SUNDERLAND boss Steve Bruce has reacted with fury to suggestions he is prepared to loan Kenwyne Jones to Liverpool.
Sources in Merseyside indicated that the two clubs had been in talks about a possible temporary switch for the Trinidad & Tobago hit-man for a fortnight – but Bruce has hit back by labelling the reports “ridiculous”.
Sunderland might be prepared to sell the forward at the right price – if they can find a replacement – but the chances of a temporary switch are non-existent.
The Black Cats continue to insist they have had no contact from anyone at Liverpool about the striker, who has been the subject of constant speculation since the January transfer window opened.
Bruce’s admission before the window that the striker did not always play to his potential piqued the interest of Birmingham City and Stoke a fortnight ago – but the new link with Liverpool is not being driven by anyone on Wearside.
Although Sunderland would find a bid of £12million for the enigmatic Jones hard to turn down, there is absolutely no chance of Bruce loaning out such an important player.
He is clearly not wholly convinced by Jones but the Black Cats boss said recently that at his best he is worth £40million – which would suggest that he sees the potential in the forward.
And even if he did decide to part ways with Jones, Bruce knows he would need to find a replacement before selling. They have spoken to Schalke forward Kevin
Kuranyi and Salvador Cabanas but as of last night the Black Cats were no closer to securing reinforcements to a squad that has been ravaged by suspensions and injuries.
Liverpool do not have the cash to secure a permanent deal for Jones and see him as no more than a stop-gap solution while Fernando Torres is injured – hence their interest in bringing him on loan.
But the inference of highly-placed Kop sources that the two parties were in discussion has infuriated Bruce.
He fears the reports will cause alarm among Sunderland’s supporters, who are still recovering from their weekend mauling at the hands of league leaders Chelsea.
“I think that it’s massively disrespectful to even suggest we would consider sending Kenwyne out on loan,” Bruce insisted yesterday. “You don’t loan out a player of his calibre.
“I don’t know where these ridiculous stories come from, but there’s no way I’ll be loaning Kenwyne Jones to anyone.”
Even though he is not prepared to part with one of his first-choice strikers on loan, Bruce clearly has some big decisions to make on Jones, who has grown increasingly unsettled over the past few weeks.
Liverpool may hope that having their name linked with him will prompt the big forward to ask for a transfer.
But with the player having signed a long-term contract just 12 months ago, Sunderland are firmly in the box seat.
The most likely scenario still appears to be Jones staying at the Stadium of Light – an eventuality that would test Bruce’s man-management skills.
At least Bruce’s injury worries have eased ahead of an important FA Cup trip to Portsmouth on Saturday.
The Sunderland boss could have four first-team players back in time for the trip to Frattion Park, with goalkeeper Craig Gordon leading the returning stars.
“Craig is back. Obviously Michael Turner is available (after suspension) and we’re hoping to have Andy Reid and Lee Cattermole back as well,” he said.
“John Mensah is on the way back but we will have to wait to see about him.”