TONY MOWBRAY does not want to lose Anthony Patterson or Dan Neil this summer – but the Sunderland head coach has admitted he will not have the final say over whether a player leaves if offers are placed on the table.

Both Patterson and Neil are the subject of growing interest from clubs in the Premier League, with their performances in the Championship at the age of 22 and 21 respectively having understandably turned heads in the top-flight.

Leicester City have been strongly linked with both players, with Wolves also having been credited with an interest in Patterson, and Sunderland’s recruitment team, led by owner Kyril Louis-Dreyfus and sporting director Kristjaan Speakman, could find themselves facing some difficult decisions if the Black Cats remain in the second tier and receive formal bids in the summer.

Mowbray would ideally like to keep his current squad intact, but having been appointed as a head coach rather than a manager, the Black Cats boss also accepts it will ultimately not be his call.

“I can give an opinion on anything, but ultimately, I’m pretty sure I won’t be making the decisions,” said Mowbray, ahead of this weekend’s Stadium of Light showdown with Stoke City. “Ultimately, for me, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.

“You wouldn’t want to lose Dan Neil or Anthony Patterson at 21-years-old or so. You would hope that you could find a way, contractually, to secure them. But if the model becomes that we’re going to sell players along the way, then you hope that you get the top prices for them so that there is money to reinvest back into the team.”

Patterson is contracted to the Stadium of Light until the summer of 2026, so Sunderland do at least have a relatively strong negotiating position when it comes to discussing a potential fee for the goalkeeper, if a top-flight club was to make a formal approach.

They are slightly more vulnerable when it comes to Neil, who will enter the final two years of his current contract this summer, and talks are understood to be ongoing over a potential new deal for the midfielder, who like Patterson, is on the verge of being called up to the England Under-21 squad.

As native North-Easterners who came through Sunderland’s academy system, both Patterson and Neil have strong emotional ties to Wearside. However, with the Black Cats adamant they will not be ripping up their current financial model for anyone, Mowbray accepts that when it comes to agreeing contracts, it is no longer as easy as simply sitting around a table and thrashing out a deal.

“The danger and the difficulty, in my mind, is that all of these lads won’t just be coming in and sitting down to the talk to the manager, like I used to as a player,” he said. “Back then, it was a case of having that conversation to decide how much a week I was going to get. Was I getting a signing-on fee? No. Can I have another £100-a-week then? They were the scenarios you went through.​

“Now, they’ve got advisors, they’ve got lawyers, they’ve got everybody wanting to work for them. If we can get the players we really think can be the future of the club on long contracts, then that’s the ideal. That would mean it would then have to be a really substantial bid to take our best players out.

“Then, the understanding would have to be that there’d be reinvestment into the recruitment, which is why recruitment is so important. Then, you’re into a cycle where, once a player decides he wants to move on or thinks he’s ready for a different level of football, you’re ready to reinvest and replace.

“I’ve never really wanted to stop footballers from wanting to go on and better themselves in their minds, but you need to be doing it from a position of strength, not where you have to sell because you’re six months from the end of a contract and someone is offering you a pittance to take the player.

“It’s a fine balance. It’s a business, isn’t it? You’re trying to get to the point where the players that are being offered new contracts are happy with what they’re being offered, as opposed to having agents and advisors that think they’re worth ten times what you’re offering.”

Ultimately, Sunderland’s future planning will be a balance between the understandable desire of the club’s current ownership to remain on a firm financial footing and a desire to grow and improve in the hope of securing promotion back to the Premier League.

“I just want to try to help build a team that can be successful and win,” said Mowbray. “I’m not stamping my feet saying we have to go and spend £10m on the best centre-forward or £20m on a midfielder who’s world class. Let’s just get some players with a growth mindset who want to get better and develop, and want to learn and listen. Then, you enjoy the work, and we can compete in this league, as we’ve shown this year.

“Now, when the aspiration becomes that we want to get out of this league, then we have to have better, more rounded footballers. Experience might be the word, and that’s not about how old they are, it’s about how many games they’ve played.

“You can have a really young team that’s played hundreds of matches. If you’re 22, you might have been playing for four years and played 40 games a season. I just want to make sure, in my mind, that I feel as though we’re going in the right direction.”