CLUBS have started to circle Sunderland in the hope of pinching prize asset Steven Fletcher on the cheap in the January transfer window.
Celtic boss Neil Lennon yesterday speculated openly about the prospect of buying the Black Cats’ striker, while former Sunderland boss Steve Bruce is believed to be interested in taking the Scottish international to Hull City.
While Celtic and Hull are known to be interested, other clubs will also be on standby, should Sunderland decide to sell.
Former Black Cats’ boss Martin O’Neill signed Fletcher from relegated Wolves for £12m in August, 2012.
But Celtic and Hull would want to pay only half that price for a player who has scored just three goals in 17 appearances in a season disrupted by illness and injury. Neither club has made an official approach for Fletcher but Bruce will step up an interest if Sunderland are prepared to let him go in a cut-price deal.
And Lennon mused in his Press conference yesterday that Sunderland might want more than £6m for a player who would be in the Scottish giants’ price range if he was allowed to leave for half the fee O’Neill paid.
Asked if £6m was beyond Celtic, Lennon said: “No, but people are quoting £6m, but he was bought for £12m.
“I know transfer fees change over the years but he is a youngish player so I would imagine it might be £6m we are talking about.
“He is a player that I think most teams in Britain would like but affordability might be a problem for us.
“Could we afford to spend £6m on one player though? Yes we could.”
Fletcher would have to take a pay cut if he joined either club but the striker, who has been relegated twice previously – with Burnley and Wolves – might contemplate that if it meant securing his long-term future.
Confirming he would be interested if Fletcher was available, Lennon mentioned the wage issue.
He said: “I don’t know about that, you would have to ask the board but if we are going to bring in a big-name player, then wages will obviously have to come into mind when negotiating.
“I would imagine he would break it (wage structure) by a lot if we were going to do that.”
Gus Poyet will be well aware of the fact that Fletcher is one of his most sellable assets.
But he also understands that the Scot is the one player on the books who could end Sunderland’s problems in front of goal should he rediscover his usually prolific form.
Selling the 26-year-old in the summer, should Sunderland be relegated, would be almost inevitable – the player likely to want to stay in the Premier League, while the club would be keen to reduce its wage bill and generate funds for rebuilding.
But in the current situation, it would be a surprise if Sunderland wanted to cash in on comfortably their best goalscorer, or if Fletcher wanted to take a cut in wages to move on.