STOPPILA Sunzu has been granted the chance to earn a permanent move to the Stadium of Light – although his hopes of impressing Martin O’Neill have been temporarily halted by a minor injury.
The Echo revealed last month how Sunderland were keeping tabs on Sunzu after he was in the Stadium of Light stands for the Black Cats’ defeat to Arsenal.
Premier League peers Reading pulled out of the race for the Zambian international in January due to a contract dispute with his club, Congolese outfit TP Mazembe, who eventually resolved that the defender was under contract until 2015, rather than being a free agent.
But Mazembe have now granted permission for Sunzu to return to the North East to train with Sunderland and he participated in a behind-closed-doors game at the Academy of Light last week.
A slight knee problem forced the 23-year-old off during the encounter, while he will also head out on international duty next week for Zambia’s World Cup qualifier in Lesotho.
But Sunderland manager O’Neill is prepared to allow the centre-half a sustained opportunity on trial, to decide whether he is worth pursuing on a permanent basis during the summer.
O’Neill told the Echo: “He played a little game the other day, but he had a swollen knee before he came here and he had to come off in the game. That will stop him training for a week at most. And then he’ll be going away to play during the international break so we’ll monitor him during that game.
“But I haven’t seen enough of him yet to to make a decision on him.”
Sunzu, who has had two trial spells at Reading, is rated in the £4million bracket by Mazembe after winning 37 caps for Zambia and impressing at the African Cup of Nations.
But Sunderland have not yet held any discussions with Mazembe over a potential fee for the defender, who was shortlisted for African Player of the Year in 2012.
“Nobody has ever mentioned a price,” added O’Neill.
“We’ve done things by the book, approaching his club (over a trial) and they’ve said that’s fine.”
The Black Cats will be wary of paying over the odds for a player untested in European football.
But with O’Neill on the look-out for new centre-halves – with Matt Kilgallon, Titus Bramble and Kader Mangane all likely to leave the club in the summer – Sunzu offers a viable solution.
Mazembe owner Moise Katumbi said last month: “We will never stand in the way of our players as long as the right procedure is followed.”