CONNOR Wickham has rejected Sunderland’s offer of a new and improved contract.
But Black Cats’ fans should not be overly worried at this stage as the club sets to work early on trying to tie down their brightest young prospect.
The 21-year-old, who is about to enter the last year of a four-year contract, has rejected a new three-year deal from Sunderland offering him higher wages.
And that will alert a host of Premier League clubs including the likes of Leicester City, who have already shown an interest, and Southampton who are monitoring the situation.
Clearly the longer time drags on without Wickham agreeing a new deal, the more speculation will increase and the more a potential transfer fee will drop on a player who could leave on a Bosman next summer.
But Sunderland are determined to head off that possibility and are intent on avoiding a repetition of this summer when too many players were allowed run out of contract and the club lost Jack Colback to Newcastle United for nothing.
As the Echo revealed, the club has already tied down Player of the Season Vito Mannone to a long-term contract.
And although Wickham has rejected an offer at this stage, Sunderland see that as an opening to talks rather than an ending of them.
The former Ipswich Town prodigy, signed by former Black Cats’ boss Steve Bruce for £8m in 2011, moved to the Stadium of Light on excellent wages for a 17-year-old unproven in the top flight.
But his stock has leapt since his five-goal flurry at the end of last season saved Sunderland’s Premier League skins and earned him the league’s April Player of the Month award.
Wickham will begin next season as one of the Premier League’s hottest young properties and his camp are obviously keen to capitalise on that fact.
But Sunderland plan to continue negotiations, fully aware that many players do not sign new contracts until months into their final campaign and the belief is that Wickham’s advisers simply want the best deal for their client rather than hoping to push for the England Under 21 man to leave.
* Sunderland are hoping to make progress in their pursuit of Santiago Vergini, who joined the Black Cats on loan from Estudiantes in the January transfer window.
The 25-year-old defender impressed in his spell at the Stadium of Light, particularly when deputising for Phil Bardsley at right-back.
And there was always a gentleman’s agreement in place that if the loan went well and Sunderland stayed up, talks would open on a permanent move.