Jack Ross has issued a robust response to the suggestion that Benji Kimpioka is only prepared to stay at Sunderland if he is seen as a first-team player.

Academy product Kimpioka is in the final year of his contract on Wearside and, despite the club offering him a new deal, he has so far refused to sign.

And the 19-year-old's agent Martin Kettle raised the stakes over the weekend, saying: "Benjamin would sign a new contract to play for the first team, not to stay additional years in the reserves or to be loaned out to another club than Sunderland , since it is in Sunderland he would want to play."

 

He said: "It's straightforward for me. The truth is that Benji has been offered a contract - a good contract - and to date he has chosen not to sign it.

"That's the player's choice and the player's representatives' choice, but let's not allow anything else to cloud that.

"I would like Benji to stay at the club, I think he has potential, the club has offered him a good contract, we feel, for a player that to date has some potential but has not achieved anything in his career so far.

Sunderland manager Jack Ross
Sunderland manager Jack Ross

For all the promise Kimpioka has shown, he remains a rookie who has barely made any impact at first-team level.

He has made just nine first-team appearances, and five of those - and both of his senior goals - came in last season's EFL Trophy.

He has yet to start a league game, and his four substitute outings in League One add up to a total of only 27 minutes' action.

 

"You become a first-team player if you play in the first-team regularly - that's how I would describe a first-team player," said Ross.

"Once you prove yourself good enough to play in the first team regularly, then you become a first-team player, so for anybody to be told that you are a first-team player before that is...different."

Kimpioka's contract saga has become a long-running saga with Sunderland owner Stewart Donald saying as long ago as April that Ross would not be allowed to play him unless he signed a new contract.

The youngster's last first-team outing came as a substitute in the 5-4 home defeat against Coventry City in April, since when he has featured on the bench just once - as an unused sub in the Carabao Cup win at Burnley at the end of August.

Sunderland are anxious to avoid a repeat of the situation in which they found themselves last January when striker Josh Maja refused to sign a new deal and was therefore able to force through a mid-season move to Bordeaux knowing the Black Cats would have otherwise received only minimal compensation for him had he left when his contract expired in the summer.