Contract negotiations on hold until Sunderland's top-flight fate is known (From The Advertiser Series)
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Contract negotiations on hold until Sunderland's top-flight fate is known
SUNDERLAND boss Gus Poyet admits he cannot start negotiating new contracts with his players until he knows what division the club will be playing in next season.
Poyet has inherited a squad containing eight players whose contract is due to expire next summer and a further three who are only on Wearside on loan.
The likes of Keiren Westwood, Carlos Cuellar, Phil Bardsley, Craig Gardner, Jack Colback and Sebastian Larsson are all due to become free agents at the end of the season, while Ondrej Celustka, Ki Sung-Yueng and Fabio Borini are expected to return to their parent clubs.
In an ideal world, Poyet would use the January transfer window to begin negotiations over new deals, enabling him to sell any players who refused to commit to an extended stay on Wearside.
However, with his side perilously placed at the foot of the Premier League table, the Uruguayan will have to continue operating in a state of flux until Sunderland's top-flight fate is known.
“We are managing this situation, although it is not easy,” said Poyet, ahead of this afternoon's home game with Norwich City. “Firstly, it's not easy for the player. They want to know their futures as soon as possible.
“But 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 too 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 – they won't play any more (if they don't sign). I'm a manager who believes if you sign for three years, you play for three years, and we will use you to the last minute of the last game. Then if you're free, you're free.”
Whether Sunderland's owner, Ellis Short, would be so laid-back about losing eight players for nothing at the end of the season remains to be seen, although in the event of relegation, being able to remove so many players from the wage bill could actually be a blessing in disguise.
No one is contemplating the worst-case scenario at the minute of course, but is such a high degree of contractual uncertainty conducive to a successful battle against the drop?
As the season progresses, might some players find their motivation levels dropping if they are fearing for their futures while Sunderland are battling to stay in the top-flight?
“I believe and trust professionals,” said Poyet. “I will go to the last minute of this season with the team that 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 no problems at all.”
Instead, Poyet's biggest headache is his side's parlous position at the foot of the table, four points adrift of their closest rivals, Fulham and Crystal Palace.
Whatever happens in today's game with Norwich, Sunderland will be in bottom spot on Christmas Day, and in the entire history of the Premier League, only one club – West Brom – has been in such a situation and survived.
The history books do not make pleasant reading, but as Tuesday's Capital One Cup win over Chelsea proved, Sunderland are nowhere near as bereft of quality as some of the other sides that have found themselves cut adrift in previous campaigns.
Man for man, the Black Cats' first-choice XI is arguably stronger than that of a number of the sides in the bottom half of the table, but with the clock ticking, it is imperative that Poyet's side begin to turn performances into points.
Norwich have improved recently, losing just two of their last six games, but it still feels as though a home win is essential this afternoon if Sunderland are to give themselves a fighting chance of survival in the second half of the season.
“Performance-wise, we are improving,” said Poyet. “But in terms of points, no. I'm very honest. But it's easier to win when you perform well, and there are signs that we are playing better.
“If we maintain consistency in our performance, we have a great chance of staying up. There are no excuses because confidence is high, the players are fit and we are playing at home.”
Steven Fletcher is available after shaking off the illness that prevented him from playing against Chelsea, but Cuellar remains sidelined through injury.
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