Sunderland sporting director Kristjaan Speakman has revealed that he did everything he could to retain the services of striker Ross Stewart this summer, before his departure to Championship rivals Southampton.
The Scottish international’s future was one of the big talking points around the Stadium of Light this summer, with the 27-year-old in the final year of his contract. Various talks had taken place over a potential extension, although any offers were rebuffed by the striker and links to various clubs in England and Scotland persisted throughout the transfer window.
With the final days of the window ticking by, it looked as if Stewart would remain on Wearside, but Southampton swooped late to make the £10 million signing in the final hours.
It was undoubtedly a blow for Sunderland, but manager Tony Mowbray had issued several updates throughout the last few weeks that a number of attackers were being targeted to bolster his front line. After all, Stewart had been on the sidelines with an Achilles heel problem since January and alternatives needed to be found to cover the goals lost by him and Amad Diallo – who returned to Manchester United following his highly successful loan spell.
After struggling for goals in the opening stages of the season, Sunderland responded in emphatic fashion on Saturday with a 5-0 win – ironically against Southampton – the day after they secured the services of the sought-after Mason Burstow on a season-long loan from Premier League giants Chelsea.
“It’s was a very complex matter because the player has performed to a very high level for our football club and we feel privileged to have had him here.
“We were really proud of the progress he made here. People will have probably made a judgement on Ross Stewart joining when he came here. We have maximised his potential and he maximised his opportunity here.
“Sometimes that’s the outcome, people will move on and have different opportunities.
“What we had to do is ensure we protect the club and what we tried to do with that situation is make the best possible offer to retain him, which was our number one priority, and I said that throughout all the communication internally and externally.
“But there also comes a moment when you have to make a difficult decision and once you’ve made that difficult decision – and it was probably a difficult decision for the player as well to move on – then we had to protect the football club and get the best deal, and I certainly feel we did that.”
Sunderland will have been desperate to retain the services of one of the top strikers in the division, although the loss is not as big as many will lead you to believe. Tony Mowbray navigated his way to the play-offs last season without the services of the player for much of the campaign, but his absence was highlighted by the Black Cats’ poor start.
Last Saturday’s big win has eased those concerns, particularly because a number of their new signings did not feature. They travel to goal-shy Queens Park Rangers after the international break and the manager will be keen to cement the last result with another big win.