SUNDERLAND want AZ Alkmaar striker Jozy Altidore, the Echo can reveal.
The young American has developed into a goal machine since his switch to Dutch football two seasons ago.
And head coach Paolo Di Canio believes the 23-year-old can improve even further and be a major success in the Premier League second time around.
Altidore, a teenage prodigy in his home country, was raw, by his own admission, when he played out an unremarkable loan spell at Hull City in the 2009-10 season on loan from Spanish side Villarreal.
But last season he smashed Clint Dempsey’s single-campaign goals record for an American player in Europe, (23, which Dempsey set the previous season at Fulham), when he scored 31 goals for AZ.
It was the second goal-laden season in a row for the bustling 6ft 1in forward, who scored 17 in his debut season with the Dutch side.
The maturing front-man perfectly fits the template that Ellis Short and Di Canio are seeking for Sunderland’s future – young, strong, powerful players but with scope for improvement.
Sunderland looked at him last summer but, one year on, Altidore is ear-marked as one of their chief targets of the close-season.
The Black Cats will hope to buy him for a reasonable fee.
Although Villarreal signed the then 18-year-old prospect for a hefty £7m in 2008, he is expected to cost less than that to buy this summer – despite his recent goalscoring record.
Short would hope to get his man for as little as £5m as AZ look to cash in.
But half a dozen Premier League clubs are also interested in the American forward, who has scored in each of his last four appearances for the USA.
That might drive the price up much higher, but Altidore is one of Sunderland’s top targets for the summer and they will fight all the way to land him.
He would be the first American that Missouri-born Short has bought in his time at the helm at Sunderland and would only enhance interest in the Wearsiders in the States.
A shared nationality might just benefit Sunderland in negotiations but a surprise pull for Altidore could be the presence of Di Canio at the Stadium of Light.
Altidore credits much of the improvement in his game to the presence of fractious AZ coach Gertjan Verbeek, whose no-nonsense hard-line methods he believes have brought the best out of him.
The chance to work with Di Canio, who is similarly as dedicated and outspoken, might well appeal to the level-headed striker who is ambitious to make the very most of his talents.
Altidore suffered from inconsistency earlier in his career which have led to goal droughts – he scored only one goal while on loan to Hull.
But he is developing into a technically-gifted player who can score goals of all descriptions and works hard for the team.
If he moved to the Stadium of Light this summer, he could expect to be one of the club’s first choice strikers next season.