Chris Young column: Who’ll survive Sunderland’s January sales?

David Vaughan.
David Vaughan.
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AN OUTLAY of just £650,000 helped to ensure a £120million windfall for Cardiff City in the space of six months.

It’s a piece of speculation that Gordon Gekko would have proudly noted in his Filofax.

Last January, Cardiff invested that modest sum in Fraizer Campbell and the former Sunderland frontman immediately repaid the investment with seven goals in 12 Championship appearances to secure promotion for the Bluebirds.

Cardiff got Campbell on the cheap, with Sunderland stung in their efforts to replace him in their front line after splashing out £5million – plus significant wages – on current Hull loanee Danny Graham.

But the Black Cats felt they needed to take whatever they could for Campbell, with his contract at the Stadium of Light expiring six months later.

Will they follow suit this January with a fire-sale of any of the nine players – Jack Colback, Keiren Westwood, Phil Bardsley, Carlos Cuellar, Craig Gardner, Seb Larsson, Andrea Dossena, Ji Dong-won and David Vaughan – whose deals are entering their final few months?

Given that Sunderland are thought to have minimal room to manoeuvre on the wage bill under the regulations of financial fair play ­– which chairman Ellis Short helped to introduce – it would be a major surprise if all nine were still on the Stadium of Light books at the end of the transfer window.

Gus Poyet’s meeting with director of football Roberto De Fanti last week will have clarified matters over who Sunderland are willing to offload at the turn of 2014.

But Sunderland’s league position dictates that they cannot throw around a flurry of contract offers.

Even if Poyet did want to keep some of them in the long-term, their status in January would still be under scrutiny, with Sunderland reluctant to hand out new deals.

Should the club succumb to the financial trauma of relegation, then the prospect of immediately jettisoning nine players – plus three loanees – from the wage bill would be a Godsend.

The only player who Sunderland will undoubtedly attempt to tie down before then is Colback.

Talks with the Academy product’s representatives have continued since he rejected what was thought to be a very modest offer of a contract extension during the summer.

Sunderland have always been determined to keep Colback at the Stadium of Light and that eagerness has only increased after his impressive grasp of Poyet’s blueprint.

If Colback was to leave on a free, it would be because there were more attractive pastures.

Suitors were making enquiries over Colback’s availability within hours of the news breaking in the summer about him rejecting a deal.

And as a Bosman, he would be a hugely appetising capture for the likes of Everton, even though there is still a sneaky feeling that he will commit his future to the Black Cats.

But, for the other eight players, Sunderland will have to balance pragmatism and the potential to re-invest those wages.

Realistically, Sunderland are not going to receive a fee for either Cuellar or Dossena and they do both provide experienced cover. Their contracts will surely be allowed to dwindle down, as was the case last year with Titus Bramble and Matt Kilgallon.

Sunderland wouldn’t receive huge offers for Westwood or Bardsley either and both would necessitate buying like-for-like replacements too.

Westwood will hope he can regain his number one spot from Vito Mannone, while Bardsley is one of only three specialist full-backs on the club’s books, given that Poyet has now restored Colback to a midfield role.

The most likely contender for the exit door is Vaughan, who is already halfway there after joining Nottingham Forest on loan until the end of January.

That was a clear signal of Sunderland’s willingness to get Vaughan off the books and if Forest are willing to take the Welsh international off their hands for nothing, it will remove a chunk off the balance sheet.

But it is Gardner, Ji and Larsson that are the intriguing propositions, particularly as they could earn Sunderland a few quid.

Midlander Gardner has been a long-term target for West Brom, Ji still has admirers in Germany – even if Sunderland would be unable to garner anything like the £5m they were offered in the summer – and Larsson is a recognised international.

Ji is the only one of that trio who is yet to feature under Poyet and Sunderland will surely be willing to listen to offers for the South Korean.

But if the Black Cats receive a substantial bid for either of the former Birmingham City midfielders, how tempted will they be?

Perhaps the more burning question is whether they could get better value-for-money with any potential replacement than they managed last January.