SUNDERLAND will clinch the signing of one of the hottest properties in English football today when Connor Wickham joins the Black Cats in a bargain £8.1million deal.
Although add-ons could take the fee significantly higher, the overall cost of the player’s transfer from Ipswich Town will not reach the £13m that has been mooted in some circles – something that is likely to be confirmed by the club in the next few days.
And that represents a real transfer coup for chairman Niall Quinn and manager Steve Bruce who have successfully nipped in to poach the 18-year-old while bigger Premier League clubs dallied.
At the end of last season, Wickham was being touted as a near certainty to join one of the Premier League giants for a fee double what Sunderland have agreed, so to push the move through so efficiently – persuading Ipswich to sell and Wickham to join – deserves real credit.
Bruce, in particular, will be cock-a-hoop to see the deal go through for a player he rates so highly, but chairman Quinn and owner Ellis Short can be equally as pleased to have done the swoop at such a competitive price.
The 6ft 3in Wickham has a maturity beyond his years and has grown used to being tagged as the a superstar of the future, but he will probably come to be grateful that the fee is more modest than had originally been predicted.
The 18-year-old Portman Road star will be under enough pressure as it is next season in the Premier League spotlight without being burdened by the same price tag as Sunderland’s record signing and established Ghana international Asamoah Gyan.
And once he gets the formalities of the move out of the way, the talented England Under-21 striker – who has scored 15 times for Ipswich despite making fewer than 40 starts – will be free to concentrate on his aim of establishing himself at the Stadium of Light and delivering on his undoubted potential.
The teenager successfully completed his talks with the Wearsiders yesterday and, having already undergone a medical, is scheduled to put pen to paper on a long-term contract today.
That will disappoint the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal and Spurs who had been pondering moves later this summer, once they got more pressing issues tied up.
For Sunderland, it’s a signing of real intent as Bruce looks to strengthen a squad which finished 10th last season despite the effects of a shocking injury crisis.
Vice-captain Bolo Zenden and £19.25m midfielder Jordan Henderson have moved on from that side, as have loan signings John Mensah, Danny Welbeck, Nedum Onuoha and Sulley Muntari.
But, with the signings of Keiren Westwood, Seb Larsson and now Connor Wickham all but rubber-stamped and those of Ji Dong-won and Craig Gardner imminent, Sunderland have demonstrated they are already swiftly moving on with their efforts to continue the club’s steady upward progress of recent years.