SUNDERLAND are closing in on making Valentin Roberge the first signing of the Paolo Di Canio era after holding talks with the French centre-half.
The Echo reported last week how Roberge had been linked with a Bosman move to the Stadium of Light when his contract at Portugese side Maritimo expires at the end of the season.
Roberge is understood to have been on Wearside this week for discussions and to look over the facilities at the Academy of Light, with reports in his native Portugal even suggesting he has undergone a medical.
Although Sunderland would not be able to complete the deal until the transfer window re-opens on July 1, Roberge is a firm target and is free to discuss terms with others clubs during the final six months of his contract.
Maritimo have even confirmed that they expect the 25-year-old to join Sunderland when his contract expires after making 57 appearances during three seasons in Portugal.
Di Canio has insisted his focus has centred on Sunderland’s Premier League survival and he has given little attention to transfers.
But as the Echo revealed on Thursday, Sunderland have been pro-active in identifying fresh faces, should they remain in the Premier League.
And Roberge, who featured twice in the Europa League against Newcastle this season, is not thought to be the only target where Sunderland have made significant progress towards agreeing a deal.
The capture of the former Paris St-Germain youngster would provide an immediate boost to Sunderland’s central defensive options, which will be significantly reduced during the summer.
Titus Bramble and Matt Kilgallon are both set to leave the club when their contracts expire, while Kader Mangane will return to Saudi Arabian outfit Al-Hilal after the end of his loan deal.
That will leave just Carlos Cuellar and John O’Shea as central defensive options, unless Wes Brown can make an unlikely return to the first-team picture after 15 months on the treatment table.