Former player Michael Gray believes Sunderland’s Jermain Defoe will have a big part to play next season and advises the club to wrap him up in cotton wool, the Daily Star report.
Defoe was instrumental in helping the Black Cats avoid relegation to the Championship last term, scoring 15 goals in 28 Premier League starts including the winner in a 3-2 thriller with Chelsea in May.
However, at 33, there could now be a temptation for Sunderland to bring in a younger replacement this summer as the club now looks to push on and compete in the top half of the table.
Gray, though, feels Defoe still has a huge part to play at the Stadium of Light and backs the striker to be even better playing in a confident side with better quality around him.
"I still think he's still got so much to offer, which he's proved this season in a really struggling Sunderland side. So you can imagine when they get a bit of confidence like they did at the end of last season, how good he can be,” Gray told the Daily Star.
"We need to try and keep hold of Jermain as long as we possibly can, wrap him up in cotton wool because he such a big part of what we've got going forward."
Sunderland have so far yet to announce any summer signings, though boss Sam Allardyce will no doubt be keen to strengthen his side and in particular in the attacking positions.
Instead of replacing Defoe, the logical decision would be to bring in a potential strike partner or alternative in order to take the goal scoring burden off the former Tottenham Hotspur man.
The Black Cats have the potential to challenge for a top half spot next season, though most supporters will probably settle for a largely uneventful campaign with little relegation worries.