Gustavo Poyet could gamble on letting nearly a third of his Sunderland squad’s contracts run down this season – because their perilous league position leaves him with no choice.
Jack Colback, Keiren Westwood, Phil Bardsley, Carlos Cuellar, Andrea Dossena, Craig Gardner, Seb Larsson, David Vaughan, and Ji Dong-won will be able to leave for free in the summer unless they agree new contracts first.
The Black Cats will be open to offers for Gardner, Vaughan and Ji in January, but the threat of relegation makes tying down those they want to keep more difficult. Some will be playing against Norwich City this afternoon.
“We are managing this situation, although it is not easy,” Poyet admitted. “It’s not easy for the player firstly. They want to know their futures as soon as possible. Can we commit now to most of those players? No, we cannot. We don’t know where we are going to be.
“It’s no secret. It’s all about priorities. As a manager, I have priorities, but the players have them as they would have to commit for three or four years.
“There are some clubs where they will put a player under pressure to sign 18 months from the end of his contract or they won’t play anymore.
“I’m a manager who believes if you sign for three years you play for three years and we use you to the last minute of the last game. Then if you’re free, you’re free.
“I believe and I trust professionals and I will go to the last minute this season with the team I think is the best. If that includes players who will be out of contract, that’s fine. Regardless of
whether we go down or stay up, I trust the players every day. I’m convinced they will all be committed to the cause regardless of their contract situation. You can see if a player is still committed or not – and if I have any doubts he won’t play.
“As it stands, I have had no problems at all.” Even with generous parachute payments to cushion the blow, the financial gulf between the Premier League and the Championship is potentially ruinous. Colback, Bardsley, Dossena and Larsson have played important roles under Poyet (pictured right).
Westwood started his reign as first-choice goalkeeper only to suffer a head injury quickly followed by a shoulder problem which may need surgery. Vaughan is on loan at Nottingham Forest until the end of next month, while Borussia Dortmund have been linked with Ji after having a £5m summer bid rejected. Ji’s only Premier League start this season came at Crystal Palace in August.
He was substituted at half-time.
With Poyet keen to add new faces in January, there could be pressure to sell. Forest have also been linked with Connor Wickham, another on loan in the Championship, scoring five goals in seven Sheffield Wednesday appearances. Director of football Roberto De Fanti brought 14 new players in last summer, but the £20m cost was covered by outgoings. Chairman Ellis Short must now decide whether to sanction spending in the New Year which will come back to bite the club if they are relegated, but could improve their chances of avoiding it.
The club will this afternoon observe its annual tradition of a period of silence in memory of fans, ex-players and club officials who died in 2013.