MIDDLESBROUGH are unlikely to offer an escape route to Sunderland’s misfiring striker Danny Graham.
The Gateshead-born forward had a difficult first few months at the Stadium of Light, failing to score in 13 appearances after his £5m move from Swansea City.
Coach Paolo Di Canio is thought to be keen to move on the 27-year-old as he looks to revamp his attacking resources, while Boro would love to bring back their academy graduate. But funding the deal would be difficult for the Teessiders.
Manager Tony Mowbray has admitted Middlesbrough had a cheeky bid for Graham accepted in January, before Sunderland made their move. Mowbray knew the striker was keen to return to his native North East and while it was widely anticipated he would join the Black Cats, their failure to tie a deal up in the first few weeks of the transfer window saw him chance his arm.
But Boro are unlikely to be in a position to make such an offer again. Then they were hoping to buy the striker who could see them over the line as they chased promotion to the Premier League, Instead, their form nosedived and they missed the chance.
Consequently they have had to slash costs, releasing the likes of Kieron Dyer, Stephen McManus, George Bailey, Andre Bikey and Julio Arca.
Also in Boro’s favour was that they had Marvin Emnes, a player Graham’s then-employers had long been interested in. It is thought he may have been a makeweight in the deal.
Boro and newly-promoted Cardiff City have both been linked with Graham this summer but the chances of the former being able to structure a deal they could afford and Sunderland would be prepared to accept look slim unless Graham forces the issue by refusing to move out of the region.
Sunderland owner Ellis Short is one of the Premier League’s most enthusiastic supporters of financial fair play and will demand that Di Canio, director of football Roberto Di Fanti and technical director Valentino Angeloni practise what he preaches this summer.
Di Canio is keen to revamp all aspects of his team having been unimpressed by both the talent and the culture of the squad he inherited from Martin O’Neill, but none more so than his strikers.
Steven Fletcher, who is yet to play under the Italian because of injury, was one of only two Sunderland players to score more than five goals from open play last season. The other, Stéphane Sessègnon, has never really settled on Wearside and is again being linked with a move back to France, where his family are based. But, although quality is thin on the ground, Di Canio has plenty of strikers at his disposal.
Ji Dong-won has completed a loan spell with German club Augsburg, £8m Connor Wickham is the club’s most expensive teenager and Duncan Watmore was signed from Altrincham to join Mikaël Mandron as a young striker to be developed.
Sunderland are hopeful Ji’s performances in the Bundesliga and Wickham’s for England Under-21s allow them to cut their losses on the pair, who have a combined four goals in two seasons with the club. Ji’s five goals in 17 Augsburg appearance certainly offer encouragement in that respect. And having only signed him five months ago, Short will surely be unwilling to accept a big loss on Graham, the third-highest-scoring Englishman in the Premier League during his last full season at the Liberty Stadium.
El-Hadji Ba is already thought to have been one of four overseas players lined up for a Bosman free transfer to Sunderland next month.
Paulinho and Ignacio Scocco have also been linked – as has former O’Neill target Kevin Davies – although the Black Cats seem unlikely to afford the Brazilian, while Argentinian Scocco’s agent has said his client would not be interested in joining Sunderland.