Sunderland face a continued headache over Santiago Vergini’s future after Argentine side Newell’s Old Boys pulled out of the race for the defender.
The Black Cats are duty-bound to sign Vergini in a £2million deal from Costa Rican outfit Sport Uruguay de Coronado this summer after he made more than 20 appearances in a red and white shirt during last season’s loan spell at the Stadium of Light.
The financial outlay needed to sign Vergini has proved prohibitive and Newell’s have now turned their attention to Velez Sarsfield centre-half Hernan Pellerano instead
But with head coach Dick Advocaat appearing less convinced over Vergini’s credentials than predecessor Gus Poyet, Sunderland have been open to the possibility of moving the 26-year-old on by effectively using another club to buy out the permanent clause.
Newell’s - who bought Nacho Scocco from Sunderland last summer - have been keen on re-signing Vergini after he enjoyed a spell with the club early in his career.
But the financial outlay needed to sign Vergini has proved prohibitive and Newell’s have now turned their attention to Velez Sarsfield centre-half Hernan Pellerano instead.
However, Sunderland will remain open to move Vergini on, with Advocaat keen to boost his central defensive options, rather than have the four same faces as last season.
With Wes Brown extending his Sunderland contract and Sebastian Coates completing his permanent switch to the Stadium of Light, Vergini’s chances would be limited, particularly with the Black Cats in talks over Belgian international Nicolas Lombaerts.
Celtic centre-half Virgil van Dijk has been Sunderland’s long-term defensive target, but with the SPL champions unwilling to offload the Dutchman until after the conclusion of the Champions League qualifiers, the Wearsiders have turned their attention to Lombaerts instead.
Sunderland are yet to agree a deal with Russian side Zenit St Petersburg for Lombaerts - despite reports to the contrary - but are prepared to splash out for the £5m-rated 30-year-old, who played under Advocaat at international level.
And with Coates and full-back Adam Matthews already on board, that would complete Sunderland’s defensive overhaul; leaving Advocaat and sporting director Lee Congerton free to concentrate on the other end of the pitch.
Sunderland remain in the running for Stewart Downing and the ex-Black Cats loanee is understood to be open to a switch to the Stadium of Light if West Ham accept an offer for his services.
But Middlesbrough are also quietly confident of landing Downing and believe the emotional pull of returning to his boyhood club could persuade the 30-year-old to join the Championship outfit.
However, Boro would have to stump up a hefty transfer fee to land Downing, with the Hammers yet to receive a suitable bid from either North East club.
Sunderland are looking at other creative options too, with Dynamo Kiev’s Jeremain Lens - who played under Advocaat for PSV Eindhoven - on Congerton’s radar.