KRISTJAAN SPEAKMAN remains hopeful Sunderland will retain the four senior players that were offered a new contract earlier this month – but has hinted the club will not be willing to wait too much longer for a final decision.

The Black Cats released seven senior players after missing out on promotion from League One, but Denver Hume, Luke O’Nien, Aiden McGeady and Charlie Wyke were all offered new deals at the Stadium of Light.

Discussions have taken place with the quartet and their representatives, but all four players are free to speak to whoever they please and it is understood that at least three are aware of strong competing interest from elsewhere. Wyke is in especially high demand after scoring 31 goals in all competitions last season, while O’Nien was linked with a possible move to Middlesbrough last week.

Speakman accepts that Sunderland will not have things their own way as they attempt to reach four separate agreements, and while he would ideally like to see all four players remain on the Black Cats’ books next season, the sporting director is not prepared to allow negotiations to become so protracted that they have a negative impact on the club’s attempts to secure alternative targets.

“We’ve been in discussions with those guys and their representatives, and it’s always going to be a difficult period because they are players that have done well for us, hence we want to reengage with them,” said Speakman. “But then obviously because they’ve done well for us, there are other guys who are saying, ‘These have done well for Sunderland’ and are also interested in them.

“It’s going to be a piece of work where we want to try to reduce the timeline as quick as possible, and therefore (that) will help with our platform on where we are going and who we might be looking at in the future months. We feel they can all contribute to Sunderland in the future, and therefore hopefully we’ll be able to get them over the line.”

Speakman has been working with Lee Johnson and the rest of Sunderland’s recruitment team to identify players capable of taking the club forward next season.

The Black Cats chief admits there was a temptation to hold on to more first-team players given that Sunderland won the Papa John’s Trophy last season and only missed out on promotion when they lost to Lincoln City in the play-off semi-finals.

Ultimately, however, there was a shared acceptance that it would be best to make a fresh start and instigate a major transformation of the playing squad.

“I think what we’ve tried to do is set out where we want to be, what we want the team to be, and we’ve evaluated the players and there’s obviously a lot of factors that go into that,” said Speakman, in an interview with Sunderland’s official website. “It’s always going to be a difficult position because you’re dealing with people that you spend a lot of time in close proximity (with), so it’s never going to be easy to detach yourself from those individuals.

“Supporters see them for games, whereas we see them every day as colleagues, they’ve got families, their contract of employment is coming to an end, and you’ve got to try and deal with that in a very sensitive manner.

“I think also the difficult thing with this group is that when you’ve had a group that’s nearly achieved, then obviously the temptation is try to retain the status quo and we just felt that for the long-term benefit of the football club, we just needed to make a slight change of direction and we felt that we’d be better served with different players in certain positions.”

Last season saw a host of major changes at the Stadium of Light – new owner, new backroom structure, new head coach – and while this month’s play-off defeat was obviously a major disappointment, Speakman still feels there have been some important forward steps.

“You can’t get away from the fact that we’re in a performance environment and, when you don’t perform and get the outcome you want, disappointment is going to be the feeling,” he said. “I think over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be able to move away from the disappointment and start looking to the review and evaluation process, which in essence has already started.

“We can’t let that detract away from all the other great things that have occurred this season to date. I appreciate a lot of those things are behind the scenes, things that are going to be foundations to success in the future but ultimately, we also 100 per cent recognise the need for the club to have a winning team and for us to get promoted.”