MARTIN O’Neill will seek clear-the-air talks with Kieran Richardson when Sunderland return for the start of pre-season this week.
Richardson’s future is shrouded in doubt as he enters the final year of his contract, with a batch of interested Premier League clubs monitoring the availability of a player who is the longest serving in the current squad.
After five years on Wearside the player is understood to have expressed doubts about his Black Cats career in private towards the end of last season and Sunderland blocked a move for him in January.
Arsenal expressed an interest in him, but O’Neill needed experienced players in the second half of last season and, to his credit, he continued to turn in consistent performances in a variety of positions.
But his future is far from certain now.
Everton, West Brom and Premier League newcomers West Ham and Reading are all ready to offer him a new start away from the North East – and Sunderland’s hand would be considerably weaker if Richardson reaffirms his desire to leave this week.
But O’Neill is keeping an open mind about the player’s future, and would ideally like to keep him at the Stadium of Light if possible. He will seek to clarify
Richardson’s intentions on Wednesday, when the majority of the first-team squad report back.
Former Manchester United midfielder Richardson has filled in at left-back, left midfield and central midfield over the last couple of seasons and that versatility makes him a valuable asset to O’Neill, who has no appetite for the kind of complete overhaul that Steve Bruce oversaw last summer. Ideally, he would prefer to add just three or four pedigree performers and the loss of Richardson, who would not command much of a fee in the final year of his contract, would be a setback. Sunderland are back at work this week and will only have one new face among their ranks, former Aston Villa defender Carlos Cuellar.
O’Neill is happy to bide his time on other targets, fully aware that Wolves will try to extract the maximum possible amount for Black Cats targets Matt Jarvis and striker Stephen Fletcher.
Sunderland also like Blackburn’s Stephen Nzonzi and Manchester City’s England international Adam Johnson, although they know that particular chase is likely to go right to the wire. But talk of Junior Hoilett coming to Sunderland appears fanciful, with the winger currently casting around for the best possible deal.
He was on the verge of moving to Germany, but a deal fell through on wage grounds, and with Sunderland looking to rein in their spending it would be a surprise if they were to offer the sort of package that the Canadian winger is looking for.