In another edition of Make Your Case, we're looking at whether or not Connor Wickham should continue his footballing education at Sunderland or away on loan.
It's about time we made our cases over something. It's a feature we started early in the summer but recently we've neglected it and focused on the preseason friendlies - well not any more.
A subject we've been wondering about, and many other Sunderland fans have for that matter, is the uncertain future of Connor Wickham. Undoubtedly packed full of potential, and still very young, should he remain on Wearside next season where he'll see more limited action, or head out on loan to a lower standard of football?
Simon Walsh (that's me) and Karl Jones put forward cases for Wickham staying and going...
Simon Walsh: Connor Wickham Should STAY
Let me start off by saying I can certainly see the argument for Wickham to move away on loan, but even after reading it I can't help but feel Wickham will be better served staying in the North East next season.
As things stand we're light on strikers, but that's sure to change in the next few weeks with the likely addition of Steven Fletcher from Wolverhampton Wanderers at some stage this summer, plus Martin O'Neill claiming that he wants to bring in an experienced striker.
Ji has talent, he's very good at bringing others into play, however he really needs to bulk up and toughen up - points noted by O'Neill himself - which would surely make him a more likely and worthy candidate to go on loan to the Championship or elsewhere.
Campbell is worth keeping around, but his versatility to play on the wing, or wide in a 4-3-3 could be as much to his detriment as it is to his advantage - there's every chance he won't be given a central starting role - which leaves only Wickham.
We've seen during the two games in Korea at the Peace Cup that Wickham can lead the line. Against Seongnam he was easily Sunderland's man of the match, while against Groningen he didn't perhaps have as good an all-round game, but he did get himself on the scoresheet, which will no doubt do his confidence the world of good, and put him very much in the forefront of Martin O'Neill's mind.
Often weighed down early in his Sunderland career for the hefty price-tag bestowed upon him by Steve Bruce, that's something he can't really help, and people are slowly starting to realise that and taking Wickham for what he is - a physical beast, a talented striker and a player blessed with potential.
The question comes with how is that potential now best nurtured as he reaches the tender age of 19-years old. A move on loan might sound appealing. He'd head back down to the Championship, grab himself a few goals, and come back full of confidence. But that's not what he needs, he's already plenty confident, and fully back from injury.
Wickham is currently our first choice striker to lead the line, and come the start of the season could well be second or third at worst. Whatever it is, he's certainly going to be in the matchday squad whenever fit, coming on for half an hour here and there, or even starting should we have injury problems. Remember, we are Sunderland, we WILL have injury problems.
Getting thirty minutes under his belt against tough defenders like Nemanja Vidic or John Terry, Wickham would learn much more in that short space of time than he would hitting a hattrick against Bristol City or whoever.
That's in addition to the learning he could do from whichever strikers we bring to the club. If O'Neill is looking for an experienced head - who knows who at this stage - being with them every day in training will do him more good than it would being the big fish in the small pond of the Championship.
It's not about the quantity of learning, but the quality. We know he has great games in his locker - look at Bolton and Aston Villa last season - and I am convinced we can get more of those out of him next season if his talents are nurtured in the right way.
There is much more opportunity for QUALITY learning on Wearside for Connor Wickham in 2012/13, and should we do the right thing and keep him around, we could reap the rewards later in the season as he finds out more about playing at the top level than he could away from the North East.
Karl Jones: Connor Wickham should GO ON LOAN
At the forefront of Martin O'Neill's preparations for the new season has been the search for a new striker - one that can genuinely become the spearhead for the counter-attacking system that was quickly put in place upon O'Neill's arrival.
As we discovered last week, that system has altered slightly. Whether it was down to Stephane Sessegnon's absence or O'Neill's preference, knowing that he now has the time - and resources - to find players suited to his 4-3-3-cum-4-5-1 is not clear. One thing is however; there will only be room, generally, for one striker.
And that is where Wickham fits in. Or, rather, doesn't.
Despite an encouraging performance against Seongnam, last season proved, for one reason or another, that Wickham is not ready to influence Premier League games as a lone striker. His best work came when paired with Nicklas Bendtner, and the luxury of a strike partner seems unlikely to be afforded to him.
So, rather than a second season of intermittent football, which would surely be the case (we're all hoping that the new striker has a bit more purpose than Bendtner, right?), the next stage of Wickham's development should be a season-long loan spell to a Championship club willing to make him their focal point. After all, further Football League experience is being touted for the likes of Billy Knott, Louis Laing and Ryan Noble - all of which are older than Wickham.
The Peace Cup games proved that our £8m teenager looks fitter and stronger than he did for most of the last campaign, so why not capitalise on that? Build on the fact that Wickham is raring to go by giving him regular football, in a division well-known for hurly-burly defenders for which Wickham can ply his trade against. O'Neill has recently stated that he wants an experienced striker to help Wickham, and fellow youngster Ji Dong-won, and whilst that would be beneficial it isn't as rewarding as learning on the job - finding out first-hand what is required in certain situations.
It is easy to forget just how young Wickham is; in some instances the price put on his head by the club can be blinding. But just because he was a sought-after teenager rather than one we have produced ourselves, it shouldn't mean that the same tools for making him a better player are not afforded to him. A loan at Coventry proved to be the catalyst Jordan Henderson's development required, it took two spells at Ipswich Town before Jack Colback made his mark on the Sunderland first team. Pride may have to come before the fall, but similar could just be what is required to make Connor Wickham the striker we all want him to be.
Well, which side of the argument are you on? Vote in the poll below or just give us a shout on Twitter or something. We'd love to hear your comments on what the future holds for Connor Wickham.
Connor Wickham's Future - What Would You Do?
Connor Wickham Should STAY (114 votes)
Connor Wickham Should GO (25 votes)
139 total votes