One of the key tasks for Guy Poyet is to bring some semblance of stability at Sunderland. His challenge is all the greater with more than a third of the 27-man squad he inherited facing uncertain futures even before his arrival.
No less than nine players; Keiren Westwood, Carlos Cuellar, Phil Bardsley, Andrea Dossena, Jack Colback, Seb Larsson, Craig Gardner, David Vaughan and Ji Dong-Won are in their last year of their contracts. Fabio Borini and Ondrej Celustka are on season-long loans, with the latter having an option to buy.
Job security is often very brittle in the lives of footballers as well as managers. It can hardly help the case to boost the team's morale and confidence with so many players, who are assets to the club, facing the prospect of starting to look to ply their trade elsewhere. It also does not seem to make economic sense that virtually all could leave Sunderland for free without being able to recoup any part of their original transfer fees come next June.
Perhaps it was part of the so-called revolution that the club was hoping to move some of them out or at least were open to offers during the summer but if so, it did not happen and the transfer window has been closed for six weeks. With the exception of Dossena, who has been injured, and Bardsley, who has become an outcast, the others have played in the first team and most are regulars. Yet there have been no reports, apart from Colback, of any being offered extension contracts. It seems a strange and destructive state of affairs.
Two, Cuellar and Dossena, who has just joined, could be just about be justified on account of their age - but what of the rest? Their combined value must be over £25 million with several years of playing ahead of them, many likely to be in the Premiership as has happened with a litany of players previously sold by Sunderland. Moreover, despite mixed views about their ability, some like Westwood, Colback, Larsson and Gardner are essential to the current squad, yet their precarious positions must at times create uncertainty in their minds, let alone commitment.
The chopping and changing of managers has been hardly conducive to the health of the club and welfare of the players, whose stay barely averages two years. The recent restructured model separating the duties of the head coach from recruitment with the introduction of a director of football should help on the face of it. Yet each sees to have reduced roles under what appears to be a more authoritarian board. The division of responsibilities becomes more entangled with owner Ellis Short keeping a tight hold of the purse strings with the aid of chief executive Margaret Byrne overseeing negotiations.
It is not known whether this enmeshed web, which undermines the traditional role of manager, accounts for the sorry state of affairs, or if it is more to do with the exertion of tighter fiscal restraints. But the sheer number out on a limb suggests it must be more of a blanket policy decision, perhaps to bring the wage bill down at any cost and not renew any contracts, rather than being simple oversights. The only alternative is that it is the players themselves are disinterested in staying at a club that has become so unstable and unsuccessful.
In Sunderland's present plight, it can only make the job of Poyet much more difficult. The squad needs at least half of these 11 players fully up to task in the impending relegation struggle, not just going through the motions of riding out the remaining months of their contracts. It indicates that there is a clear lack of direction that urgently needs to be sorted from the top where there has been an open wound since the departure of Niall Quinn, being the only person with any football experience on the board at the time.