MARTIN O’Neill has issued a hands-off warning to clubs looking to prise James McClean or Stephane Sessegnon away from Sunderland.
The Black Cats duo have both been linked with summer exits from the Stadium of Light this week, with Manchester United credited with an interest in McClean, while Sessegnon is thought to be catching the eye of Arsenal and former employers Paris St Germain among others.
But O’Neill insists Sunderland must keep hold of the eye-catching pair if the club are to continue progressing.
Republic of Ireland winger McClean’s whirlwind rise saw him sign a new three-year deal last month, while joint top scorer Sessegnon still has two years left to run on his Sunderland contract.
O’Neill said: “I haven’t any cause to be overly concerned, primarily because I haven’t given it any thought. But these are the type of players we need to keep at the football club.
“If we are going to progress, these are the players the fans want to see, the likes of McClean and Sessegnon who both belong to us.
“We’ve just given a new contract to James, who is worth every single penny out of it, there’s no question about that. His attitude has not changed one drop.
“If I was advising him, his immediate future has to be at our football club.
“He’s going to play pretty often at the moment. I would love to be able to say to him that his place is in jeopardy. But he holds that place on merit at the moment and he’s still just learning the game.
“Sessegnon is a bit older and I think he has improved.
“He’s a very accomplished player in a lot of positions, but we’ve given him a position where he can work wonders for us.
“He’s enjoying his football and we’ll do everything we can to keep him at the football club.
“I think he is happy in the way he’s playing, but he’s obviously going to attract attention from major football clubs in the European scene.”
Speculation over Sessegnon’s future increased last month when former Portsmouth striker Vincent Pericard name-checked the Benin international.
In an article on the battle with depression foreign players face when settling on these shores, Pericard cited Sessegnon as a player potentially heading for the exit door because his family remain in Paris.
Pericard said: “Sunderland signed Stephane Sessegnon but are at risk of losing him because his wife is not happy,”
But Sessegnon is understood to be quite content on Wearside despite rumours of being homesick.
“We’ll certainly look at every factor with Sessegnon,” added Sunderland boss O’Neill.
“Pericard had mentioned him in an article about depression that clubs didn’t do enough to help foreign players.
“But I think that was more to do with his family being in one country and him being in another.
“I don’t think it was to do with Sessegnon being depressed.
“The only time I’ve seen him down was in the dressing room after the Newcastle game when he was sent off.”