SUNDERLAND are set to break their summer transfer deadlock in spectacular fashion after agreeing a £23m deal with Tottenham Hotspur for four players.
Steed Malbranque, Pascal Chimbonda, Teemu Tainio and Younes Kaboul were all on their way to Wearside last night to discuss personal terms with chairman Niall Quinn and are expected to link up with their new team-mates on their pre-season training camp in Portugal over the weekend.
Black Cats boss Roy Keane – who insisted Sunderland desperately needed to make a statement about their ambition this summer – had insisted earlier in the day that he was not frustrated by the club’s failure to land any of his transfer targets and it was easy to see why late last night.
Winger Malbranque, 28, will perhaps be the best-known new signing following a highly successful Premier League career with Fulham and Spurs, although the arrival of Chimbonda, 29, who can play in either full-back position, and defensive midfielder Tainio, 28, will also be well-received given their previous experience of English football.
And, although centre-back Kaboul initially struggled to adapt to the rigours of English football last season, he cost Spurs £7m from French club Auxerre just over a year ago and, at 22, has time on his side to develop into a key figure at the Stadium of Light.
“We’re hoping to bring quality players in,” said Keane yesterday, who also revealed that Liam Miller and Ross Wallace will be taken off the transfer list, having indicated they wish to stay and fight for their places next season.
“The players I’ve got in mind, I’m hopeful they’ll bring real quality to the team. We’re short of numbers this year, but I very much feel I want to target real
quality players, players who’ve certainly played and handled the Premiership.
“Sometimes deals are agreed in principle and it’s just about moving numbers round a bit.
“That’s the stage we’re at with a couple of players. I would like to get to the problem where I can speak to a player, that’s all I ask for and if they go elsewhere we’ll move on.
”The bottom line is you have to agree a price with a club and get an opportunity to speak to the players first. The players we’re interested in, if we can get them, they would be a big plus for me and a big plus for the squad. I am talking five or six to take us to the next level.”
Four of those are now close to being in place and Keane could yet return with another offer to Spurs for striker Darren Bent. For now, though, the Irishman will be pleased to once again see that Quinn and the Drumaville Consortium are willing to back him fully in the transfer market.
Although Keane achieved his ambition last season to keep the Black Cats in the top flight he has never been one to sit back and reflect on what he has achieved.
The former Manchester United skipper had challenged the club to show they could match his ambition for the future this summer and if all four become Sunderland players, the Black Cats have pulled off a remarkable piece of business.
Keane added: “The club needs to make a statement, very much so, I said that at the end of last season. I do know Niall and Peter (Walker) are working extremely hard, but it’s all well and good saying we’re nearly there. I want to change the history of the club, that’s the statement we want to make.”
And, with Sunderland closing in on four established Premier League players, Keane has fixed his sights on the likes of Blackburn Rovers and Middlesbrough as he looks to ensure Sunderland are clear of the relegation dogfight. He added: “I hope our signings will say we are ready to go to the next level and that’s the teams just above us. The Middlesbroughs and Blackburns. We were competitive with them last year, but we lost the games.
“It’s like the transfer deals. Nearly never made it. It’s about bringing in top-quality players and we have not really done that in terms of bringing in players from other top clubs. We know if we want to go to better places we need to add quality and numbers.”