VITO MANNONE is hoping Sunderland retain as many of their out-of-contract and loan players as possible to avoid the kind of upheaval that proved so damaging last summer.
With eight players due to become free agents next month, and five loan players poised to return to their parent clubs, there is a chance the Black Cats’ squad could effectively be sliced in half unless ongoing talks prove productive.
Ideally, Gustavo Poyet would like to keep up to half-a-dozen of the 13 players with an uncertain future, with Marcos Alonso, Santiago Vergini, Phil Bardsley, Jack Colback, Seb Larsson and Oscar Ustari all understood to be on his wanted list.
However, while the Uruguayan has already held discussions with a number of players, financial considerations and competing interest from elsewhere could combine to make it difficult to prevent the current squad breaking apart.
Given their struggles for the majority of the campaign, perhaps that would be no bad thing. But while Mannone agrees there is a need for a marked improvement next season, Sunderland’s Player of the Year has warned against making too many changes this summer.
“I hope that we can keep as many bodies together as possible,” said Mannone. “If it was up to me, we would keep as many of this season’s players as we can, and then go from there.
“We can add some more quality players, and I am sure the gaffer will be looking at that. But it is going to be difficult because we could find ourselves losing some important people and that would be a real shame.
“I hope it doesn’t happen. We are happy with what we have done, but it is just a base and we have to make sure we build from it next season. Hopefully, we will be able to do that with the players who were so crucial to our survival in the last few weeks.
“We need to grow as a team and a club, and growing means keeping this team and staff together and trying to build something together.”
With survival having been confirmed last Wednesday, Sunday’s final game against Swansea City was something of a non event.
It nevertheless provided an opportunity for a packed Stadium of Light crowd to show their appreciation for the squad’s efforts in the last month, with a haul of 13 points from five matches lifting Sunderland from a position of seemingly little hope to safety with a game to spare.
When the Black Cats lost at home to Everton on April 12, they were seven points adrift of safety with six games remaining.
At the time, it looked as though the defeat would represent the final nail in Sunderland’s coffin. Instead, it proved to be the result that sparked a remarkable revival.
“There have been a few key moments,” said Mannone. “Even though we lost the game, Everton at home was an important match because we played really well and it showed what we were capable of. From that point onwards, we gave ourselves a chance.
“We told ourselves that we just had to go out and give it our best, and that is what we did. That was the turning point. From Manchester City onwards, something clicked back into place just as it had when we were playing so well earlier in the season.
“We made a great achievement in the survival and deserve to be in the Premier League next season, although we will have to start better and do a better job than we have managed this season.”
Sunday’s defeat was a disappointing way to sign off for the campaign, but Mannone is hoping Sunderland’s supporters see past the loss and draw considerable satisfaction from the five-game run that secured safety.
“It was a difficult afternoon against Swansea, but it was always going to be,” he said. “It was difficult to get our minds into the game really. If I’m honest, we were flat and possibly we were still enjoying ourselves because of the survival.
“That is normal. It has been really tough lately with all the tension, but we could relax a little bit more in the last few days. We wanted to finish well, but unfortunately we didn’t. But I think the fans will still take the Great Escape with them.”