AFTER kick-starting their summer transfer activity last week, Sunderland are hopeful of adding Craig Gardner and Ji Dong-Won to their ranks this week.
South Korean striker Ji was on Wearside at the weekend to agree the details of his move from Chunnam Dragons, and the Black Cats had a bid for Birmingham City midfielder Craig Gardner accepted on Friday.
At £5m, Gardner will become the first significant purchase of the summer. Ahmed Elmohamady’s move from ENPPI was officially made permanent, but that was simply rubber-stamping business Sunderland had already announced in February, when the Egyptian was still on a season-long loan.
It was announced last week Sebastian Larsson and goalkeeper Keiren Westwood will both join on free transfers next month. Despite interest from Wolverhampton Wanderers, Swedish international Larsson looks set to be reunited with Gardner, a fellow midfielder at St Andrew’s last season.
While club sources say a deal for 24-year-old Gardner is not imminent, Sunderland are nevertheless confident of completing the deal.
Matters have been complicated by the arrival of Chris Hughton as Birmingham’s new manager, but the former Newcastle boss has enough experience of dealing with the fallout from a Premier League relegation to realise if he has a player set on leaving, sanctioning his departure will improve his chances of keeping the high-earning players who can help Blues make an immediate return.
Gardner only joined the team he supported as a boy in January, a controversial £3m move across the city from Aston Villa.
His extra-time goal took Birmingham into last season’s League Cup final – which they won – but their subsequent relegation is likely to make his stay a short one. A healthy profit should ease Birmingham’s frustration.
If confirmed, his arrival should begin to mitigate Jordan Henderson’s sale to Liverpool for a fee approaching £20m. The versatile Gardner is also a central midfielder by preference, although he can offer cover in a variety of positions, including right-back.
Meanwhile, goalkeeper Simon Mignolet has warned Westwood he faces a fight for his place.
The former Carlisle United player will officially join as a “Bosman” signing on July 1, when his Coventry City contract expires.
The Republic of Ireland international will presumably be confident of carving out a position as first choice, but Mignolet has designs on the shirt himself.
The 23-year-old made 23 appearances in his debut Premier League season, more than he would have expected after continuing injury problems to No 1 Craig Gordon. He did enough to win a first Belgian cap, and hopes he can now win the competition with Republic of Ireland international Westwood.
“It won’t be easy for the gaffer to make that decision, but he’s going to have to do that,” said Mignolet, signed from Sint-Truiden last summer.
“Hopefully, I will have made it tough for him with my performances last season.
“I was ready for a battle with Craig at the start of last season. If Craig is fit, it’s a tough decision for the manager. Obviously Craig is a good goalie, but I played the majority of games over the season.
“We work hard together in training but then the gaffer has to make a decision on a match-day and I’m sure that’s exactly how it will be next season.”
Gordon will miss the start of the season as he convalesces from a knee operation, but Westwood’s arrival, the fact he has only 12 months left on his contract, and the pressure Bruce is under to reduce the Black Cats’ wage bill, all suggest his days at the Stadium of Light may be numbered anyway.