SUNDERLAND are to step up their interest in West Ham United striker Demba Ba as Steve Bruce begins looking at a long list of players to solve the Black Cats’ striker crisis.
The Senegalese international, scorer of seven goals in 12 starts for the Hammers since his January transfer from German side Hoffenheim, is certain to leave this summer, with club owner David Sullivan having already promised a fire sale of star players as soon as the club’s relegation was confirmed.
And Sunderland will be among a number of Premier League clubs chasing a player who has dispelled the fitness doubts which originally saw many English clubs reluctant to make a bid for him.
Ba failed a medical at Stoke because of knee problems before joining West Ham in a £6million deal, but fitness has not been an issue for him in the last few months and the African is now hot property, with interest in his signature expected to be keen from the Premier League’s mid-table clubs.
England internationals Scott Parker, Carlton Cole, Robert Green and Matthew Upson are on their way out of Upton Park, but Bruce will be more interested in the potential of 25-year-old Ba and the question of whether the young striker has simply enjoyed a purple patch at West Ham or is someone who could go on to a long and successful career in English football.
At 6ft 2in, Ba would add much needed height and power to Sunderland’s frontline, but the Black Cats are likely to face serious competition from Blackburn Rovers and Aston Villa for the player.
Rovers failed with a bid for the striker in January, but the cash-rich club have the resources to make a big offer this summer, while Villa will look for a close-season clear-out to help fund an exciting Demba Ba-Darren Bent partnership for next season.
Sunderland have been linked to several high-profile strikers in recent weeks, with Michael Owen, Robbie Keane and Ruud van Nistelrooy all having been almost predictably thrown into the mix.
But the Wearsiders have no interest in big-name players at the tail-end of their careers looking for final paydays.
Instead the manager is looking for young strikers or those in their prime who could play a big part in the club’s development over the next two or three seasons.
Ba will be one of his main targets, but Bruce is also keeping tabs on Wolves striker Kevin Doyle and Spurs’ Roman Pavlyuchenko, who is set to leave White Hart Lane this summer, plus several others.
Last season, the Sunderland manager put all his eggs in one basket with the club record-breaking signing of striker Asamoah Gyan – the Ghanaian completing an impressive quartet of frontmen which included Darren Bent, Fraizer Campbell and Danny Welbeck.
But with only Gyan remaining now, Bruce knows he needs to bring in at least two, but possibly three, new strikers and does not expect to make one big marquee signing up front.
Ba, Doyle, Pavlyuchenko are all under consideration, but the list of strikers that Bruce is looking at is a long one and he is prepared to bide his time to get the right players at the right price.
Ba, though, would be an ideal signing for Sunderland, being the right age, a player who has proved himself in the Premier League and a player who would address some of the deficiencies that are clear in the current squad.
The striker is yet to decide where his future lies, but it seems highly unlikely that it will be at Upton Park.
“It (West Ham) is a good project,” Ba said, after confirming claims that he was racially abused by a supporter at the club’s end-of-season dinner – when police were called to the hotel.
“I will be thinking about my future later on. I just want to finish the season properly, then relax and have some time off with my family, then come back with some new resolutions.”