As the weeks of season 2023-24 tick by, decision day draws ever closer for a select group of first-team players whose contracts expire in the summer.
In a recent round of interviews with the local media, sporting director Ben Knapper was transparent regarding the situations of these players and his overarching aim of lowering the age of the squad further, revealing that conversations have not yet taken place regarding any possible renewals.
The initial list was shortened with the departures of Adam Forshaw and Przemyslaw Placheta during the January transfer window to fellow Championship sides Plymouth Argyle and Swansea City respectively, but there are still five regular first-teamers with contracts set to end in June.
If I am completely honest, I struggle to see a world in which they are all kept on.
After initially impressing on loan during the pandemic promotion season, Gibson was signed on a permanent deal from Burnley for £8M. However, since then his performances in both the Premier League and Championship have proved to be inconsistent at best.
Due to his age profile and him being one of the squad’s top earners, from a pure business perspective, it feels like this summer could be the natural end for his time in Norfolk. Having a left-footed centre-half is a bonus for any side striving to be a possession-dominant side – something that Knapper has outlined – so there could be a world where Gibson is given some form of extension due to having those qualities.
However, this feels unlikely unless a compromise on his wages can be found.
I would be shocked to see Batth remain at the club for the 2024-25 campaign. Signed on the summer deadline day as a last-minute replacement for Andrew Omobamidele – who left for Nottingham Forest – the 33-year-old has hardly featured, currently sitting at fourth choice behind Duffy, Gibson, and Hanley.
With both Brad Hills and Jonathan Tomkinson impressing in the EFL this season, it just feels unnecessary to keep Batth around if he is going to block the pathway of these younger players.
I expect Knapper to have a similar train of thought if he is to enact his plan around lowering the age profile and re-establishing the academy pathway to the first team.
If I am honest, I am also finding it difficult to see a world where Giannoulis signs on fresh terms for next season. The Greek international has never really lived up to the £6M price tag after signing for us after his six-month loan spell during the promotion campaign of 2020-21.
For me, he falls into the inconsistent category far too often; a very tidy fullback on the ball but still has clear deficiencies to his defensive side of the game. A perfect case in point came this weekend against QPR when he ran the ball out of play needlessly and then didn’t shut the resulting cross down from which Kerim Frey leveled for the hosts.
At 28, I suspect he might be ready for a fresh challenge in Europe somewhere instead of at least another long season in the Championship, with long-standing interest in Europe from a host of clubs during his time at the club.
I hold some slight optimism that McCallum could be one that the club sees as a possible future asset if he plays regularly. Currently 23 years old, the Englishman has never truly staked his claim to be the first choice for any manager thus far; Daniel Farke opted for multiple loans and both Smith and Wagner preferred Giannoulis when both were fully fit.
There have recently been some decent cameos off the bench at left-back in an attacking sense, but defensively there is still some work to be done. However, I think this is more of a reflection on how he has been asked to play by Wagner. I have been impressed by his aerial ability and eagerness to engage with tackles.
The club may see it as a chance to create another defensive asset for the future. However, McCallum will be at the stage where he will want to be a first-choice left-back, which for me he could easily be at this level after having proved that twice already with positive loans at Coventry and QPR.
‘Lungi’ Sorensen is the man who, in his time at the club, has seemingly played in every position other than his actual holding midfield role. Deployed at left-back, centre-back, and most recently at right-back in the draw to QPR, the club has the option to extend for a year, but with a poor injury record and lack of game time in his four years at the club, I think for all involved a fresh start may be necessary.
At 25, he needs to be playing regularly in his actual position, and he will know that better than anyone. If he stays fit and has an option to play centrally in midfield, I think there would be a whole host of clubs interested in signing him.
Due to the scale of the rebuild required, there could be a chance all five move on in the summer, which could provide the club with a real chance to shuffle the pack across the board.