STEVE Bruce will hold contract talks with Bolo Zenden before the end of the season in an attempt to persuade the Dutchman to sign a new short-term deal with Sunderland.
Zenden's current contract is due to expire next month, and having made just nine starts in the last two years, the 34-year-old is understood to be keen to explore his options as he looks to extend his playing career.
His importance to the Black Cats was underlined at the weekend when he came in from the cold to score the opening goal in his side's 2-1 win at Bolton Wanderers.
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However, that was only his second start since the turn of the year, with Bruce appearing reluctant to make him a regular in his starting line-up.
That stance is unlikely to change next season, but having promoted Zenden to the role of club captain last summer, the Black Cats boss is keen to keep the former Middlesbrough and Liverpool midfielder at the Stadium of Light.
"Bolo knows exactly what I think of him," said Bruce. "I would love to keep him at the football club.
"The frustration with Bolo is that he hasn't really played an awful lot, he certainly won't have played as much as he would have liked to.
"But in and around the place, Bolo has always been terrific and having someone like that in your squad is important.
"I've heard coaching mentioned, but as far as I'm concerned, Bolo still has plenty to offer as a player. He could play for another couple of years at the highest level, easy. He's always been a player who's looked after himself and I would have no worries at all on that score."
As well as sorting out Zenden's future, Bruce will also be deciding what to do with his five loan players in the next few weeks.
An agreement is already in place to sign Ahmed Elmohamady on a permanent basis, while reports in France claim Lyon would be willing to accept around £1m for defender John Mensah as they look to cut costs following their failure to qualify for the Champions League.
Sulley Muntari's future remains uncertain despite the positive noises emanating from Bruce in the wake of last weekend's win, but both Nedum Onuoha and Danny Welbeck are expected to return to their parent clubs this summer.
Bruce will also be holding contract talks with the members of his squad who are about to enter the final year of their current deal, although his plans to talk terms with Craig Gordon have been temporarily shelved.
Gordon faces at least four months on the sidelines as he recovers from a knee operation, and Bruce feels it would be wrong to discuss the goalkeeper's future until his recovery is complete.
"I don't think it would be wise for me to enter into contract talks with Craig now while he's laid up with an injury again," he said.
"To be fair to the lad, he's been blighted with injuries, not just during my time at Sunderland, but also before that as well.
"He probably sums up what's happened to us this season. He came back to us from injury, we took the plate in his arm out, and then he broke his arm again a week later.
"The most important thing with Craig at the minute is to get him on the road to recovery. He's two weeks into his recovery and things are going well, but it's going to be four to six months.
"We'll speak to him about the future in August or September when he's fit."
* Sunderland's youth team take on Fulham this afternoon (ko 5pm) hoping to secure a place in the Premier League Academy final.
Kevin Ball's youngsters have travelled to the Cottagers' Motspur Park training facility, having topped their qualifying group last week.
The winners of today's game will face either Aston Villa or Everton in a final to be staged at Bolton's Reebok Stadium.