What’s the future for Jeremain Lens and Sunderland after starring shows?

Jeremain Lens.
Jeremain Lens.
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When Jeremain Lens chipped Rouven Sattelmaier in the Bradford goal, a deft effort on his weaker foot, there was a moment of silence before the inevitable gasps and applause.

It was a moment of breathtaking individual quality rarely seen in pre-season games such as these.

Not that it came as much of a surprise. No one has ever doubted the Dutchman’s quality. He showed it with that fine goal against West Ham, which would be become nothing more than a brief glimpse of what could have been.

During an open training session while the side were in Scotland, Lens drew roars of appreciation and laughter from team-mates when he repeated the trick on the unfortunate Max Stryjek.

On song, the 29-year-old marries a superb footballing brain with excellent technical ability.

This pre-season period has already proved to be more productive for both player and club than might have been expected at one stage, particularly when Lens made those controversial remarks about relegation at the turn of the year.

His return to Wearside brought an air of tension but it his both to his credit and Sunderland’s that the situation has not escalated.

The next step remains likely to be Lens leaving the club.

The winger has knuckled down since returning to Sunderland, partly in the knowledge that allowing his fitness to drop will not help him secure a move away.

The opportunity to leave is one he will surely take, and the Black Cats will not stand in his way.

Part of that is due to an appreciation that there is little to be gained by forcing a player to stay when they want to be elsewhere, and also due to financial realities.

Lens is a player on a wage reflecting his status as a Dutch international, signed from a side who regularly compete in Europe.

He was the marquee signing of that summer, and the financial commitment was significant. Even accounting for relegation clauses, it is an obligation Sunderland could do without.

They will have to make a loss on Lens, but his pre-season endeavours at least mean they would not enter any negotiations with a weak hand.

The issue is where that interest will materialise from.

A move to Fenerbahce was Lens’ preference after a successful season on loan, but financial fair play concerns mean that deal looks unlikely.

The Turkish side tried to engineer a cut-price, part exchange deal in January but failed, and have since signed the French attacking midfielder Mathieu Valbuena in a significantly cheaper deal.

Besiktas have registered an interest and their signing of Pepe from Real Madrid, as well as their pursuit of Alvaro Negredo, suggests a healthy budget that could accommodate Lens.

There has been talk, too, of a return to the Eredivisie but wages would surely be an issue there. This is the bind relegated sides increasingly find themselves in.

Signing players on Premier league wages that they need to shift, but struggling to move them on given the lack of financial might in other leagues where there may be interest.

All of which means Lens starting the season remains a distinct possibility.

Simon Grayson has already decided to use him should that be the case, an interesting decision given Rafa Bentiez’s decision to sideline Moussa Sissoko in a similar scenario last year.

With Sunderland facing a daunting August fixture list, that is sensible pragmatism that will give the Black Cats a chance of making a much needed positive start to the season.

Grayson will have targets lined up should Lens depart and room on the wage bill is freed up.

Should Lens not secure a move, motivating him to star in Red and White shirt beyond September will be a different task altogether.

It is still likely that he will, and that a situation which could easily have become very messy indeed has been dealt with in such an unfussy manner thus far gives both player and club a chance of a successful resolution either way.