STEWART DONALD has admitted that Papy Djilobodji could yet return to Sunderland if an employment tribunal rules in his favour and concludes the Black Cats do not have grounds to dismiss him.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Roker Rapport fans podcast, Donald revealed he had turned down an offer to buy him out and confirmed Sunderland had made “very good contract offers” to Josh Maja, Lynden Gooch and Denver Hume.

He also outlined the current situation with Djilobodji, and highlighted the differences between the Frenchman’s position and that of Didier Ndong.

Ndong’s ties with Sunderland have been completely severed, with the Gabon international having agreed to a set of terms that formally ended his contract.

Djilobodji’s position is different as the French centre-half is contesting Sunderland’s decision to terminate his deal after he failed to report for pre-season training this summer.

The Black Cats gave Djilobodji permission to delay his return to the training ground as he attempted to secure a move away from Wearside, but are adamant the majority of his summer absence was unauthorised. Djilobodji disputes that claim, and while Donald is confident of winning any future legal case, he admits the matter is not yet closed.

“Ndong, obviously, we’ve done a deal with,” said the Sunderland owner. “Djilobodji at the moment isn’t concluded, it’s with the solicitors. We’ve obviously said we’ll terminate his contract, he’s appealed that. So that hasn’t been completely concluded.

“So it’s premature to say that Djilobodji has gone and won’t cost us any money. We’ve said he shouldn’t and he’s gone – he’s said, ‘No, I think you should be paying me and I’m not happy with your decision’.

“Someone is going to decide on that in the very near future – as to whether or not he’s got a case or we were correct. On the basis that we’re correct, then yes, he’s gone. On the basis we’re not, then I presume he’ll come back and we’ll have to pay him.

“We don’t think that will happen, but stranger things have happened in the footballing world than that. But Ndong has gone.”

Donald also confirmed that contract talks with Maja, Gooch and Hume are ongoing, with the trio all due to become free agents at the end of the season.

However, Sunderland skipper George Honeyman is in a slightly different situation, as a clause in his contract means the Black Cats can automatically trigger a 12-month extension provided he plays a pre-agreed number of games.

That scenario looks extremely likely, so while there is an understandable sense of urgency about the discussions with Gooch, Maja and Hume – as well as youngsters Max Stryjek and Elliott Embleton, who are currently on loan at Eastleigh and Grimsby Town respectively – the situation with Honeyman is much more relaxed.

“George Honeyman, if he plays an ‘X’ amount of games, gets an extra year,” said Donald. “So I think George is here for next year anyway.

“We’ve begun conversations, lots of them are with the agents to come back to us, and we’d have hoped to have a few of them tied up by now, but they are being a little bit slower. I think there’ll be news on those players very shortly.

“There’s a lot of talk around the youngsters, which is obviously Gooch, Maja and Denver. All three of them have indicated that they would like to stay at the club. We’ve put offers to them, we feel they are very good offers. The agents are giving us their view of what’s a decent offer. So the haggle is on.”

Jack Ross’ contract situation could also change at the end of the season, as the Sunderland boss automatically gets another year added to his deal if the Black Cats win promotion.

Ross, who has been touted as a future Scotland manager in the last few weeks, signed a two-year contract when he left St Mirren in the summer, but a third year will be automatically added if Sunderland find themselves in the Championship come May.

“I believe he’s (Ross) got a year extension if we get promoted,” said Ross. “He automatically gets a year if he’s successful. I’m not sure if he’s really successful if he gets another year as well, I can’t quite remember. But I’m sure he’s got a two-year deal with a year extension should we go up.”

Donald is still paying off the fee he agreed with Ellis Short when he completed his buyout of Sunderland at the start of the summer.

The insurance magnate agreed to pay Short £40m in a series of instalments, with the final payment due at the end of next year.

However, he was offered an opportunity to sell up with a sizeable profit earlier this month, an invitation he was quick to decline.

“I had somebody inquire last week to buy the football club, that was looking at another football club, and we just said, ‘No’,” said Donald. “I would have made a lot, made a lot actually.

“I got a call from an agent that wanted to put me in touch with somebody. Sunderland is winning games, and I think people know that, financially, the word has got out there that its outgoings and its incomings is not only sort of like back where it should be, but probably pretty good in comparison (to a lot of other clubs). It’s a Premier League club in the making, isn’t it?”