Saturday. “I’ve not been playing (for Sunderland), so whatever time I get on the pitch I’ve just got to do what I’m told to do the best I can. That’s what I tried to do on Saturday.
“I’m back from my loan and I’ve been involved a couple of times so whatever minutes I get on the pitch are about proving to the manager that I should be on from the start.”
Sunderland are trying to manage Fletcher’s injury, Jozy Altidore has only scored once this season and although Ignacio Scocco has clearly been signed to address the problem long term, the Argentinian’s 68-minute appearance at the weekend was his first since November.
The FA Cup experiment with two up front was a welcome sign for Wickham, who looked lively in his cameo appearance from the bench, but was let down by poor decision-making.
Wickham’s willingness to shoot when passing was the better option, was in part a product of eight goals in 11 Sheffield Wednesday appearances. It has filled him with confidence that he can at last make his time at Sunderland a success.
“The Premier League is better than any league in the world so if I can play here that’s my main goal,” he said. “It’s down to the manager whether I’m going to be involved in the games or not. Hopefully if I’m not I can go back out on loan.
“I believe I can be a success here, it’s just a matter of getting minutes on the pitch. All I can do is try and score. I did that on Saturday and I’ll do it every game.
“I’m 21 next month so I’ve still got plenty of time in football ahead of me. I’ve got a year-and-a-half on my contract here so my main aim is to get into this team, push it forward and get us away from the bottom of the league.
“I’ve spoken to the manager and he’s just said I’m in his plans and told me what I need to do. I’ve gone in and asked what I need to do to get into the team because I don’t want to just be sitting on the bench.
“I’ve just come back from a loan spell so I’m sharp and ready. I can’t get wait to get onto the pitch and prove my worth here.”
Wickham has only started nine Premier League games in his entire Sunderland career – he has come off the bench 25 times – so his return is a mixed blessing.
“When I went on loan I was just happy to be playing games,” he admitted. “I was called back when I would have liked to have played but that hasn’t been the case. I’m back now so I can’t focus on other teams. I’m here so my job is at Sunderland right now.
“I feel there’s a real opportunity there for me. The manager’s brought in new faces and brought a new philosophy to the team and a shape he wants to play.
“It’s just down to the players who want to be in the team to do all they can to get the one space in each position. There’s competition every day in training and every weekend, so it’s down to the individuals.
“I only got 20 minutes (on Saturday) but 20 minutes is better than no minutes.
“Hopefully I will be in the gaffer’s mind for Arsenal.”