SUNDERLAND are signing a top young international goalkeeper – just as speculation hots up about the future of the club’s Irish stopper Keiren Westwood.
The Black Cats are currently in negotiations, expected to be successful, with Polish side Polonia Warsaw over bringing teenage star Maksymilian Stryjek to England.
The 6ft 2ins 16-year-old – who plays for the Polish Under 17 side – is ambitious and highly-rated and caught the eye of coaches in a recent trial spell on Wearside.
But although he is likely to be fast-tracked at Sunderland’s Academy, he is a long way from pressing for Westwood’s place in the first-team squad, with England Under 19 keeper Jordan Pickford third in the Black Cats’ pecking order.
It is ironic, though, that Sunderland should sign a new keeper just as a current one becomes the focus of attention – with Republic of Ireland boss Giovanni Trappatoni suggesting Westwood should consider moving club to safeguard his international future.
Shay Given’s international retirement last summer opened the way for Westwood to become the Republic Ireland’s first-choice keeper – but Trappatoni is concerned at Westwood’s lack of match action.
He has played more times for the Republic this season than he has for Sunderland, starting all three World Cup qualifiers and also featuring in one friendly, while he has been restricted to just three Capital One Cup outings for the Black Cats.
Sunderland boss Martin O’Neill also preferred to play Simon Mignolet in the recent FA Cup games against Bolton, rather than give Westwood a rare chance to impress.
Westwood is included in the Republic’s squad for tomorrow’s friendly against Poland in Dublin but Trappatoni is set to play Millwall’s David Forde.
And the Italian says Westwood needs to either displace Simon Mignolet as Sunderland’s number one or move on if he is to keep his place in the national side.
“The goalkeeper is a particularly delicate position,” explained Trappatoni.
“I don’t worry about an outfield player if he is not playing for his club, but a goalkeeper is alone on the pitch and (if he hasn’t been playing) it’s more difficult psychologically.
“I hope Westwood can play in the future, but now the manager chooses Mignolet. I told him you can change club and you can play.
“But with Forde and Stephen Henderson (who is playing for Ipswich Town, on loan from West Ham) we are okay. It’s important we give Forde this opportunity.”
Westwood joined Sunderland on a Bosman free transfer from Coventry 18 months ago and was regarded as one of the best free signings of the window.
His quality is still not in doubt, with the 28-year-old having proven his worth when a broken nose ruled Mignolet out for two months in the run-up to Christmas last season.
But with illness keeping Westwood out of Sunderland’s home win over Manchester City on New Year’s Day, Mignolet reclaimed his place and has gone on to make the first-team jersey his own.
While O’Neill has talked openly about adding strength in depth to his squad, the position of goalkeeper is not one which worries him.
As well as two full internationals in Mignolet and Westwood, he also has promising England Under 19 keeper Pickford hoping to push for a place in the squad soon.
And on top of that, Stryjek is now set to be added to the mix – though he remains very much one for the future.
O’Neill said: “Our goalkeeping coach Seamus McDonagh spoke to me about him a little while ago, and he is someone we have been keeping tabs on.”
* Sunderland winger Billy Knott has extended his loan spell at Conference Premier side Woking for another month.
The 20-year-old has been with the Surrey side since October, scoring four goals in eight games for the Cardinals.