SUNDERLAND have opened contract talks with star man Simon Mignolet ahead of a summer in which Arsenal and Liverpool are expected to be in the hunt for new goalkeepers, writes MARK DOUGLAS.
The Journal understands that Mignolet’s advisors began discussions with Sunderland before the end of the season, and are set for further talks in the next month.
The early signs are that the Belgium number one is happy to remain at the Stadium of Light, and has not had his head turned by talk of mounting interest in him.
Arsenal and Liverpool watched him numerous times since the turn of the year.
But Mignolet’s long-term advisors appear to have a good relationship with Sunderland and are aware that he needs to play regular first-team football to cement a World Cup spot for Brazil-bound Belgium.
They may seek to add a Champions League release clause similar to the one that is understood to be in the contracts of compatriots Marouane Fellaini and Christian Benteke, which would stipulate Sunderland must allow him to talk to clubs playing in the Champions League who match an agreed valuation.
Of course, Mignolet still has two years remaining on his contract, but Sunderland want to reflect his improvement in the last 12 months and also tie up a valuable asset.
They are aware of a potential goalkeeper merry-go-round this summer, with Liverpool anticipating a move from Barcelona for Pepe Reina, and Arsenal also in the hunt for a new stopper.
Mignolet is on the hit-list for both of those clubs, and was also named in influential Catalan sporting newspapers last season as one of Barcelona’s mooted targets.
While much of the focus is on getting star assets tied down, Sunderland have made their first signing of the summer – 19-year-old Altrincham striker Duncan Watmore.
He will join the Academy and play mostly for the under-21 side, who are intending to bolster their squad over the summer.
The club are close to agreeing a deal for Le Havre’s France under-20 midfielder El-Hadji Ba, who has hinted at a move on his personal Twitter page. Watmore will join the Black Cats from July 1 after catching the eye of Sunderland scouts in Conference North last year, where he scored 14 goals in 29 starts.
Academy manager Ged McNamee told Sunderland’s official website: “We are pleased to welcome Duncan to the club and wish him the best of luck.”
Meanwhile, the Sunderland clear-out continues with Ahmed Elmohamady due to join Titus Bramble and Matt Kilgallon through the Stadium of Light exit door.
Hull City want to turn the Egyptian’s loan move into a permanent one, and are also interested in Phil Bardsley.
The Black Cats will also be hoping that Cardiff City follow up their interest in Danny Graham, who does not appear to be in the plans of manager Paolo Di Canio. A £4m fee has been mentioned.
One player released by the club looks to have found a new club, with Adam Reed a target for League Two York City.
His contract is due to expire next month and he has an offer on the table from Nigel Worthington.
“His agent has rang me and he knows I like the lad,” said Worthington.
“He has obviously been on a certain level of wages at Sunderland, but there has to be a sense of realism in that respect and, if that’s the case, then I will put the ball in their court.”