JACK ROSS insists Stewart Donald does not have a say over his team selections, but has backed the Sunderland owner’s stance on his club’s young players.

Donald caused something of a stir earlier this week when he discussed Benji Kimpioka’s contract position on an appearance on the Roker Rapport podcast. Kimpioka, who is due to enter the final year of his current deal this summer, has refused to sign a new contract despite a series of discussions between Sunderland officials and his representatives.

“I’ve said with Benji, and a couple of others who have got one year left, that they need to commit their future to the football club,” said Donald. “I’ve said to Jack and I’ve said to the staff, if they don’t commit, you’re not allowed to play them.”

Kimpioka’s last start came in the Checkatrade Trophy quarter-final win over Manchester City Under-23s, but having brought the 19-year-old off the bench in last weekend’s defeat to Coventry City, Ross insists it is wrong to suggest he cannot play him if he wants to.

He insists he would walk away if Donald tried to interfere with his selection decisions, but supports the general argument the owner was trying to articulate. Sunderland were backed into a difficult position when Josh Maja allowed his contract to run down in the first half of the season, and Ross accepts it is important his employers do everything possible to avoid a similar scenario in the future.

“In terms of Stewart having any influence over my team selections, that simply isn’t the case,” said the Sunderland boss. “As an owner, Stewart would be the last person you’d expect to do that, and I’m probably the last type of manager that would accept that either. It just isn’t me. I’m not saying that in a bullish way, I just wouldn’t do the job if someone was trying to interfere.

“What I think he was trying to say is that if we’re investing in players, then you obviously want to see the benefit of that investment. Josh’s situation has made Stewart look into how we can try to prevent that kind of thing happening again.

“As a football club, we’re no different to any other business in a different sphere. If you’re investing in someone, you hope that how they then blossom and mature is of benefit to you. I know we work in a different business in some ways, but really it’s no different to a business having an apprentice. If you invest in their development, you then hope they commit themselves to you.

“That’s what I think he was trying to say rather than how it’s been interpreted. It’s easy for me to say it, but it’s simply not the case that he would try to have any influence over my team selections.”

As well as discussing a new deal with Kimpioka, Sunderland officials have also spent a lot of time negotiating with Denver Hume and his representatives.

Hume is due to become a free agent in the summer, and having established himself as a regular presence in the first-team squad this season, Ross remains confident the 20-year-old will commit his long-term future to the Black Cats.

“We’ve been working really hard with that, and I’ve been pushing long and hard to get this done,” he said. “He’s one I think will get even better for us. Already, what he’s done this season has been a great step forward for him, and I would love him to be here, irrespective of what league we’re in, because I think he would be an asset to us.

“I don’t mean an asset just from a financial point of view, I mean he would be an asset to me as a manager because I think he’s a good player and it would be nice to see him progress to a point where he becomes a fixture in your team.”

Sunderland’s position in League One potentially makes it harder for them to hold on to their brightest talents when clubs from a higher level come calling.

However, Ross has been able to blood a number of youngsters this season, and claims emerging players should not overlook the importance of playing regular first-team football rather than finding themselves warming the bench for a supposedly bigger team.

“If you’re a young player and think, ‘What’s the best chance for me to get into a first team’, then you’d argue a club at a lower level might give you more opportunity than if you were to move to the Premier League,” he said.