Sunderland are eyeing a move for Dundee United’s teenage wonderkid Ryan Gauld – a 17-year-old forward nicknamed the ‘Baby Messi’ in Scotland.
The Journal understands that a senior scouting delegation from the Black Cats watched the Tannadice club’s under-21 game against Partick on Tuesday, and Scotland under-19 international Gauld was the prime reason for their presence.
Sunderland are keen to add more quality to their development squad and swooped for El-Hadji Ba and Duncan Watmore over the summer, but there are more funds available to strengthen the group – and the Black Cats want more talent that can challenge their first-team squad.
Gauld is seen in that mould and he has been earning rave reviews and already made 13 first-team appearances. He particularly impressed in the 3-0 defeat of Partick’s youngsters before being taken off in the second half.
The Black Cats were also running the rule over Scotland under-19 international defender John Souttar, who made his first-team debut for Dundee United at just 16 back in January, and 18-year-old midfielder Darren Petrie.
Gauld is contracted to Scottish Premiership club until 2016 but the lure of a move to the Premier League would undoubtedly appeal for a player who is a key member of Ricky Sbragia’s talented Scotland under-19 side.
Sunderland’s presence north of the border also illustrates that Paolo Di Canio’s summer “revolution” is not just intended as a short-term fix at the Stadium of Light.
Ellis Short wants the Academy and the development squad to continue feeding the production line that has seen Sunderland supplied with first-team players Jordan Henderson, Jack Colback and Grant Leadbitter in recent years.
The presence of Di Canio’s scouting staff – with chief scout Valentino Angeloni understood to have taken a personal interest in the Scottish scouting mission – is further evidence that the club is attempting to build for the future.
A more pressing concern for Di Canio is completing the rebuilding work that was started during the close season and Sunderland made their tenth senior signing of the summer yesterday, sealing a deal for Greece winger Charis Mavrias.
The 19-year-old signed a four-year contract after finally completing an on-off transfer from Panathinaikos. The fee was officially undisclosed but is understood to be around £2.5m – with Sunderland making a down-payment of just £1.5m.
It is good business for a player who has played more than 70 times for his club and has appeared twice for his country as a teenager.
Di Canio is delighted with the signing of a player full of enthusiasm, with the squad now having true competition for places.
“He’s a young – a prospect and a talent. He’s full of energy and he has good quality,” he said. “I’m very happy because he is more mature than his age. He is a guy whose enthusiasm is infectious – he has a good future.
“We have five wingers now. There is an international break coming but we will play three games in a week and we will use all of these players. We want to be protagonists in the Cup and the league. It’s not easy but with more quality comes more desire for places and I will try to rotate my players.”
Sunderland have again been linked with Toulouse left-back Cheikh M’Bengue as well as Swansea’s creative midfielder Ki Sung-Yeung.