With Jack Colback rejecting a new contract and seemingly seeking an exit, just how important is he in Paolo Di Canio’s squad?
Colback is currently the longest serving player at Sunderland, and when you factor in his youth career – that’s thirteen years he has been here. Canny stint. His development over that time has always been admirable if not spectacular. Until the 2011-12 season his contribution to the first team was sporadical but since then he has commanded a regular place in the side achieving nearly 60 starts over the last two campaigns. That would be appearances pretty much everywhere on the pitch, having nearly as many elsewhere as in his favoured central midfield position.
So what exactly does Colback bring to the table? If we start by focusing on performances in centre mid – the first adjective that springs to mind whenever you think of Colback is ‘tidy’. Last season’s statistics show just that. With 86% successful pass rate and finding himself dispossessed less than once a game, as an avenue for building possession he is certainly a good place to start. Joe Allen of Liverpool receives exaggerated plaudits for very similar numbers, but much like Allen, Colback’s creativity is arguably non-existent. A key pass every other game, a dribble every five games and a shot every three games (if we are lucky) makes for agonising reading. Those figures maybe a tad harsh considering Colback spent twelve games last term in defence, but there is still little evidence to suggest he is a creative force in midfield. Partner him with any of Cattermole, Vaughan, Gardner or N’Diaye and you really do struggle to muster confidence that something could be created.
Okay so Colback does not inject creativity into the starting line-up, but perhaps I am looking in the wrong areas regarding his importance. His best performances by some margin were found in defence last term, specific examples being Everton at home and Tottenham away. Turn your attention to the defensive side of his game and things read much more positively. Referring to those two matches, Colback made a staggering 11 interceptions, 10 clearances, 5 shots blocked and 8 tackles committing just 2 fouls.
Colback, the midfielder, is probably victim to personnel Sunderland were laboured with by Martin O’Neill and Steve Bruce. Assuming we purchase a much more positive and creative central midfielder this summer, perhaps he would find a more fruitful partnership with someone to let him get on with his tidy work. In a club which boasts a grand total of zero senior fullbacks, Colback’s versatility cannot be undervalued – but as the new faces continue to arrive, this gets less and less valuable.
Whilst the motives behind Colback’s manoeuvre towards Sunderland exile are yet to be announced, suggesting it revolves around money is certainly feasible. Reports suggest he currently earns around £15,000 per week, which is considerably less than most other first team players at the club – especially those who have made as many appearances as him. Perhaps this reasoning would have some substance to back it, and whilst that is an extortionate amount of money to any of us, you can understand in a relative kind of way.
As Colback’s value in the first team dwindles with each new signing, it is tough to see his bargaining position and ultimately that could seal his fate as a Sunderland player. If money is the issue, you really do get the sense he is a disposable player despite that PDC was quoted saying;
“You need players like Jack in your squad, players who are versatile and can adapt. He’s a good footballer, and he’s also very intelligent. He’s like a sponge with information - you ask him to do something, he understands, he does it. Managers love a player who is capable of doing that. That’s what you need as a modern footballer – intelligence and adaptability – and Jack has both.”
If money is not the issue, then you really have to start questioning Colback’s ambition and/or self belief. Whilst the new season is undoubtedly the most unpredictable in recent memory, unquestionably we are a team on the up. Championship clubs, Cardiff City and Hull City – the clubs touted to be vying for his signature – do not smack you in the face when it comes to ambition. If first team football is the issue, he has had that consistently on Wearside - jumping before you have been dropped, despite the arrival of Cabral, is very odd given PDC's vocal admiration for him. Perhaps there is underlying reasons such as being disgruntled over how he is utilised - similarly to the issues Kieran Richardson had here. That would be a strange one too, given that he was only really used outside of central midfield last season because of necessity such was the shortfall of our squad. Perhaps he is unhappy due to the intensity of the new regime, and maybe he is not the fighter he told us he was. Maybe I am being too cynical!
Back to the original question – how important is Colback to Sunderland? If you blow away the mists of likeability, the plain and simple answer is not massively. Yes he is just 23, but there is little evidence to suggest him leaving would gain or lose us a place in the table come next May. The recruitment drive is in such a high gear right now Jack of all trades may well be out of fashion on Wearside these days. The only real worry I have about him leaving is that we will not be able to command any sort of a transfer fee given he is in the last year of his contract now.
I think now I believe it’s not Scholes.