New deal means Wickham will blossom at Sunderland

Sunderland's Connor Wickham
Sunderland's Connor Wickham

GUS POYET wasn’t afraid to rattle a few cages during the summer.

There was nothing subliminal about Poyet’s pleas for investment or the need for early arrivals. His frustration with the sluggish pace of Sunderland’s transfer business was crystal clear.

But Poyet’s impatience with the incomings was compounded by the question marks over the player who had been the catalyst for Sunderland remaining in the Premier League in the first place.

At the Albufeira Stadium, during Sunderland’s pre-season preparations in Portugal, Poyet made a point of stressing that if Connor Wickham didn’t commit to a new deal at the Stadium of Light, then the club would have to sell him.

In reality, Poyet was right.

Stung by the departure of Jack Colback a few months earlier, Sunderland couldn’t afford a repeat scenario, albeit they would have been owed compensation if Wickham left at the end of his deal.

But those remarks didn’t go down well. Wickham and his family were perturbed at what they saw as an ultimatum, when the 21-year-old hadn’t even been presented with a concrete contract offer at that stage.

With Wickham’s stock sky high then and his camp though to have been looking for weekly wages around the £60,000 mark (his new deal is significantly lower than that figure) the omens didn’t look good.

But rather than panicking though and attempting to flirt with West Ham after a couple of offers from Sam Allardyce’s side, Sunderland – and specifically sporting director Lee Congerton – have kept their cool and played the long game.

Perhaps if the situation had stretched on any longer and continued into the January window, Sunderland would have been forced to sell, but patience has paid off in the club’s negotiations.

The one-to-one sit-down talks between Wickham and Poyet over recent weeks have surely helped.

Poyet gave his opinion on what Wickham should do regarding his future and also outlined his plans for the striker’s development. That blueprint has obviously gone down well.

And it must have been a factor too that Wickham has continued to play regular first-team football this season – starting 14 of Sunderland’s 15 Premier League outings.

After being limited to the fringiest of fringe roles during the first two-and-three-quarters of his Sunderland career, the last thing he needed was to go back to being a bit-part player.

Yes, the bulk of Wickham’s games this season have come on the left, when he ideally wants to be used down the middle.

But he’s not sulking there. In fact, he’s making a decent fist of it; noticeably producing far more of an impact over recent games and using his physique to bully opposition defenders.

Most of us easily forget too that he’s only 21. Inevitably, there’s still going to be off games.

What is clear now, is that Wickham’s contribution at the end of last season wasn’t just a one-off hefty repayment on Sunderland’s £8million investment from the summer of 2011.

Wickham is only at the start of the journey towards fulfilling his potential. It would have been criminal if that had been achieved away from Sunderland.