SUNDERLAND are hunting for left-back cover in South America – as Martin O’Neill admits Phil Bardsley is finding life “tough” this season.
The Journal understands the Black Cats are close to striking a deal for a Peru international to provide back-up for Danny Rose, the Tottenham defender who Sunderland are still hopeful of signing on a permanent basis at the end of the season.
Rose will stay at the Stadium of Light until the end of the season after Tottenham allowed a recall clause in his contract to elapse in the middle of the month.
However, O’Neill wants more cover in that department and he is using South American contacts to try to secure a senior international on loan with a view to a permanent deal.
The target is not understood to be Jesus Rabanal, who spent a short period on trial on Wearside last season.
O’Neill is hopeful of bringing in at least three more players, with Danny Graham a priority target to fill the striker berth vacated by Fraizer Campbell.
The Sunderland chief is also looking at bringing in a right-back after expressing concerns about Bardsley’s form.
The Black Cats may yet move for Bolton’s Marcos Alonso, with the 22-year-old a possible option for Sunderland – who want more senior defensive cover.
Former player of the year Bardsley has struggled with form and fitness issues this year with O’Neill hinting the player should be able to hit peak fitness soon.
The former Manchester United defender had a nasty ankle injury and missed the entire pre-season.
O’Neill admitted: “I think that has been a factor. This time last year he was going brilliantly, really, really strongly.
“He won the player of the year from the left-back position the previous year.
“By his own really decent standards Phil is finding it tough and missing pre-season and the length of time he has been out, you can’t put it all down to that – sometimes you can have a pre-season in a season and it is getting that time.
“For the most part we will take the possibility of postponements or games you would have played against someone in the cup, we should have enough time now with these games almost on a weekly basis to get really proper work with the likes of Phil and the lads who've come in.”
Meanwhile, it has emerged Sunder-land are preparing to clear the decks at Academy level, with Roarie Deacon and Adam Reed following Blair Adams out of the door.
The Journal understands 30 players at all levels will be out of contract at the end of the season and O’Neill hopes to improve the foundations with an influx of new talent.
A small transfer budget has been set aside and Sunderland’s scouting team are on the lookout for youngsters from all over the globe to become part of their development squad.
Le Havre young gun El-Hadji Ba is one of those being courted by the Black Cats – and the 19-year-old says he would be open to a move to England.
Ba said: “I am flattered by my name being mentioned with clubs such as Sunderland and Dortmund. Le Havre will be the one to decide if they still want to keep me at the club.”