Vito Mannone has urged Gustavo Poyet to keep as much of Sunderland’s squad as possible intact to avoid another “crazy” campaign of Premier League brinkmanship.
An incredible finale saw the Black Cats preserve their top-flight status for a seventh consecutive season.
But with 13 players not due back, it could again be a totally different group of players which meets up for pre-season. Keeper Mannone hopes that can be avoided. “I hope that we can keep as many bodies together as possible,” said one of the success stories of a season he started a reserve.
“If it was up to me, we would keep as many of this season’s players as we can, and then go from there.
“We can add some more quality players, and I am sure the gaffer will be looking at that. But it is going to be difficult because we could find ourselves losing some important people and that would be a real shame. I hope it doesn’t happen.
“We are happy with what we have done, but it is just a base and we have to make sure we build from it next season. Hopefully, we will be able to do that with the players who were so crucial to our survival.”
Fabio Borini, Marcos Alonso,Santiago Vergini, Ki Sung-Yeung and Ondrej Celustka are on loan, while Sebastian Larsson, Jack Colback, Phil Bardsley, Keiren Westwood, Andrea Dossena, Oscar Ustari, Craig Gardner and Carlos Cuellar are out of contract this summer, with Sunderland unable to agree new deals with those they wanted to keep until they knew what league they would be playing in.
Cuellar took to social media yesterday to say his goodbyes.
Such uncertainty has become a fact of life at the Stadium of Light, but just one draining season of it has been enough for Mannone, who is eager to see the cycle of bust and bust broken.
“We can’t do this every year,” said the Italian, who joined on a free transfer last summer. “You don’t want a heart attack every season!
“We need to grow as a team and a club, and growing means keeping this team and staff together and trying to build something together. We know we can play some nice football with these players, although we also know that we have to improve again.
“I’ve never experienced anything like the last few months. It has been crazy. But that’s what makes you love football. You have to take a lot of pride and enjoyment from what has happened because in the end, we did something incredible.”
Mannone was one of 14 signings made last summer – plus five more in January – and another overhaul is on the cards.
Sunderland were denied a six-match unbeaten finish to the season by their after-the-Lord-Mayor’s-Show defeat to Swansea City.
“It was a difficult afternoon, but it was always going to be,” Mannone reflected. “It was difficult to get our minds into the game really. If I’m honest, we were flat and possibly we were still enjoying ourselves because of the survival. That is normal.
“It has been really tough lately with all the tension, but we could relax a little bit more in the last few days. We wanted to finish well, but unfortunately we didn’t. But I think the fans will still take the Great Escape with them.
“There have been a few key moments. Even though we lost the game, Everton at home was an important match because we played really well and it showed what we were capable of.
“From that point onwards, we gave ourselves a chance. We told ourselves that we just had to go out and give it our best, and that is what we did.
“We made a great achievement and deserve to be in the Premier League next season, although we will have to start better and do a better job than we have managed this season.”