BUOYED by making Connor Wickham the most expensive teenager in their history, Sunderland will today turn their attentions to completing a £5m move for Craig Gardner.
While the Black Cats were busy tying up the signing of Wickham, Birmingham midfielder Gardner was on Wearside talking terms.
Although 18-year-old Wickham has been signed to partner Asamoah Gyan, he will not be expected to take the goalscoring burden off the Ghanaian alone.
Gardner has been identified for his ability to find the net from midfield – as he did ten times last season – while free transfer Sebastian Larsson will take over the set-piece duties from Jordan Henderson, who moved to Liverpool this month. But of all the signings Sunderland make this summer – shopaholic boss Steve Bruce began it targeting “eight or nine” – none are likely to cause more excitement than Wickham.
The Wearsiders went into the transfer window downplaying their chances of signing the Ipswich Town player. Having watched him closely, they feared losing out to stronger competition.
Part of England’s Under-21 squad at this summer’s European Championships, Wickham’s talents were well known, he was regarded as one of the most exciting English talents outside of the Premier League.
But while Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham either failed to find the cash or were unprepared to gamble it on such a young player, Sunderland moved in, wrapping the deal up with almost indecent haste.
The initial fee is around £8.1m, but could rise as high as £12m.
“A number of top sides have been chasing Connor for some time now, so naturally we are absolutely delighted he has chosen to come to Sunderland,” said Bruce of his fourth addition of the summer.
“He’s still very young, but at 6ft 3in he’s a physical presence. With his height and style of play, he will offer us a threat in front of goal and complement our existing strikers.
“We have been watching him for a while now and he is improving and developing all the time. He’s a great prospect and I’m sure our supporters will love watching him play.”
Wickham scored nine goals in last season’s Championship from 37 appearances, 13 from the bench.
With the danger that rivals might find the money and take the plunge at any minute, Sunderland signed Wickham less than 24 hours after having an improved offer for the Colchester-born player accepted.
Fortunately for them, the boyhood Liverpool fan proved extremely receptive to their advances.
“Once the fee was agreed and I met with the manager, he basically told me everything about the club and the ambitions, and it was sold,” Wickham told his new club’s official website.
“Now everything is done and dusted, I just really can’t wait to get started.
“Ever since the speculation, I have never felt pressured. I have never felt intimidated by what has gone on off the pitch or who has come in or anything like that.
“But now I am obviously relieved to have everything done.
“The weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I can get back to playing football, and I know where I am going to be next season. I just want to play now.”
Meanwhile, Michael Kay and Robbie Weir have signed one-year deals with Tranmere Rovers after being released at the end of the season. Both had loan spells at Prenton Park last term.
They may soon be followed out of the Stadium of Light door by Cristian Riveros, set for a season-long loan at Turkish side Kayserispor.
The Paraguayan midfielder joined shortly before the last World Cup, but has been unable to replicate his South Africa form.