Sunderland boss urges young duo to commit futures amid contract uncertainty

Joel Asoro. Picture by Frank Reid
Joel Asoro. Picture by Frank Reid

Sunderland are waiting to hear from Joel Asoro and Josh Maja after boss Chris Coleman said the club had made ‘very good offers’ to the young pair.

The teen duo exploded onto the first-team scene in December, when Maja scored the winner against high-flying Fulham.

Sunderland, at that stage, were a day away from going a full calendar year without a home win.

Maja and Asoro replaced James Vaughan and Lewis Grabban late in that contest, and they have gone on to to make a number of senior appearances under Coleman’s charge.

They have been part of a crop of young players to emerge this season, offering genuine hope for the future.

Asoro in particular, however, has been the subject of transfer speculation, after impressing on the international stage with Sweden Under-21s.

Premier League side Watford were the latest to be linked with a swoop and, as both players have just over one year left on their current deals, Coleman admits that the club will be left vulnerable if new contracts are not signed.

He has urged them to put pen-to-paper and insists that Sunderland is the best place for them to realise their potential.

The Welshman said: “There’s no change [with their situation]. To be fair to us, we’ve been very proactive, speaking with their representatives.

“The ball is very much in their court, with both players.

“We’ve made very good offers, so it is up to their camps to come to us. We’re waiting for them to come back to us so we can get it sorted out.”

Asked about the club’s vulnerability, Coleman added: “That’s right.

“Equally, with both players, where do they go from Sunderland, a club the size of this with the opportunities that they will get here?”

“They’ve had first-team opportunities here. Let’s say they go to a Premier League team – they’re not going to play because they’re not ready for that.

“They need to build on that first-team experience and they need to do it here, in my view.

“I think they’ll go backwards if they go into Under-23 football. They’ll get first-team football here, I think it best for both players to stay here and build their careers here.

“It’s all in front of them. They know they’ve got a lot of hard work to do, but it is the best choice for both of them [to stay here].”

Coleman’s biggest concern is that the duo could be talked out of committing their futures, particularly as the prospect of a drop to the third tier of English football looms large.

Nevertheless, even in that scenario, the Black Cats boss believes his project makes Sunderland the perfect environment for them to grow as senior footballers.

He added: “Lots of people around young players make those mistakes for them.

“They get bad advice and then they suffer for it.

“Let’s hope both players have the right people around them. I’m sure that they have.

“A club this size, OK we don’t know what platform we will be building off, but it doesn’t matter what it is, it is the right place for them in terms of what we want to build, where we want to go, how we want to play.”

Both players have drifted slightly from the first-team picture, with Coleman settling on a 4-3-3 system that has seen Aiden McGeady, Lynden Gooch and Ashley Fletcher establishing themselves as first choices in the attacking positions.

Maja has not been part of the last two matchday squads, while Asoro has been an unused substitute in both of those games.

Coleman, however, expects both to appear again in the final four games of the Championship campaign, which continues at Reading tomorrow.

He said: “Josh needs a good pre-season. He has struggled a little bit physically, but he is a good player – I’m his biggest fan – and he just needs that full pre-season, although that’s not to say he won’t play a part between now and the end of the season.

“And with Joel, he picked up a knock.

“He is only 18 himself and we have to be very careful about using him as our go-to every time we are in a bit of trouble.

“He’s a young lad and his form will go up and down, but he has that lightning pace and he’s exciting.

“We may use him on Saturday, and in the remaining games, because, as a young boy, he has that fearless approach.”

Asoro and Maja are not the only players whose deals expire next summer, with George Honeyman and Gooch also coming to the end of their contracts at that point.

Impressive players in recent weeks, they are likely to be offered extensions themselves.