SIMON MIGNOLET’S agent has issued a thinly-veined warning that the Sunderland stopper could leave the Stadium of Light to boost his international hopes.
Mignolet was crowned North East Football Writers’ Player of the Year on Sunday night after a memorable 2012 in which the keeper has made a string of stunning saves.
But the 24-year-old’s form for Sunderland has not been enough to remain Belgium number one, with Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois – spending his second season on-loan at Athletico Madrid – so far preferred for the World Cup qualifying campaign.
The likes of Manchester United and Arsenal have both been keeping tabs on Mignolet, with only Manchester City’s Joe Hart able to boast more clean sheets in the Premier League this season.
And Mignolet’s representative Guy Vandersmissen has further fuelled speculation over the keeper’s future with comments to the Belgian media.
“Our ambition is for Simon to play somewhere that he can engage in competition with Thibaut Courtois for the place in goal for Belgium,” said Vandersmissen.
“Courtois is fortunate that he is playing for a team that has been doing well lately.”
Mignolet still has a further two years to run on his Sunderland contract and there were tentative discussions over a new deal earlier this season.
And Mignolet is a contented figure on Wearside after fulfilling his ambition to become a Premier League first-team regular.
The former St Truiden man, signed for a bargain £2million two-and-a-half years ago, spoke last week of how he is ignoring any talk over interest in his signature.
“I try to say to people who ask me about being linked with other clubs that it goes in one ear and out of the other,” said Mignolet.
“That is what you are going to get as a footballer. Sometimes you are a hero and sometimes you are in the eye of a storm — things change quickly.
“The only thing I can do is focus on my own game. All those clubs I am linked with, if I make a mistake on Saturday, I will be un-linked straight away. It will be the exact opposite and that’s why I don’t really get fussed about it.”
However, Vandersmissen’s warning comes less than a month after Republic of Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni suggested Sunderland stopper Keiren Westwood’s international future was in jeopardy because of his lack of first-team football.
Certainly, it is tough to envisage both Mignolet and Westwood remaining at the Stadium of Light beyond the summer, with the latter seeing a January loan exit blocked by Martin O’Neill, despite being limited to three Capital One Cup appearances for Sunderland this season.
Meanwhile, Sunderland’s third-choice keeper, Jordan Pickford (18), made his debut for Alfreton Town in a 5-1 win against Hyde last night after joining the Blue Square Premier outfit on a month’s loan.
Hyde’s goal came from the penalty spot.