SUNDERLAND hope to persuade goalkeeper Simon Mignolet his future lies on Wearside after seeing the Lights this weekend.
PSV Eindhoven had hoped to sign the Belgian Under-21 international this week. But when they failed to agree a fee with St-Truiden on Tuesday, the Black Cats moved quickly to try to hijack the deal.
Sunderland have been monitoring Mignolet for some time – St-Truiden warned them off trying to sign the 21-year-old in January.
And sources in Belgium claim that their pursuit will step up a gear with a tour of the Stadium of Light and the Academy of Light. Mignolet told a Belgian newspaper: “The idea is to talk to people and see the facilities.”
Sunderland are after a replacement for Márton Fülöp, set to leave this summer. The Hungarian began last season a genuine contender for the Stadium of Light number one spot, but ended it on loan at Manchester City having been demoted to third choice.
Craig Gordon’s injury problems allowed Fülöp to begin the campaign between the posts for Sunderland, but once Britain’s most expensive goalkeeper rediscovered his form and fitness, it was clear he had won the battle for manager Steve Bruce’s affection. Never the most patient of understudies, Fülöp lost his place on the bench to Trevor Carson in February and played out the season in the reserves, gagged from speaking by the club’s Press office.
Salvation came in the shape of a three-match emergency loan when a goalkeeping injury crisis struck at Eastlands, but it did not work out well, City missing out on Champions League qualification thanks in part to Fülöp’s error against Tottenham Hotspur, and Roberto Mancini recalling on-loan Joe Hart to effectively slam the door on a permanent move for Fülöp.
His Sunderland contract still has a year left to run, but Bruce is prepared to listen to offers for the ex-Tottenham player.
With Carson yet to play Premier League football, Bruce wants a more experienced keeper capable not just of covering Gordon, but providing genuine competition.
Sunderland are also yet to agree a fee for English-speaking Mignolet but St-Truiden’s 3.5m (£3m) asking price is not beyond their means, and could be haggled downwards.
Many is the player who has signed for the Black Cats citing impressive training facilities at the Academy of Light as a major draw. Sunderland will be hoping it plays in their favour again, but Mignolet’s agent warned that his client remains open-minded.
“Sunderland continue to be very interested,” he said. “But we will visit the club before we take further steps and talk about a contract.
“We will see how Simon feels after this visit. We stress, however, that PSV remain a candidate.”
Cristian Riveros is Bruce’s only signing so far this summer, the midfielder agreeing a Bosman free transfer before joining Paraguay’s World Cup preparations.
How many representatives the Black Cats will have in South Africa remains to be seen, with doubts over the involvement of Darren Bent and John Mensah.
Bent’s chances of making the final 23-man England squad on Tuesday remain slim despite outscoring every English player bar Wayne Rooney in last season’s Premier League.
Bent, who scored 24 league goals last season, missed the final cut for Sven-Göran Eriksson’s 2006 World Cup squad.
Predictably, Mensah’s problem is physical. The Ghana centre-back made just 14 league starts on loan at Sunderland last season, hampered by a succession of related back, hamstring and calf problems.
Although it was a constant feature of his year on Wearside, the Black Stars are concerned by the lack of contact training Mensah has taken part in since joining his national squad. Michael Essien has already been ruled out, while Emmanuel Agyemang Badu restricted to light training at the team’s Paris training base.