SUNDERLAND are unlikely to respond to claims by the agent of Simon Mignolet that the goalkeeper is equally “unlikely” to extend his contract at the Stadium of Light, and is keen to “step up a level”.
While fellow Black Cats custodian Keiren Westwood has been told to put the “disappointment” of playing second fiddle for club and country behind him, and ensure his “standards don’t drop”.
With two years remaining on his current deal, Mignolet has been in talks with Stadium of Light officials over an extension since March, although his representative Nico Vaesen insists those negotiations have now stalled.
And following a series of outstanding personal performances last season, the Belgian has reportedly attracted interest from Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool, plus Serie A side Napoli.
A £2million signing from St Truiden in June 2010, the 24-year-old is content on Wearside and not the sort of character to engineer a move away from the club, while Black Cats boss Paolo Di Canio is eager to hold onto his first-choice goalkeeper.
But without a new contract in the pipeline, Sunderland could be forced to cash in on their most highly-prized asset, this summer or next, or risk losing him for nothing thereafter.
Vaesen said: “I think it is very unlikely that he will sign a new contract. There is no progress.
“Simon has obviously come to a point where he wants to step up a level and there is a lot of interest in him. He is very ambitious and wants to play in the World Cup in Brazil next year.
“It was a good thing that Sunderland stayed up and it is a fantastic club where he has had three great years, but it is maybe time to step up a level and play for a club competing for a European spot.
“All teams that are interested in Simon, we direct them to Sunderland. He still has a two-year contract there and any interested clubs have to agree a price with Sunderland first. That is how we conduct our business.”
That price is certain to be a good deal higher than the £6.5m mooted in reports last weekend.
But Sunderland have been unmoved by Vaesen’s claims, and with Mignolet on international duty – Belgian play Serbia in a World Cup qualifier tonight – any negotiations would be on hold anyway.
Should they fail to resume and Mignolet leave the club, The Journal understands that former Newcastle United goalkeeper Fraser Forster has been earmarked as a potential replacement.
Yet, while Westwood this week raised the possibility of having to leave Wearside should his own first-team opportunities remain blocked by Mignolet, thus hindering his international career as well, he remains highly rated at Sunderland.
And with current Republic of Ireland No 1 David Forde struggling to shake off a calf injury ahead of tonight’s World Cup qualifier against the Faroe Islands, Republic coach Alan Kelly has advised the former Carlisle goalkeeper to remain “mentally and physically” on top of his game.
“You don’t let your standards drop, that’s the mantra that I always preach here,” Kelly said.
“Yes, you can come in with disappointment. But you can only keep preparing, keep training and keep yourself ready. You have to get yourself right mentally and physically just in case something happens, to be able to say to the manager ‘Yes, I’m right. If called upon, I am ready to perform’.
“In terms of the politics of whether he has to move, I wouldn’t get involved in that. That’s between Keiren and the club, and that’s how it should be.
“I’m not going to tell Paolo Di Canio how to do his job and he is not going to tell me how to be a goalkeeping coach. You have to respect what is going on there.
“It’s a manager’s decision and that’s something that Keiren and him have to organise.”