Sunderland’s season may have been over for almost a month, longer if you take into account their aspirations fading away owing to an alarming second half to their Championship campaign. But with Saturday’s Champions League final now concluded, the 2023-24 football season is officially in the books.

That means attention can start turning towards next season and what the summer might bring. For Sunderland, that needs to be quite a lot given they remain without a head coach for the new season.

Beyond the immediacy of appointing a new man in the dugout, however, focus will quickly shift to the transfer window and the current squad at the Stadium of Light and how it can be improved to ensure Sunderland do not suffer a hangover from their 16th place finish in the league table last time around.

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Sunderland’s next head coach, whoever that may be, will inherit a squad with plenty of burgeoning potential but will also need to pick morale up in those players after they suffered a significant beating over the course of the last six months with just five wins to their name in 2024.

The new head coach will have the same dilemma those before him have had in that there are even less grey hairs within the Sunderland dressing room following the summer exits of both Bradley Dack and club captain Corry Evans – Sunderland’s most experienced players next season, as things stand, will be Luke O’Nien at the age of 29 and Patrick Roberts at just 26-years-old. Beyond that, the make-up of Sunderland’s squad is 24 and younger.

That is a structure which has been designed by the club’s hierarchy, with the decision to recruit and promote talent of a young age in order to develop them and extend their ceiling before either selling on for an increased profit or enjoying success in returning to the Premier League – in theory, at least. Unless the recruitment structure at the Stadium of Light adapts this summer, it means any new head coach will have to adhere to the habit of signing inexperience to bolster the current squad.

Here, We Are Sunderland analyses the current state of play with Sunderland’s first team squad and where a new head coach will be keen to strengthen heading into the 2024-25 season.



As things stand, Sunderland will carry over their two first team goalkeeping options from 2023-24 into next season in Anthony Patterson and Nathan Bishop, with Alex Bass likely to head out on loan once more.

Patterson remains Sunderland’s No.1 option having signed a new long-term deal at the Stadium of Light back in September which will keep him on Wearside until 2028, unless the club decide to cash in on the 24-year-old.

Patterson, a product of the club’s academy and an example of the club’s current vision, has been a stalwart in Sunderland’s ascendancy in recent years having been handed the gloves in the final months of the club’s League One promotion winning campaign where he would go on to make 107 consecutive league starts until the final day of this season against Sheffield Wednesday where he was left out in favour of Bishop.

Patterson ranked fourth in the Championship last season in terms of clean sheets with 13, including five in his final eight appearances of the campaign, before being left out for Bishop who was making just his second start.

Bishop was brought in as a back-up option, with Sunderland’s alternatives thereafter consisting of academy prospects.

Within those prospects, Sunderland have plenty to be excited about further down the line with both Adam Richardson and Matt Young, who had a spell on loan with Darlington last season – Richardson part of the under-21s side who reached the Premier League 2 play-off final last month.

Both goalkeepers are extremely highly regarded inside the confines of the Academy of Light but it is Young, in particular, who is gaining widespread attention with plenty of interested parties taking notice of his development, including Chelsea who have observed the 17-year-old.

Next season still feels a little premature for both, however, depending on Patterson’s circumstances.

We Are Sunderland: Anthony Patterson remains Sunderland's first choice option in goalAnthony Patterson remains Sunderland's first choice option in goal (Image: Ian Horrocks)

READ MORE: Why Anthony Patterson is statistically 'one of the best' goalkeepers in the Championship


The 24-year-old has been linked with a move to the Premier League at various stages over the course of the last 18 months including with Leicester City prior to their relegation in 2023 and more recently Liverpool where it is likely he would provide a back-up option at Anfield.

If Sunderland are to sell one of their supposed assets this summer, Patterson is the one with the longest amount of time remaining on his current deal which could help generate a greater fee.

Bishop still has two-years remaining on his deal which means, unless Sunderland are tempted to sell or bring in further competition for Patterson, the goalkeeping situation for next season appears pretty locked up.



Sunderland were hit significantly in defence last season in terms of injuries, with left-back’s in particular populating the treatment room for a long period of time.

All three of Dennis Cirkin, Niall Huggins and Aji Alese missed the majority of the campaign, with Cirkin and Alese both making just eight appearances and Huggins limited to 19. It meant Sunderland had to move for alternatives in the January transfer window with Leo Hjelde from Leeds United and Callum Styles on loan from Barnsley – both of whom failed to live up to the expectation of potentially replacing one of the aforementioned injured trio when everybody is fit.

Hjelde, in particular, found it difficult to match the intensity required at full-back, albeit he is considered more of a left-sided centre-back by trade which means he may find himself down the pecking order next season with the returns of Cirkin and Alese.

Alese was able to come through the final few weeks of the season unscathed while Cirkin was not risked after undergoing hamstring surgery in the new year having been missing since November.

We Are Sunderland: Aji Alese (pictured) and Dennis Cirkin will need to prove their fitness over the course of next season after injury-plagued campaigns Aji Alese (pictured) and Dennis Cirkin will need to prove their fitness over the course of next season after injury-plagued campaigns (Image: Ian Horrocks)

Both Cirkin and Alese will be under pressure to both complete and enjoy successful pre-season schedules, given the length of time they have missed over the course of the last 12 months. Depending on how a new head coach sets Sunderland up, both Cirkin and Alese could feature in a starting line-up but it is Cirkin who will be tipped to remain the club’s first choice at left-back, injury pending.

Sunderland have placed their faith in both Cirkin and Alese over the last year by handing both extended deals at the Stadium of Light; Cirkin until 2026 and Alese until 2027, but their injury records will be of slight concern should both not be able to produce an extended run of games in the team next season.

Huggins is another who falls into that bracket with the Welshman suffering a horrible run of misfortune throughout his time on Wearside to date. After struggling with back issues for the first year of his Sunderland career, Huggins finally appeared to be getting on track this season by establishing himself as a regular starter for Tony Mowbray during the first half of the campaign – the 23-year-old one of Sunderland’s players of the season through the opening months before his season was cruelly cut short in Michael Beale’s first game in charge with a significant knee injury.

Huggins is expected to be out until the new year having undergone surgery and is out of contract next summer which means the club will have a decision to make over how they approach his future at the Stadium of Light.

His performances last season, as well as his versatility in being able to operate at both left-back, left wing-back and right-back and right wing-back means he remains a handy player for Sunderland to have, providing he can recover from this latest setback. Huggins is also one Sunderland player who possesses noticeable pace, something the squad has felt lacking in at times last season.

On the opposite side, young player of the year Trai Hume remains the standalone option at right-back, despite a number of cameos from summer signing Timothee Pembele. The Frenchman was brought in, perhaps, as a succession plan for Hume as the Northern Irishman is another who has plenty of admirers from the Premier League.

Hume typifies what Sunderland’s strategy is all about having joined from Linfield for a minimal fee in 2022 before going on to establish himself as one of the strongest full-backs in the Championship – nobody made more tackles or interceptions than Hume last season while he was Sunderland’s most-used player, starting 45 of 46 games.

Hume is another player the club have moved to tie down recently, with the 22-year-old agreeing a four-year deal last summer, with the option of a further year, but is another who holds plenty of financial value.

If Pembele is to be the eventual replacement for Hume he will need to exhibit more than what was shown last season, with the former Paris Saint-Germain defender one of a number of summer signings who failed to make a regular impact – Pembele another who struggled with injuries.

Hume’s durability, however, means Sunderland are unlikely to explore too many options in the right-back area this summer with the club keen to fend off interest in the Northern Ireland player of the year for at least another season.



Alongside Pembele, Jenson Seelt is another alternative to provide cover at right-back should Hume be unavailable at all next season. The Dutchman complied with that role a handful of times last season when Hume moved over to left-back and, behind Jobe Bellingham, was largely one of Sunderland’s better signings of last summer.

The issue with Seelt for the incoming head coach is his current injury. Seelt suffered an ACL injury in Sunderland’s 4-2 defeat at Southampton in March with the club confirming the young defender would be another who required surgery and another expected to miss a chunk of next season.

Seelt arrived from PSV Eindhoven and showed some potential, particularly in December, but will likely be unavailable to the new head coach until January. Upon his return, Seelt’s position will be one of the key factors to drill down on having featured at right-back and the right-sided centre-back of both a two and a three last season.

We Are Sunderland: Jenson Seelt suffered an ACL injury in March's defeat at Southampton and could be out until the new yearJenson Seelt suffered an ACL injury in March's defeat at Southampton and could be out until the new year (Image: Ian Horrocks)

Much, in that sense, will depend, again, on how Sunderland set-up next season. At this stage, O’Nien and Dan Ballard remain the likely candidates to retain their centre-back roles having partnered each other for the large majority of last season.

With Evans leaving the club, O’Nien is in line to take over the club captaincy on a permanent basis, having captained the side last season in Evans’ absence, while Ballard is also a strong contender given his development since his move to Wearside from Arsenal.


Sunderland were the fifth best defence last season across a number of metrics, as per StatsBomb, such as goals conceded and xG conceded and they gave up the fourth fewest shots in the Championship. Although, collectively, Sunderland suffered defeat in 22 of their 46 league games last season, defensively they remained towards the right end of the table which suggests little need for radical change in the heart of defence.

Ballard, who like Hume, has established himself as an international regular during his time at the Stadium of Light including captaining his country, is contracted until 2027 while O’Nien’s deal expires in 2026 – albeit the club retains the option of extending his stay by an additional year.

Alese’s return to full fitness this summer will enhance Sunderland’s options in the centre of defence, particularly if the new head coach operates with a back three, while Hjelde is another option, with the Norwegian contracted until 2028, although a loan deal may not be out of the equation for the 20-year-old if he remains out of the picture in terms of the starting XI.



The demands placed on Sunderland’s midfield has been omnipresent over the course of the last 18 months.

Since Evans’ injury in the Wear-Tees derby back in January 2023, Sunderland have felt light in that area of the field, particularly a defensive-minded option. The burden has fallen on Dan Neil and Pierre Ekwah who, between them, made 82 appearances of a possible 92 in the Championship – that with Ekwah missing a month of the campaign through injury and Neil being ruled out of the final three games of the season with an ankle injury.

That ankle injury is an important one for the new head coach as it may determine just how much work needs to be done in the transfer market when it comes to Sunderland’s midfield. Mike Dodds initially implied Neil would be ready for pre-season training before that implication wavered slightly towards more ‘hope’ that he will be ready.

We Are Sunderland: Dan Neil faces a race to be fit for the start of pre-season after suffering a season-ending ankle injury in AprilDan Neil faces a race to be fit for the start of pre-season after suffering a season-ending ankle injury in April (Image: Ian Horrocks)

Neil was Sunderland’s second highest goal contributor last season behind Jack Clarke and that came from being tasked with operating in a deep-lying role, with the consensus being from both the player and the club that he would benefit from being able to operate further forward – a feeling shared with Ekwah who suffered with inconsistency in his first full season with the club after a positive end to the 2022-23 campaign.

For Neil, or Ekwah, to do that, Sunderland simply must address their need for a defensive midfield player. Jay Matete will return to the club on the back of another League One loan but it would be a surprise if the 23-year-old can force his way into first team plans.

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Matete enjoyed a bright start to pre-season last summer before being hit with injury during the club’s American tour which ruled him out until the new year where it was best-placed to send him out on loan to build him back up to speed.

Matete played a small role in Oxford United’s promotion to the Championship, the third straight promotion he has on his cv from League One to the Championship after successes with Sunderland and Plymouth Argyle, but he is one the club will likely listen to offers on given his lack of first team appearances since joining the club in 2022. Matete still has two-years remaining on the four-and-a-half-year deal he penned on Wearside which means the club will be able to command a fee, but it would unwise to move him on without bringing in a starting midfielder.

Elliot Embleton is another midfielder who has been blighted by unfortunate injuries over the course of the last 18 months and, as such, may find himself being open to offers elsewhere. Embleton has served Sunderland well since progressing through the academy but it was a loan spell with Blackpool where his career gained particular traction, prior to his key role in Sunderland’s promotion back to the Championship when scoring the opening goal against Wycombe Wanderers in the play-off final at Wembley.

Embleton has made 92 appearances for Sunderland but just 25 of those have come in the Championship and there will be question marks over the impact he can make after such a lengthy lay-off in what is the final year of his current deal on Wearside.

We Are Sunderland: Elliot Embleton has one-year remaining on his deal at the Stadium of LightElliot Embleton has one-year remaining on his deal at the Stadium of Light (Image: Ian Horrocks)

That leaves three more in Chris Rigg, Jobe and Styles.

Sunderland, it’s understood, have until later this month to make a final decision on Styles’ loan agreement from Barnsley, with the Hungarian now preparing for the European Championship’s in Germany.

Styles made 12 appearances in the second half of the season but the majority of those came at wing-back as opposed to the defensive midfield role he frequents with his national side. On the occasions Styles was implemented in midfield, there was little evidence to suggest Sunderland should trigger that clause in their loan deal – or at the very least they are likely to be exploring further options before making a decision.

The future of both Rigg and Jobe may also go some way to determining what the outcome on Styles might be. Jobe has been linked with a move to the Premier League with both Crystal Palace and Brentford monitoring the 18-year-old while 16-year-old Rigg has a queue of elite clubs chasing his signature.


Rigg, who was part of the England under-17s European Championship squad last month, is eligible to sign his first professional deal in a matter of weeks when he turns 17. Sunderland have done all they can to get ahead of the curve by enabling his passage to the first team, bypassing both the under-18s and 21s set-ups this season with Rigg making 21 appearances in total in the Championship.

Clearly, it’s going to be a challenge to fight off the interest in Rigg with Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund among those linked with the teenager, with United at the front of the queue and believed to be preparing a formal offer.

Rigg’s exposure to the first team became the undoubted highlight of the second half of Sunderland’s season and the prospect of seeing him develop further with regular starts next season is one of encouragement. When it boils down to the crux of the matter it becomes quite simple; if Rigg stays he will be one of Sunderland’s first names on the teamsheet, if he goes, Sunderland will be handed a significant blow in their preparations, such is the impact he has already made.

We Are Sunderland: Sunderland are doing all they can to secure Chris Rigg's future Sunderland are doing all they can to secure Chris Rigg's future (Image: Ian Horrocks)

And those preparations could worsen if Jobe were to leave – albeit the club would bank a healthy transfer fee for any deal taking the 18-year-old away from the Stadium of Light. As things stand, Jobe remains extremely settled in the North East after a strong debut campaign with the club and it feels unlikely that a club will part with the kind of premium fee it would require to obtain his services.

Jobe was Sunderland’s second highest goalscorer last season which is another reason why it would be in the club’s best interest to retain his services ahead of next season given the expected development another year in the Championship could bring.

Regardless of who stays or goes in the central midfield areas, it’s a position of huge importance for the club this summer with at least one addition surely having to be made.


Wingers/ forwards

While the central midfield position is paramount, an established centre-forward must be top of Sunderland’s shopping list this summer.

Sunderland have been without a recognised goalscorer in their ranks since Ross Stewart’s achilles injury in mid-January 2023, where the club has gone two-and-a-half transfer windows since without replacing the Scotsman’s talent and contribution.

You can forgive the club the first window, given they had only a week to identify a replacement in what is notoriously a difficult market in January. But that doesn’t excuse their approach last summer where four untried forwards were brought in, Luis Hemir, Eliezer Mayenda, Nazariy Rusyn and Mason Burstow, to little effect. Having gone the first half of the season without a single goal between the four of them, Sunderland then opted against bringing in a centre-forward in January as their issues in front of goal remained throughout the season. It’s something which cannot happen for a third consecutive window.

We Are Sunderland: Nazariy Rusyn is one of four summer signings last year in attack who failed to make an impactNazariy Rusyn is one of four summer signings last year in attack who failed to make an impact (Image: Ian Horrocks)

Mayenda spent the second half of the season out on loan with Hibernian and it’s something which may be of consideration again, likewise Hemir who made the most appearances of the four summer recruits and struggled from the onset. Burstow’s return to Chelsea changes little with regards to Sunderland’s needs in attack and although the trio who remain on Wearside are contracted until 2027, the need for a striker who can make an instant impact could be the difference between Sunderland continuing on their current downward trajectory or finding themselves back in contention in the play-off race.

How many attacking players with established quality Sunderland will need this summer largely depends on the if or when debate surrounding Clarke and his future at the club. Having turned down eight-figure sums last summer and in January, it’s widely accepted the club will struggle to retain Clarke’s services beyond this summer.

Clarke has contributed towards 39 goals across the last two season’s in the Championship since joining Sunderland on a permanent deal, more than any other player to feature in both seasons, and still has two-years remaining on his current deal. But with talks over a new deal at an impasse, Sunderland have hit the juncture of debating whether to cash in for the highest value they can this summer or see that value depreciate from here on.

Sunderland officials have routinely insisted they are under no pressure to sell any of their key assets but the money they could generate form the sale of Clarke could aid a new head coach in addressing the key needs of the squad.

With that said, taking Clarke’s goals and overall x-factor out of this Sunderland team will leave it requiring major surgery to repair ahead of August.

READ MORE: Southampton set to test Sunderland resolve with Jack Clarke approach

Abdoullah Ba and Romaine Mundle are two players already in the building who the club will both hope and expect bigger and better things from next season, with three and four years remaining on their respective deals. Likewise, Adil Aouchiche, who operated both as a centre-forward and across the line behind a striker last season, will be expected to improve on his first year in English football. The 2020 Golden Boy nominee still has four-years to run on his contract but started just 10 games last season, with two goals and two assists.

But the reality is, replacing Clarke may require significant investment, regardless of whether there is improvement from those already in the building. 

We Are Sunderland: Sunderland may struggle to keep Jack Clarke at the Stadium of LightSunderland may struggle to keep Jack Clarke at the Stadium of Light (Image: Ian Horrocks)

Patrick Roberts is another already in place with the club, having signed his own contract extension until 2026 last year, but after a below-par season from the 26-year-old, Roberts is already under pressure to rediscover the form seen in 2022-23 after Dodds insisted it would be a ‘big’ season for the winger who failed to register a single goal last year.

Sunderland have a number of loan players returning to the club this summer such as Jewison Bennette and Nectarios Triantis but, ultimately, they need to show significant improvement if they are to stake their claims to establish themselves in the first team on a regular basis.

If Sunderland head into another season without a recognised centre-forward and without the ammunition of Clarke, if he were to leave, then you would worry about whether any new head coach could reach the aspirations set out by the club to be involved in a promotion battle.