GUS Poyet has urged Connor Wickham to make a footballing decision on his Sunderland future.
Negotiations over extending Wickham’s contract at the Stadium of Light have dragged on for the past six months, with the 21-year-old’s current deal due to expire at the end of the season.
Reports over the weekend suggested Wickham could opt to leave the club on a free transfer next summer – a scenario which would see Sunderland earn minimal compensation for the former Ipswich man’s development – with Serie A outfit Lazio subsequently linked as potential suitors.
Those stories appear to have emerged from sources close to the Wickham camp as a negotiating technique, aimed at maximising the deal available to the £8m striker.
Head coach Poyet has taken a backwards seat to sporting director Lee Congerton in the contract talks, but he says Wickham should ultimately base the decision on the next step in his career on what happens on the pitch.
Poyet said: “You need to look at things from his side as well.
“But what I would say to him, is make your decision based on you and your football. What he wants.
“Of course, the money comes into it, but it needs to be a footballing decision.
“If he makes the wrong decision to go somewhere and then he doesn’t play a game, what do you gain?
“Me, I would like him to stay because if not, I wouldn’t be playing him.
“If he decides the opposite, we’ll decide how to use him until the last minute.”
Poyet angered the Wickham camp during pre-season when he declared that Sunderland would have to sell the striker – the hero of last year’s escape from relegation – if he didn’t sign a new contract.
But despite talks coming to nought during the summer, the Black Cats rejected a couple of offers around the £5m mark from West Ham.
However, with both parties no nearer to a resolution, there remains the possibility that Wickham could be offloaded in the January transfer window.
“It’s negotiations,” added Poyet. “I think unfortunately we are in a world where something is always coming out.
“When I said that Connor would sign a new contract or he’d go, I remember his family and father got upset with me. He said if there’s nothing to sign, then how is he going to sign it.
“But I was saying that there would be a decision to make that would be simple. That doesn’t make it the right decision.
“Now, if he wants to stay here until the end of his contract, and he’s playing, and then he’s free, you lose.
“But let’s remember until April, he never played regularly for this club.”