SUNDERLAND will offer Simon Mignolet a new contract after the Belgian refuted claims from his own agent that he may be faced to move elsewhere.
Mignolet last night took the unusual action of talking to his own club’s official website to knock down his representative’s suggestion.
Guy Vandersmissen said yesterday: “Our ambition is for Simon to play somewhere he can engage in competition with Thibaut Courtois for the place in goal for Belgium. Courtois is fortunate he is playing for a team that has been doing well lately.”
The 24-year-old was quick to put the record straight.
“I felt I wanted to communicate with the club’s fans following the media reaction to comments made by my representative, which I feel were taken out of context and not a true reflection,” he said.
“Of course, my ambition is to regain the No 1 spot with my national team, but I feel I can do that with Sunderland. I was playing as Belgium’s No.1 a year ago, and hopefully that can be the case in the future.
“I am happy at Sunderland – a club I am proud to represent. I will continue focusing on my football, starting with Saturday’s game against Fulham.”
Mignolet has probably been Sunderland’s best player this season – centre-forward Steven Fletcher is his only credible rival – but remains one of their lowest-paid senior players, still on the wages agreed after his £2m move from local club Sint-Truiden in 2010.
When he arrived on Wearside it was to back up Craig Gordon. But Mignolet was able to oust the injury-prone Scot and fight off competition from Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Keiren Westwood, who joined in the summer of 2011.
Mignolet has not missed a Premier League game since being rushed back from a badly-fractured nose and eye socket when Westwood fell ill ahead of the 2012 New Year’s Day game against Manchester City. The only matches Martin O’Neill – who has on more than one occasion made favourable comparisons with his former team-mate Peter Shilton – has left Mignolet out of have been League Cup games, to give Westwood much-needed match-practice.
While Mignolet’s form as one of the Premier League’s best-peforming goalkeepers this season has escaped some observers, the managers of Arsenal and Manchester United are not among them.
Both have talented young goalkeepers, but both Wojciech Szczesny and David de Gea have shown a propensity for errors that have led to misgivings in some quarters. There have also been suggestions that Spaniard de Gea is unsettled. Courtois, on loan at Atlético Madrid from Chelsea, is regarded as one of the most exciting young goalkeepers in Europe.
He has seven Belgium caps compared to Mignolet’s 12.
The latter’s reliability at the back has not been matched at the other end at Sunderland, which is why they have not won any of their last four matches.
Striker Danny Graham says there is no need to panic just yet – provided the situation does not go on much longer.
The Black Cats have scored twice in the run, mirroring their early-season form.
Unlike then, though, the problem is a lack of ruthlessness, rather than a total absence of creativity. “It is a worry when we have chances and don’t take anything from games and that’s happened three matches in a row now,” said Graham.
“The fact we have created chances shows something is right, we just need to finish more of them off.
“If we weren’t creating chances and were getting beaten we’d be in trouble and it would be a problem. If that stays the same then there will be cause to worry.
“But I don’t see the case to worry just yet – and hopefully we can get a result next week.
“We are creating chances and one game we’ll probably end up giving someone a bit of a beating, but that’s just the way football goes.”