SUNDERLAND are hoping to clinch the two biggest deals of the Ellis Short era this week after lodging new bids for England winger Adam Johnson and Wolves striker Steven Fletcher.
The Black Cats opened their campaign with a dogged and determined draw at Arsenal but, with Short prepared to back his manager with serious funds, the club have their ambitions trained higher this season.
Martin O’Neill made repeated assertions in his post-match press conference that the club require attacking reinforcements urgently, a statement made after the club made contact with both Manchester City and Wolves about two of their long-term targets.
Sunderland are understood to have tabled a £10million offer for Adam Johnson and spoke to Wolves again over the weekend with a view to upping their £12million offer for Steven Fletcher. Neither player was involved with his respective club in the opening round of fixtures.
However, as the Black Cats seek to add the high-calibre replacements O’Neill believes are essential to stave off a season of struggle, the club has admitted publicly for the first time Kieran Richardson has expressed a desire to leave. O’Neill admits losing Richardson would be less-than-ideal given his lack of attacking options.
His attention is focused on bringing in one of the two major targets he has identified.
It may not be so simple with regard to Johnson, who is interesting two other Premier League clubs.
Sunderland would be prepared to break their wage structure to sign the player, who is interested in speaking to the Black Cats and is keeping an open mind about his future.
While he doesn’t have an axe to grind with the player, City boss Roberto Mancini confirmed Johnson sat out his side’s 3-2 win over Southampton as he is giving the winger an opportunity to look for another club.
He said: “Adam is a young guy. He is a good player and he wants to play.
“In these next 10 days, if we find a good solution for him and he can go to play maybe it is better.
“I don’t know about a loan. We have two or three situations.
“We are talking with him about this, but if he stays here I don’t have a problem.”
Sunderland believe they can put together a financial package to justify their interest in Johnson, but know it would be a major coup if they did manage to pull it off.
They face a less taxing job of selling the club to Fletcher, who wants to come to Sunderland.
The problem may be matching Wolves’ £15million valuation – although O’Neill was not ruling out a fresh bid.
He said: “Fletcher is one of a number of players who has been mentioned.
“We keep going on forever about it but we dneed to strengthen.
“It would be great to do it this week.
“That would be terrific if it’s at all possible.
“ It’s important because with each day that goes past we’re getting closer to September, and at my age they’re going quicker than ever!”
With regard to Richardson, O’Neill admitted the player had expressed a desire to leave in January and is unhappy at not being played further up the field.
However, the manager insists he wants to keep him at the Stadium of Light, praising him for his opening-day performance at Arsenal.
Richardson performed well but followed up his display by hurling his shirt into the visiting supporters at the Emirates – a strange gesture for a player with just under 12 months left on his contract.
O’Neill added: “Kieran came to see me in the transfer window and for family issues and what have you he thought maybe a change would suit him.
“It’s been ongoing but no-one has come in and made an offer.
“Naturally, if he plays like that I’d like to keep him.
“On Saturday I thought he was splendid for us.”