SUNDERLAND will have to increase their offer for Ahmed Al-Muhammadi or risk losing the Egyptian to West Browmich Albion.
The right-sided player is expected in England this week for talks over a possible season-long loan from ENPPI.
But the Baggies have now emerged as favourites to land the 22-year-old because they are prepared to pay a bigger loan fee. The Black Cats have a long-standing interest in Al-Muhammadi, equally comfortable at right-back or on the right of midfield. They took him on trial in August and although rumours of a £2m January move never came to fruition, they remain keen.
Marcos Angeleri is due to join
shortly and can also play right-back, a key area manager Steve Bruce has been anxious to strengthen. But Angeleri is an Argentinian who has played all his club football in his homeland for Estudiantes.
Bruce is perhaps the most experienced manager in the English game at dealing with central and South American footballers – last summer he signed Paraguay’s Paulo Da Silva, who will be joined by international team-mate Cristian Riveros next term – and believes it generally takes them at least six months to adapt to the notoriously high tempo of Premier League football.
Therefore he will need others to ease the burden while Angeleri, whose transfer will be rubber-stamped once he receives an Italian passport, makes the transition. Sunderland’s only specialist right-back, Phil Bardsley, is for sale and although Da Silva played there at times last season, he did not always convince. Al-Muhammadi could provide that breathing space, though he will have to adapt to life outside north Africa.
Al-Muhammadi is also versatile, an important quality as Bruce looks to maintain a tight-knit squad, and could fill another problematic position in midfield. Al-Muhammadi is renowned in Egypt for his crossing, drawing unhelpful comparisons with Bruce’s former Manchester United team-mate David Beckham.
ENPPI are reluctant to sell one of their best players, but are prepared to consider a loan. The Black Cats had been confident of landing their man but the deal has faltered over cost.
Clubs generally pay a fee to take players on loan and Sunderland are not prepared to match what ENPPI are asking.
West Brom are, so Sunderland must decide whether to up their offer or risk missing out. Bruce has been careful with his transfer budget so far, sticking to cheap foreign acquisitions rather than expensive British ones. Between them Angeleri, Bosman signing Riveros and goalkeeper Simon Mignolet have cost less than £5m in transfer fees.
Sunderland are also thought to have ruled out a bid for West Ham United and England defender Matthew Upson on grounds of cost.
He is still on the look-out for a centre-back, however, after £6m-rated Germany defender Heiko Westermann rejected a move to Wearside. The Black Cats are still hopeful of persuading Westermann to change his mind, and are also weighing up a move for John Mensah, who impressed in a season-long loan at Sunderland last term but whose appearances were sporadic due to long-standing injury problems.