SUNDERLAND expect to make rapid progress on the transfer front in the next few days, with Ji Dong-Won and Darron Gibson’s moves close to completion, writes GRAEME ANDERSON.
With free transfers Keiren Westwood and Seb Larsson both likely to go through and striker David Ngog set to agree to move from Liverpool, boss Steve Bruce can hope to have five new recruits in the very near future.
Question marks remain over whether Manchester United’s Wes Brown and, in particular, John O’Shea will join Gibson in heading to the Stadium of Light.
But talks will be held with their agents this month in a bid to push the deals through and that could leave the Black Cats with seven new signings before the players return to training – eight if a move is done swiftly for Birmingham City midfield star Craig Gardner.
Supporters can then expect a lull in activity throughout July and until the impending closure of the transfer window arrives, at which point several genuinely big deals could be sanctioned.
Sunderland still want Wigan’s Charles N’Zogbia, but the Latics want a £10million-plus transfer fee, while the Frenchman’s wage demands would smash the club’s current pay structure.
On top of that, Sunderland remain in the market for a fourth striker. With Ji regarded as one for the future and Ngog’s record hardly prolific, Bruce could ask the club to approve a big-name signing as first-choice to partner Asamoah Gyan up front.
As things stand, the Westwood deal is past the post, with the Coventry keeper’s move already tied up and only the timing of his official unveiling to be decided. The player is currently on holiday.
The Black Cats are also on course to get their other Bosman target, Birmingham midfielder Larsson, although the dead-ball specialist is still attracting interest from elsewhere. Though Sunderland are favourites, that deal cannot be regarded as a foregone conclusion just yet.
Ngog has been pondering a move to Sunderland while on holiday, but the word from Liverpool is that he has decided to go through with the move on his return.
Gibson and Ji, though, are virtual certainties to arrive.
Gibson’s value is £5m in the £12m deal which Sunderland have agreed for their three Manchester United targets and the Republic of Ireland international is keen to sign after seeing his career wilt under the pressure of expectation at Old Trafford.
The 23-year-old would welcome a chance to play regularly and develop his talent away from an atmosphere where promising young players have such giants to measure up to when they successfully break into the first-team squad.
Sunderland are also close to announcing the signing of Korean striker Ji.
Reports in Asia say the Black Cats have agreed a deal worth up to £800,000 for the 20-year-old Chunnam Dragons frontman, who is expected to sign a three-year contract.
Ji has confirmed that he is heading for the Premier League, saying: “I hope to survive in the English Premier League as long as I can play like Manchester United’s Park Ji-Sung and I also want to be the ace of the team like Lee Chung-Yong at Bolton.”
A spokesman for the Dragons has confirmed that Ji is leaving, saying: “It is a great loss for us to lose him after having him only for one season and after spending many years to train him.
“If he returns to the K-League, he must return to the Chunnam Dragons.”
Meanwhile, Ipswich boss Paul Jewell has insisted there are no firm bids on the table for £9m-rated Sunderland target Connor Wickham.
Wickham could become the fourth striker at Sunderland after Ngog and Ji arrive and Bruce would love to have the Ipswich prodigy in his ranks – the Sunderland manager rates the 19-year-old Portman Road striker as the best prospect of his generation.
But Ipswich will not give up a player, whose potential they recognise, without a fight.
Blues boss Paul Jewell admits that several clubs have made enquiries about the England Under-21 man, but says no formal bids have been made.
Jewell said: “We’ve had enquiries, but enquiries don’t mean anything. I could ring up Barcelona and enquire about Lionel Messi, but it doesn’t mean I’ll get him.
“Connor is happy here and as far as we’re concerned he’ll be with us for next season. The good thing is that we don’t have to sell anyone.”