Sunderland in hot pursuit of Ipswich’s Connor Wickham

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SUNDERLAND have upped their interest in Ipswich’s prospective superstar Connor Wickham, but are still expected to lose out to one of the Premier League giants for the teenager’s signature.

Steve Bruce rates the 18-year-old as the best talent in England for his age and would love to have him at the Stadium of Light, although the likelihood is that Wickham will follow the tracks of other former shining lights of the lower leagues like Gareth Bale and Theo Walcott, going straight from a struggling outfit to one of England’s elite sides.

Wickham was a boyhood Liverpool fan and the Reds are believed to be in pole position if a move happens this summer, although Arsenal and Spurs are also said to be ready to bid.

Sunderland, though, have stolen a march on all of them by showing their hand early and are ready to pay more than £10million for the 6ft 4ins forward.

The Black Cats are able to offer Ipswich money up front and the Tractor Boys would not have to hand over the £1.5million still owed to Sunderland for former striker Michael Chopra who joined Ipswich from Cardiff City this month.

Ipswich manager Paul Jewell has insisted no talks have been entered into over the England Under-21 man, but the Tractor Boys already seem to be preparing for life without him, having just signed veteran striker Nathan Ellington.

As well as money immediately, Sunderland will also offer attractive sell-on clauses to the East Anglian side and meanwhile hope to tempt the level-headed striker with the prospect of immediate involvement in first-team Premier League football.

The one downside for the player in joining one of the big boys of the Premier League is that he could be forced to spend much of the next couple of seasons on the bench and Sunderland hope the chance of playing Premier League football now will appeal.

At the age of 18, Wickham is young enough to commit himself to a lengthy contract at Sunderland, gain his experience at the highest level and still have the prospect of moving to one of the “Big Four” sides in a few years time as a very young man.

It’s a bold move by Sunderland and something of a long shot, but Steve Bruce and Niall Quinn are ambitious for the Black Cats and hope their clear and immediate interest in the player will pay dividends.