SUNDERLAND are believed to have agreed a deal to bring Lazio centre-half Modibo Diakite to the Stadium of Light.
But the French-born defender will not be officially unveiled by the Black Cats until after his contract expires at the end of next month.
The 26-year-old, who has allowed his contract with the Italian giants to run down this season, will be free to leave on a Bosman this summer.
He has been on Sunderland’s radar virtually from the day Paolo Di Canio arrived at the club.
The 6ft 4in defender has made 83 appearances for Lazio, scoring two goals, since arriving in 2006 from fellow Italian outfit Pescara, where he had come through the club’s youth ranks.
But he has been unused by the Italian giants this season after losing his place through injury, and agent Ulisse Savini admitted the defender, of Senegalese descent, was open to offers.
He is the fourth player Sunderland have lined up behind closed doors, with barely a transfer fee to be paid for any of them.
Diakite is likely to be joined in central defence by another French centre-half, Valentin Roberge, who is also believed to have sealed a Bosman move from Portuguese outfit Maritimo.
The Echo confirmed earlier this week that defensive midfielder Cabral, of leading Swiss side Basle, was also set to join Sunderland.
The 24-year-old Cabral is in the same boat as Diakite and Roberge in being out of contract this summer but not officially allowed to join a new club until his contract expires at the end of June.
That doesn’t stop talks being held, deals being done and pre-contract agreements being signed.
And with young Altrincham striker Duncan Watmore also joining for a modest, if undisclosed fee, Sunderland’s summer rebuilding appears to be well underway without significant money being shelled out.
Diakite, Roberge, Cabral and Watmore are lined up with only the teenage forward costing an up-front fee, while Titus Bramble and Matt Kilgallon will soon be removed from the Sunderland wage bill when their contracts are not renewed at the end of June.
On top of that, Sunderland are believed to be poised to recoup the £2m fee they paid for Ahmed Elmohamady in the next few days when the Egyptian, as expected, signs again for Steve Bruce, this time at Premier League new boys Hull City.
If all the deals work out as expected, it means that the Black Cats will have more or less balanced the books with the arrivals of a quartet of new players and the departures of three others.
Two things remain to be seen though – whether, as will be hoped, the new arrivals are significantly better than the players who have left.
And whether this flurry of new signings will be a precursor to several big-money, big-name transfers made later this summer.