SUNDERLAND plan to rebuff any approaches for star man Stephane Sessegnon this summer as manager Martin O’Neill works to turn a solid defensive side into a more attacking unit.
Manchester City were again linked with an interest in the Black Cats’ Player of the Year over the weekend in France – though at this stage that remains as speculation.
But it would be a surprise if successful clubs did not make approaches for the Benin international after the striker’s excellent first full season in the Premier League.
Sessegnon, who turned 26 this month, was Sunderland’s joint top scorer last season with eight goals but his skill and his ability to do the unexpected were also the key source of creativity going forward.
And O’Neill is keen to build on what the African offers for next season.
He said: “You can never tell what’s going to happen over the summer and I don’t want to be saying anything categorically at the start of it which will make us look foolish at the end of it.
“I don’t want to say something now which will be thrown back at me next season with people saying: ‘Well you said this, or you said that.’
“But having said that, there’s no doubt that Stephane Sessegnon is a player that we obviously want to keep and we’ll be doing everything we can to do so.
“He adds something to our attack that no other player does and our priority is to improve ourselves as an attacking force next season.
“If you want to do that, you have to look at keeping your best attacking players and attracting others. Stephane has been making the right noises about being happy to stay at Sunderland and hopefully that will be the case.”
Things might change if Sessegnon submits a transfer request over the summer but the Black Cats will hope their star player wants to remain and help Sunderland progress.
For the moment, having had a mini clear-out with nine players being released – including goalkeepers Craig Gordon and Trevor Carson and fringe strikers Jordan Cook and Oumare Tounkara – Sunderland’s priority is bringing players in.
Free agents Carlos Cuellar, Junior Hoilett and Mohamamed Diame have all been linked with Sunderland while among the strikers mentioned are Bolton’s Kevin Davies and Wolves’ Steven Fletcher.
Over the weekend it was also claimed that Sunderland were eyeing Wigan wideman Victor Moses. O’Neill is keen to strengthen his options on the flank and has also been credited with an interest in Sunderland-born winger Adam Johnson, though the Manchester City man’s £85,000 a week wages look to make that prospect a non-starter.
H Sessegnon suffered late heartbreak yesterday as Benin were denied a vital World Cup qualifying win.
Razak Omotoyossi’s 74th-minute strike had Benin ahead away to Rwanda but the hosts levelled with an 88th-minute penalty from sub Labama Kamana.
Group H rivals Algeria though lost 3-2 away to Mali to leave Benin on top of the group, a point clear of Algeria and Mali, after two games. Their next qualifier is in Algiers on March 22.
Sunderland’s Ahmed Elmohamady was an unused sub as Egypt rallied from 1-0 down to win 3-2 at Guinea.