MARTIN O’Neill admits a new striker is at the top of his wish-list over the next 48 hours, as Sunderland look to take advantage of Danny Graham’s uncertain future at Swansea City.
Swans chairman Huw Jenkins was last night forced to deny speculation that Sunderland’s main target Graham had asked to leave the Liberty Stadium for personal reasons and return to his native North East.
Graham (right) has been included in the Swansea squad to take on Sunderland at the Stadium of Light tonight, and Jenkins claims the striker is expected to remain with the Welsh club after rejecting bids from the Black Cats and Norwich for the 27-year-old.
“Different things get put out in the press and at the moment there’s no substance in that whatsoever,” Jenkins said.
But as the Echo reported last week, Graham has grown increasingly frustrated at seeing his preferred move to Wearside stall as Swansea wait to sign a replacement before sanctioning his exit.
The Swans have been unable to strike a deal for first-choice target Kenwyne Jones – leaving Graham in no-man’s land after six months where he has been unable to hold down a regular starting spot under manager Michael Laudrup.
Sunderland boss O’Neill is equally keen to land the £5million-rated Graham before the transfer window slams shut, despite Swansea signalling their intent to keep the former Middlesbrough man.
And while O’Neill refuses to discuss Graham by name, the Sunderland manager admits he is eager to secure cover for top scorer Steven Fletcher after allowing fellow strikers Fraizer Campbell and Ji Dong-won to leave Wearside this month.
“Naturally, I’m hopeful of getting someone in, but until a player has been signed and sealed I don’t think you can really talk about it,” said O’Neill.
“We’ve allowed some players to go – Fraizer Campbell, for instance, and Ji going out on loan – so bringing in a striker would be something I need to look at.
“In an ideal world, I’d have preferred (the Campbell deal) not to materialise but Cardiff wanted him and Fraizer wanted to go there and play.
“It means that you have to step up your chase to try to get someone else in.
“At the moment, I wouldn’t want to put a lot of responsibility on young shoulders – Connor Wickham – if something happened to Steven Fletcher.
“Of course, if things don’t materialise, there will be an air of disappointment but we will just have to get on with things.”
The renewed speculation over Graham’s desire to leave came just hours after Laudrup issued a definitive statement on the frontman’s future for the first time during the entire January transfer window.
Whether through brinkmanship or an inability to land favoured replacement, ex-Sunderland frontman Jones, Laudrup stressed his desire to keep Graham and revealed how no club had met Swansea’s valuation.
“I can only say Danny is a player who is here and we want him to stay — we don’t want change,” said Laudrup.
“Of course I can understand if he wants to play regularly, but there are nine or 10 others like him in our squad.
“The other part is that even if a player says he wants to leave, then it’s still down to the clubs involved to agree a fee.
“I don’t want players who are unhappy or have a good chance to go somewhere else, but there’s still the economic part.
“I don’t want to talk about who has bid what for Danny. All I will say is that there have been bids and they have not been enough.”
Should Sunderland fail to land Graham, then Argentine forward Mauro Zarate will not be a fall-back option for the Black Cats.
Reports in Italy have continued to link Sunderland with the Lazio man, but, as the Echo revealed last week, O’Neill has confirmed he has no interest in the former Birmingham City man.
“That link has come up about 15 times this month, but there’s nothing in it,” said O’Neill.
Neither will Hamburg SV’s Paul Scharner be heading to the Stadium of Light, despite the club’s sporting director Frank Arnesen claiming the 32-year-old was set to join Sunderland on loan until the end of the season.
O’Neill said: “An agent spoke to me about Paul (Scharner) and even before I had got back to him to say ‘no’, they immediately began to say we were interested. It’s not true.”