This is what Sunderland boss Lee Johnson told ace Dan Neil amid Burnley 'interest'

The week (and the transfer window) started with a pretty clear message.

Friday, 7th January 2022, 3:27 pm

Growing assets is a big part of the club's philosophy is not in question, the average age of the squad continuing to fall with just about every new addition.

The ultimate goal is to develop those players in some cases, serve the club's path towards sustainability by selling at a significant profit.

Sporting Director Kristjaan Speakman on Monday made clear, though, that it would not be in this window and it woul dmost definitely not at this stage be Dan Neil.

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Sunderland midfielder Dan Neil

"We don't need to lose anyone right now," he told The Echo.

"The whole purpose of the project is to build those assets within the team, develop that strength in depth.

"There's nothing better than having other clubs interested in your players because I think that does suggest some good things are occurring, but we won't be entertaining any of those players leaving in the window.

"Everything for us is motivated on getting Sunderland to where it needs to get to at the end of this season."

Lee Johnson had been asked about Burnley's interest in Neil a week or so earlier and had responded with little more than a shrug of the shoulders, and by stressing that Neil's focus simply had to be on keeping improving.

Johnson knows at some stage he will lose some of these talented players, but equally that it was his record in developing talent at Bristol City that brought him to the club in the first place.

So while Speakman's message was no doubt welcome, it has done fundamentally little to change his focus which is to work closely with Neil on developing his game even further.

So a day after Speakman's message Neil was summoned to the manager's office (as had already been planned).

The conversation? To plot out the next steps for a midfielder who has already established himself as one of the best passing and attacking threats in League One.

"I'm pretty relaxed about it [speculation] in general," Johnson said.

"I was used to player sales at my previous clubs and it's probably part of the reason why I was recruited to this job in terms of that development players, and that sort of asset sheet on the CV.

"We just have to cross every bridge when we come to it but the positive thing is that Dan is playing well and Dan's improving.

"He's a really good student and in a really good place at the moment. We'll use that to the full benefit of Sunderland and that means him playing and playing extremely well.

"It was a joy to watch him in the games just gone to be honest, but as I keep saying he can't rest on his laurels.

"I had a chat with him on Tuesday in my office.

"We said, 'well done, we're very proud of you, so what's next? How do we get you to the next level now? What can we do?'

"We had a really good discussion on that."