Three former Black Cats Stewart Donald should target for free transfers... and six more potential bargains
Sunderland are a club in limbo and every day that passes without EFL approval makes next season's League One challenge that little bit harder.
That may seem a little extreme, but there is no doubt that work on a woefully imbalanced squad needs to start as soon as possible.
Stewart Donald’s regime are desperate to get started, eager to move out high-earning players and mould their own squad. It is a mighty task, with Martin Bain stating last month that around 14 players would be required.
A free agent or two will certainly be on the shopping list.
Bain, Chris Coleman and their recruitment team began talking to players of that ilk long before Donald’s takeover was agreed and while the new regime will have their own targets, they will likely be shopping broadly in the same market.
Generally, the aim will be to bring costs down, padding out the squad’s promising young talent with proven football league players. They will want young, athletic players whose value will grow in coming years, but they also know that to navigate a difficult league, some battle-hardened players will be a necessity.
They could do far worse than look to three former Black Cats who will be out of contract come the end of June.
David Meyler left Sunderland for Hull City after injuries curtailed his progress on Wearside. He has since played a part in two promotions and a run to the FA Cup final, as well as proving himself a capable (and most importantly, regular) player in the top tier.
At 28, he is in the prime of his career and perhaps would not risk his international prospects by dropping into the third tier.
He would also command a healthy wage but would be an outstanding foil for the likes of George Honeyman and Ethan Robson, who are set for prominent roles in the Sunderland midfield next season.
Renowned for his leadership and dedication, he is exactly the kind of player the Black Cats need more of.
The same applies for Ross Wallace, a curiously underrated player given his years of consistency in the second tier.
Wallace is set for release at Sheffield Wednesday as the club look to drastically bring down the average age of their squad.
Broadly speaking, Sunderland need to do the same but Wallace would bring priceless know-how when it comes to winning games.
He is currently recovering from a knee injury but over the last two years has shown his fitness and quality on the ball has not dimmed in the slightest.
Nedum Onuoha is another who since leaving Sunderland has nailed down regular first team football, featuring regularly for QPR.
At 31, he would add experience to a defence that is likely to undergo significant change this summer.
All three would likely have designs on staying in the Championship, but have fond memories of their time in the north east and would come cheaper than many in the current squad.
All three, too, would show supporters that Stewart Donald is serious about putting Sunderland back where it belongs.
BEST OF THE OTHER FREE AGENTS
Sign up to our daily newsletter
ERHUN OZTUMER (WALSALL)
One of the best players in League One by quite a distance, scoring 16 league goals from midfield this season.
Will without doubt have interest from the Championship this summer and has spoken of his desire to play at a higher level.
If Sunderland are serious about winning this league, though, there could be no better place to start.
WES HOOLAHAN (NORWICH CITY)
Now 35, but his game has never been based on athleticism.
Is said to want a move abroad after a long spell at Norwich City but should he stay in the UK, he would add some serious craft to Sunderland’s attack. A luxury, certainly, but one that can deliver crucial assists at crucial times.
LUKE STEELE (BRISTOL CITY)
The Robins have an option to extend his deal for a year but he has been unable to oust Frank Fielding at Ashton Gate this year.
Financially, Sunderland would likely have to move on Jason Steele or Robbin Ruiter before tying up further funds in the position but Steele would be an excellent option in the third tier.
HAKEEB ADELAKUN (SCUNTHORPE UNITED)
His future is likely to be tied in with Scunthorpe’s, who are going for League One play-off glory.
Like Oztumer, one who will attracting Championship attention but his talents are well known to Sunderland and he is beginning to fulfil his potential.
Scunthorpe will be due compensation if he leaves on a free.
TOM NAYLOR (BURTON ALBION)
A versatile defender who was a target for Chris Coleman. Sunderland will need almost an entire new defence next season with most of the current crop likely to leave.
SEAN MURRAY (COLCHESTER UNITED)
A former Watford prodigy who is rebuilding his career and finally getting consistent first team football. A technically gifted player developing an eye for goal.