SUNDERLAND will definitely lose one top-class international goalkeeper this summer as Keiren Westwood warned he cannot allow a repeat of last season's "disaster". With big-name clubs circling the Belgian, Simon Mignolet’s Black Cats future is in doubt. If the 24-year-old does stay on Wearside, Westwood warned he will be off.
The ex-Carlisle man was the victim of Mignolet’s outstanding form, losing his place as the Republic of Ireland’s first-choice goalkeeper. His start in Sunday’s friendly with Georgia was his only first-team football since October.
Having tried and failed to leave in January, Westwood has made it clear he will not take no for an answer if asked to again play second fiddle.
“I’m not too sure,” he replied when asked if he is considering a move. “I love it at Sunderland, but if I’m not going to play...
“It’s a tough decision, but I need to play football, I think that’s evident. I have sort of taken a – I won’t say backward – step. Sunderland is a fantastic club and I think I’ve improved. But not playing is a right disaster for me.”
The worry for Sunderland is they end up losing both. Mignolet appears reluctant to leave, but stressed this week he is “ambitious”.
Sunderland could eventually be made an offer they feel unable to resist as owner Ellis Short seeks to bring the club in line with the financial fair play regulations, of which he is one of the Premier League’s leading advocates.
As he showed when Mignolet was out with a fractured eye socket the season before last, Westwood is one of the league’s most talented reserve keepers.
But Millwall’s David Forde has emerged as Shay Given’s international successor because of Westwood’s lack of first-team football.
When Given retired – a decision since reversed without winning his place back for the same reasons – Westwood seemed guaranteed to succeed the former Newcastle and Sunderland man.
Westwood confessed he has been “in a dark place” since then – manager Martin O’Neill blocked his attempts to leave, even on loan, in the New Year.
“He kept me around and I can understand why he did because to have two goalkeepers of good quality, so to speak, is a must for a Premier League squad,” he said.
“The manager, I think, was more nervous in case anything happened to Simon. He couldn’t really let me go, which was a disaster, really, because it’s not gone well for me since.
“I haven’t played any games and I lost my (international) place as well. It’s tough. I’m not going to lie, at times you are in a dark place and you are on your own.
“As a footballer, you want to play football and if you don’t play, it’s mentally challenging.”
Meanwhile, Duncan Watmore has admitted he was as surprised as anyone when he became Paolo Di Canio’s first signing.
“It all happened within a week. They put in a bid, then they negotiated,” the 19-year-old former Altrincham striker revealed.
“Four or five days later they said they agreed and then two days after that they invited me up for the medical.
“It’s all been so crazy for me, and it’s come out of nowhere. All this season I’ve just been thinking about doing well for Altrincham.
“I assumed I’d be there next season, and then this offer came along.’
“Peterborough were apparently watching and maybe a couple of others, but I never heard anything. I only ever heard of Sunderland’s interest about two-and-a-half months ago. I was a bit shocked.
“I went up there to see all the facilities, they were unbelievable. They are so impressive. I was keen on the idea and I knew I just had to carry on playing well.”