A large part of Sunderland’s success since returning to the Championship over the course of the last two seasons has been a result of the productivity they have received from their wingers – but depending on how the transfer window plays out, it may be an area of the pitch the club must address.

Jack Clarke is the go-to man for Sunderland as things stand, with the 23-year-old coming off the back of a season-best 15 goals in 2023-24. The York-born winger has taken his game to another level since finding what he called a ‘home’ at the Stadium of Light and all within the building on Wearside will be hoping he remains in a red and white shirt come the end of August and the summer transfer window.

If Clarke is to move on this summer, however, there will be a concern as to where Sunderland’s main threat and output will come from throughout the forward areas of the pitch.

Last summer saw the sale of Ross Stewart, a talismanic striker during his time in the North East with an outstanding return of 40 goals in 80 appearances, and Amad Diallo returning to Manchester United from a hugely successful loan spell at the Stadium of Light where he contributed 14 goals and four assists across all competitions. Those figures are still to be truly replaced by the Sunderland hierarchy, although Clarke has done his best.

Both new head coach Régis Le Bris and sporting director Kristjaan Speakman pulled no punches when addressing the media earlier this week in their desire to keep the club’s key assets this summer – a trait Sunderland’s ownership group have kept good on their word with since arriving in the North East.

But their succession planning in wide areas has left a little to be desired over the course of the last 12-18 months in terms of the output of those recruits hitting the extreme heights set in seasons gone by. Speakman has explained how the club have identified a number of areas to improve in the squad this summer following last season’s 16th placed finish in the Championship, with quality the focus rather than quantity.

As things stand, wingers may not be a high priority in that list but that could all change if the club were to receive an offer they can’t refuse for Clarke.

This week, we will be taking you through a different area of the squad, looking at their individual contract situations and assessing where Le Bris needs to strengthen. We'll even throw in a few suggestions of potential names they could look at, just for fun!

In the penultimate part of We Aere Sunderland’s scouting series, we're taking a look at wingers.


Jack Clarke

The superlatives were quickly eroding when it came to describing Clarke and his importance to Sunderland throughout the first part of last season with the 23-year-old offering 19 goal contributions in 33 league appearances before an ankle ligament injury ruled him out for six-weeks.

Although Clarke struggled to live up to the heights he had set himself upon his return, there are mitigating factors in that Sunderland’s form had completely evaporated while questions about Clarke’s true fitness were also justified.

Nevertheless, a slight dip in form from Clarke because of that injury has done little to dampen his stature in this Sunderland team. Since turning his loan move from Tottenham Hotspur into a permanent deal, Clarke has seen a huge upturn in his career, both in terms of his numerical output and his value with several clubs from the Premier League and across Europe sitting up to take note of the winger over the last 12 months.


Jack Clarke StatsBomb radar for Sunderland compared to the Championship league average in 2023-24Jack Clarke StatsBomb radar for Sunderland compared to the Championship league average in 2023-24 (Image: StatsBomb)

Clarke has contributed towards more goals in the Championship of any player to have featured in the division over the last two seasons with 39 goals and assists to his name which is why Sunderland may find it difficult to retain his services with just two-years remaining on his contract. Clarke’s value is likely to be at its peak this summer if Sunderland were to consider cashing in on their most coveted asset but, as the club have demonstrated elsewhere and previously with Clarke, they will not buckle under any offer unless their valuation is met.

Outside of his six-week injury lay-off last season, Clarke’s robustness is another attribute to be admired having featured in 78 of Sunderland’s 79 Championship fixtures prior to the injury, and that’s something Le Bris will need to get from across his pool of wingers this season, even more so if Clarke is to depart.


READ MORE: Southampton to target Jack Clarke after promotion back to the Premier League


Patrick Roberts

The main candidate Le Bris will be keen to galvanise is Patrick Roberts.

One of the club’s impressive January 2022 recruitment drive to help earn promotion from League One, Roberts continued to excite and enthuse throughout the 2022-23 campaign with five goals and seven assists to his name as Sunderland reached the play-offs. Roberts was one of five players that season to register double figures in terms of goals and assists and Le Bris must unlock that kind of return from his squad again this season after only Clarke succeeded in following that season up with another double-digit haul.

Roberts, by contrast, saw a significant drop off in form with just two assists to show for his endeavours last season. The winger, who agreed a new contract until 2026 and the option of an extra year in November, was stifled by a number of injuries throughout the season but was also one of the players name-dropped by interim head coach Mike Dodds towards the end of the season as to who will need to improve this time around.


READ MORE: Entertainment and effect: The curious case of Patrick Roberts


Roberts, along with Clarke, firmly established himself as the No.1 choice for the inverted right-wing role with Sunderland due to his impact across his first 18-months on Wearside, but that position is under threat heading into the new season. Le Bris’ arrival means the entire squad will be given a clean slate to impress which means Roberts’ previous endeavours won’t hold as much substance.

At his best, a fit and firing Roberts will be one of the first names on Le Bris’ teamsheet given the guile and elegance he can bring to the squad, as was often referenced by Tony Mowbray. But Roberts has been one of the main players to have struggled since Mowbray’s exit and both Sunderland, and Le Bris, will need an increased output this season.

It was a below-par season for Patrick Roberts in 2023-24It was a below-par season for Patrick Roberts in 2023-24


Abdoullah Ba

Heading into his third season with Sunderland, Abdoullah Ba represents the profile of player Sunderland are invested in with regards to recruiting players for the future with potential.

Ba, undoubtedly, will be a player Le Bris is familiar with, given his background of coaching in both Lorient and the Stade Rennais academy in France – Ba having progressed through the ranks at Le Havre and earning a number of international call-ups with the French youth teams.

Ba’s numerical metrics increased across the board last season, whether it be simply minutes played or more crucial stats such as his goals and assists return. Earlier last season, We Are Sunderland analysed the wingers within the squad and their data and whether they could step up to the level Clarke, in particular, has demonstrated, and Ba’s trajectory follows a similar path to that of Clarke when considering the early part of his career prior to moving to Wearside – albeit to expect a similar explosion in his development as we have seen from Clarke over the last seasons would be a little naïve.


Abdoullah Ba StatsBomb radar comparing his output from 2022-23 to 2023-24Abdoullah Ba StatsBomb radar comparing his output from 2022-23 to 2023-24 (Image: StatsBomb)

Le Bris referenced in his first press conference at the Academy of Light how a number of players will have benefitted from their experience in the Championship to date and Ba is certainly a player who falls into that category with the onus now on the 20-year-old Frenchman to progress further having already made over 70 appearances for Sunderland across the first two years of his five-year contract.

One of Le Bris’ biggest challenges with Ba, like a number within his squad, will be determining an outright position for him. Over the course of last season, we saw Ba operate across the entire three attacking positions behind the striker without being completely entrusted in being a regular starter in either of those – Ba having also briefly operated as a central midfielder and at centre-forward during his two years with the club.

Although right-foot is his preference, Ba does have the capability of being able to utilise both feet effectively which makes him a particularly versatile player to have for Le Bris. Much, in that sense, may then depend on how Le Bris will set up his attacking players and whether he will favour the modern approach of inverted wingers cutting inside onto their favoured foot or utilise a more traditional approach.

Equally, Ba’s involvement will also be determined by Clarke’s future. If Clarke is sold before the end of the transfer window, the 20-year-old becomes a strong contender to take over in the left-wing position whereas if Clarke remains on Wearside, Ba will need to compete with a number of players for the right-wing berth.


READ MORE: Who are Sunderland's young pretenders with Jack Clarke facing a spell out?


Romaine Mundle

“Talented players like Romaine are highly sought after and we saw this first hand in the summer when he left Tottenham Hotspur. We didn’t anticipate him being available on a permanent basis, but when we sensed an opportunity, we moved quickly and decisively to make it happen,” Sunderland’s sporting director Speakman explained following the signing of Romaine Mundle in January.

“This is an important step in Romaine's career following a spell overseas. He’s got a bright future ahead of him as part of an exciting squad, and we look forward to working with him.”

Mundle went on to make 11 appearances for Sunderland in the second half of last season after arriving from the Belgian Pro League, just five of those coming as a starter. In that time he scored just one goal, coming in a 4-2 defeat to Southampton, in what, ultimately, proved to be a challenging transition into senior football back in this country.

After Clarke’s injury in February, Mundle was handed an early opportunity to showcase his ability and put himself in the frame to compete with Clarke, or potentially be the one to replace him if he were to leave, but, along with most in the Sunderland squad last season, he was unable to deliver enough consistency.

Given Sunderland's dramatic drop off in form, it was a baptism of fire for the 21-year-old who has just 18 senior appearances to his name having spent the majority of his career to date in Tottenham’s academy where he excelled. And it’s something which has been an issue for Mundle since leaving Spurs last summer, with Standard Liege plagued with financial constraints that impacted the club throughout his time in Belgium. Where the appeal for a young player of his talent to develop abroad in the same manner the likes of Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham have, Mundle was quickly made a financial scapegoat in Standard Liege’s difficulties as Sunderland made their move.

Romaine Mundle scored his first goal for Sunderland in the 4-2 defeat at SouthamptonRomaine Mundle scored his first goal for Sunderland in the 4-2 defeat at Southampton (Image: Ian Horrocks)

Mundle was handed a four-and-a-half-year contract at the Stadium of Light as the club’s hierarchy again placed their faith in a young and emerging talent. Like a number in Le Bris’ squad, however, the onus will now be on Mundle to exhibit the talent shown in the Premier League 2 over recent years if he is to force his way into contention.

Upon the players’ return to pre-season duty, Mundle is one player who has received praise from team-mate Luke O’Nien who insists the winger is looking ‘sharp.’

He said: “The boys are looking sharp. Some boys have come back absolutely flying, they’ve been setting standards. Romaine has come back and you get a ball at his feet and he is so dangerous already so he’s making me a better defender from day one.”

Managing expectations will be key with Mundle given this will be his first full season in the Championship. But with that said, given Sunderland’s need to relieve some of the burden from Clarke this year, Mundle will be one of those players who Le Bris will need to contribute more both in terms of being able to rely on him to be a part of the squad as well as his numerical data.

During his time with both Tottenham and Standard Liege, Mundle has operated across both wings which provides Le Bris with options while the 21-year-old also possesses an element of pace which is something that has felt lacking throughout the squad at times last season.


READ MORE: Romaine man: Have Sunderland found Jack Clarke's successor?


Alternative options

While Clarke, Roberts, Ba and Mundle represent the out-and-out wingers within Le Bris’ squad, there are a number of other players who can adequately perform well in the wide areas if called upon.

Last season we saw Adil Aouchiche, a player Le Bris knows well, Chris Rigg and Nazariy Rusyn all feature on the wing to some degree and all will consider themselves an option in those areas if it means making it into Le Bris’ starting line-up.

Le Bris referenced Rigg’s position on the wing in particular during his first press conference this week after the teenager agreed his first professional deal with the club until 2027. Rigg started eight times towards the end of last season under interim head coach Dodds with the majority of those coming in a right-wing role after Dodds declared it being better for his early development as opposed to throwing him into ‘the melting pot’ of central midfield.

But having secured his long-term future with the club, Rigg’s eventual position undoubtedly lies in the centre of midfield – the question is how long it takes for him to get there.

Le Bris’ background of developing players in France will be of merit with players such as Rigg and the teenager is a project the Frenchman will be keen to work on throughout the course of the season, knowing he can operate across a variety of positions from out wide into more central areas.

Aouchiche frequented the wide areas last season, but it’s fair to suggest the Frenchman enjoyed more success when operating as an advanced midfielder in the No.10 position. Having played under Le Bris previously at Lorient, Aouchiche holds an advantage over the rest of the Sunderland squad when it comes to the demands, expectations and tactical set-up of the new head coach. If Le Bris favours the two No.10s he did so in his second season with Lorient, Aouchiche is more likely to be considered in that area of the pitch than out wide.

Adil Aouchiche's key pass map for the 2023-24 seasonAdil Aouchiche's key pass map for the 2023-24 season (Image: StatsBomb)

Rusyn, on the other hand, provides a different outlook for Le Bris this season.

Signed as one of four new recruits to plug the centre-forward gap vacated by Stewart, the Ukrainian managed just two goals in his first season in English football and left plenty to be desired – albeit providing the best contribution of the four summer forward additions last year.

Having suffered understandable difficulties settling into the North East until the arrival of his family over the Christmas period, it was Michael Beale who would later pose the question as to whether Rusyn would be better placed as a wide forward coming in off the left – a suggestion later echoed by Dodds towards the end of the season.

Having scored 21 goals in 49 appearances for Ukrainian side Zorya Lugansk, the expectation on Rusyn was relatively high – particularly given that Dinipro’s Artem Dovbyk was the only player to have outscored him in the 2022-23 Premier Liga campaign. Dovbyk went on to enjoy a stellar campaign with Girona in La Liga, scoring 24 goals in his first season, and Sunderland will be hoping they can benefit from a similar success story second time around with Rusyn.

But if Rusyn is to be considered as a wide forward from the left, he is another who will find his game-time dictated by the future of Clarke. The 25-year-old has a deal until 2027 at the Stadium of Light, with the option of an extra year, but consistency will be key for the Ukrainian under Le Bris if he is to avoid being labelled as a failed transfer.

It was a difficult first season at Sunderland for Nazariy RusynIt was a difficult first season at Sunderland for Nazariy Rusyn (Image: Ian Horrocks)


READ MORE: Nazariy Rusyn opens up on Sunderland struggles


Academy prospects

Tom Watson is the leading candidate who will be under consideration for a first team call-up on the wings after a hugely successful season with Graeme Murty’s academy squad as Sunderland’s under-21s finished seventh in Premier League 2.

Watson made 15 goal contributions in 20 appearances at youth level before earning his second senior appearance for Sunderland on the final day of the Championship season when replacing Clarke as a substitute against Sheffield Wednesday.

The 17-year-old has a number of similarities with Clarke in the way he handles possession and drives at opposition defenders and seems a natural long-term replacement on the left wing should he continue on the same development trajectory. Watson’s pro deal expires in 2026 which means Sunderland have until then to target further development and progression into the first team set-up, but after Rigg’s involvement last season, Watson will be keen to push on himself and move up another level this year.

Watson will likely be one of a select few of Murty’s academy squad selected to make up part of Le Bris’ first team in Spain later this month where he will get the opportunity to impress the new head coach.

Tom Watson replaced Jack Clarke in Sunderland's final game of the season against Sheffield WednesdayTom Watson replaced Jack Clarke in Sunderland's final game of the season against Sheffield Wednesday (Image: Ian Horrocks)

Caden Kelly is another expected to be considered part of the first team plans in pre-season training after a strong season in the academy in 2023-24. Kelly contributed 10 assists in 14 appearances as Sunderland reached the Premier League 2 play-off final and is another who provides versatility across the attacking midfield line either from the right or through the centre.

Timur Tuterov, the Ukrainian who has helped Rusyn settle into the North East over the last year, showed glimpses towards the end of the under-21s’ season when operating from a wide area but the expectation longer term is to see him develop in a more central role.


READ MORE: Sunderland have another potential star on their hands but the next steps are key


Transfer options

Sunderland will find it difficult to replicate Clarke’s numbers from those already in place at the Stadium of Light but there will be an equally difficult challenge trying to find a suitable replacement in the transfer market.

Canadian winger Liam Millar is one name who has continued to emerge over the last 12 months with a move to Sunderland – the former Liverpool youngster spent last season on loan in the Championship with Preston North End where he scored five goals and made five assists in 36 appearances.

Millar excelled in Liverpool’s academy which led to loan moves to Kilmarnock and Charlton Athletic before a surprise transfer to the Swiss Super League with Basel in 2021 where he has since gained European experience in the Conference League. The versatile forward has made almost 100 appearances in Switzerland with 23 goal contributions to his name in that time.

Millar has enjoyed his most success when operating as a left winger with 17 goals and 16 assists coming from that area of the field but his flexibility across both the wide attacking areas and as a striker is something which clearly appeals to Sunderland given their longstanding reported interest. Although he did not quite hit the same numbers in front of goal as Clarke with Preston last season, Millar’s profile, at 24-years-old, ticks a lot of boxes for Sunderland’s recruitment model and is a player who would fall into Le Bris’ suggestion of benefiting from last season’s experience in the division.

Reports suggest a fee of around £2million would be required to sign the Canadian this summer, who is understood to have one-year remaining on his Basel contract, with Leeds United also credited with an interest.

Liam Millar and Jack Clarke Fbref radarsLiam Millar and Jack Clarke Fbref radars (Image: Fbref)

Sunderland have also been freshly linked with a move for Valencia winger Declan Firth this summer according to reports from Spanish outlet Marca.

Firth, a former product of both Chelsea and Aston Villa’s academy, moved to Spain last summer as the latest young talent to try and make a breakthrough abroad. The 22-year-old has yet to make an appearance for Mestalla club, making 14 appearances for Valencia’s B team instead with one goal to his name. Firth’s time with Aston Villa proved more fruitful with 15 goal contributions in 24 appearances – the winger possessing similarities with Mundle in how he excelled in a Premier League youth academy before testing himself with a move across Europe.

Firth is an energetic winger who has also occupied the left full-back position which may be of benefit to Sunderland were they to suffer a similar injury crisis as the one endured last season.

Sunderland do face competition for the 22-year-old, who is contracted to the Mestalla until 2026, with Queens Park Rangers and Watford also listed as potential admirers, while there is also interest in keeping Firth in Spain with La Liga side Getafe believed to be in pole position to land the winger this summer, as per Marca.

Firth would cost significantly less than the reported £2m required to attract Millar, and there would be a greater deal of risk attached given his lack of experience, but is another player who the club, aligned with Le Bris’ academy exploits, would look to refine and improve.

Conversely, both Le Bris and Speakman this week detailed how they are open and almost willing to bring in greater experience this summer – comments that will have pleased the Sunderland fanbase after a distinct lack of it last season.

Sunderland have had the youngest team in each of the last two seasons in the Championship, having seen that average age figure decrease from 2022-23 to 2023-24. The widespread consensus is that Sunderland will need to address that issue this summer if they are to reap significant improvements, with no side over the last decade in the Championship ranked with the youngest or second youngest squad in terms of their average age winning automatic promotion to the Premier League, and it only twice happening in the Championship era.

As far as wingers go, that experience may arrive in the form of QPR’s Chris Willock who has also been linked with a move to the Stadium of Light, with the 26-year-old out of contract this summer. Willock has Football League experience with West Bromwich Albion and Huddersfield Town with the winger spending a number of years with Arsenal as a youth player. Willock made two senior appearances for the Gunners in the League Cup as an 18-year-old before moving to Portuguese giants Benfica in 2017.

Willock penned a five-year deal in Lisbon and made 64 appearances for the club’s B team – the same place Sunderland brought in striker Luis Hemir from last summer. Willock, the brother of Newcastle United midfielder Joe, made 23 goal contributions in Portugal before returning to England with a move to QPR in 2020.

Chris Willock key pass map for Queens Park Rangers in 2023-24Chris Willock key pass map for Queens Park Rangers in 2023-24 (Image: StatsBomb)

Versatile across any of the attacking areas, Willock has made almost 150 appearances in West London with over 40 goal contributions in that time. Indeed, it was Willock who almost snatched all three points for Marti Cifuentes’ side at the Stadium of Light in March when seeing a late effort superbly saved by Anthony Patterson in a goalless draw.

With a number of senior Sunderland officials admitting there may be a need to bring in players with Championship experience; ‘players who have over 100 games at the level,’ Willock certainly fits that bill. QPR remain keen to keep Willock at Loftus Road beyond this summer with contract talks still ongoing and understood to have been ‘positive’ but there is interest in the 26-year-old from the Stadium of Light as well as at Carrow Road with Norwich City also credited admirers.

One thing remains clear for Sunderland, however, and that is the significance of Clarke.

The club have been linked with a number of wingers in recent weeks and months which may cause alarm as to whether Clarke’s time on Wearside is coming to an end. If that is to be the case then it undoubtedly becomes a key area for the club to address this summer in order to aid new head coach Le Bris.