KRISTJAAN SPEAKMAN has defended Sunderland’s decision to re-sign Jermain Defoe, but admitted the veteran striker’s mid-season retirement was “not ideal”.

Defoe returned to the Stadium of Light on deadline day at the end of January, but his second spell as a Black Cats player lasted less than two months before he called time on his playing career.

The move to sign Defoe as a free agent was a controversial one, with Lee Johnson having voiced concerns over the 39-year-old’s lack of match sharpness in the weeks leading up to his dismissal.

Johnson recommended that Speakman and the rest of Sunderland’s recruitment team pursued younger alternatives, but his view was overruled as a deal for Defoe was pushed through in the final hours of the transfer window.

Alex Neil quickly came to the conclusion that the former England international was past his best, and Defoe made just two starts and five substitute appearances before he announced his retirement.

He did not score a single goal in his second spell on Wearside, but Speakman still regards the decision to re-sign him as the correct call.

The Northern Echo:

“I don’t necessarily look back on it and say we should or shouldn’t have done it,” said Sunderland’s sporting director. “I just think that we make the best possible decision we can as a club that, given time, sometimes they work or don’t work.

“Did this one have more risk? Of course, it did. Because of age profile, playing history etc. But at the same time, there will be other risks that we have taken which were really successful that we don’t talk about because they have been successful. Therefore, it is what it is.”

Defoe’s premature departure left Sunderland short of attacking options in the final two months of the season, with Nathan Broadhead’s injury in the final few weeks of the campaign exacerbating the problem.

Neil admitted there were times when he would ideally have liked to rest Ross Stewart, but was unable to do so because of a lack of alternatives to the Scotsman.

Speakman concedes the loss of a senior forward two months before the end of the season was far from ideal, but also feels Defoe’s retirement was the right decision given that the former England international could feel his commitment beginning to waver.

“Jermain came to that conversation (when he signed) full of optimism on what he felt he could come and provide,” he said. “The environment in the changing room is one of the components that has got us over the line, and what you don’t want in that type of scenario is people who are not committed.

“If you look round, I was really confident of the play-offs because I could see a group of individuals that had the bit between their teeth and they wanted to be the group that got Sunderland back into the Championship.

“I don’t think within that, you can have people that are bit-parts. I think Jermain made a really tough decision that he felt that he couldn’t continue. It’s not ideal because naturally you lose a player out of your squad, and whether that is through injury or something else, then that can create an issue.”

Sunderland announced their retained list last week, and a couple of the players who are leaving the club are already attracting interest.

Lincoln City are understood to have made an approach to Lee Burge, with the Black Cats having confirmed that the goalkeeper will not be offered a new deal on Wearside. Burge started last season as Sunderland’s first-choice shot-stopper, but lost his place to first Thorben Hoffmann and then Anthony Patterson.

Cieran Dunne is also being released next month, and the defender is attracting interest from Doncaster Rovers. Dunne joined Sunderland from Falkirk in the summer of 2019, but managed just two senior appearances over the course of the last two seasons.

Sunderland have also announced the departure of Jordan Willis, Arbenit Xhemajli and Aiden McGeady, while Hoffmann, Broadhead, Callum Doyle and Jack Clarke have returned to their parent clubs following the end of their respective loan deals.

Bailey Wright, Lynden Gooch and Patrick Roberts have all been offered new deals on Wearside.