SUNDERLAND’S interest in Zambian international defender Stoppila Sunzu has cooled after it emerged that, far from being a potential Bosman signing, he would cost in the region of £4million to sign.
The 23-year-old, who helped his country win the African Cup of Nations last year, was at Sunderland earlier this month following a brief trial period at Reading.
But any prospect of an immediate move has receded with the resolution of a contract dispute with his club TP Mazembe proving that he remains under contract with the club until 2015.
O’Neill said: “What has happened there is that he had gone to Reading believing he was a free agent.
“Reading were interested in him and dealt with it properly and they decided to pull out of any move until they felt things were successfully resolved.
“In the meantime, he was still in the country and was looking at places to go and we were a possibility because we could be construed as short of defensive cover despite bringing Kader Mangane in.
“But it looks clear now that the situation has been resolved and he is. in fact. under contract and would command a transfer fee.”
The Echo revealed last week that Sunderland were running the rule over the highly-rated centre-half, as were Arsenal and Reading.
Sunzu’s chances of a permanent move to the Madejski Stadium look to have been pretty much ended by the news that his club, Congolese outfit TP Mazembe, proved he was under contract until 2015.
The matter has now been clarified with Mazembe confirming they would want a fee close to £4m for the 6ft 3in Zambian star, with owner Moise Katumbi revealing: “We went through the contract with everyone and the player admitted his contract was still valid.
“TP Mazembe is a professional club and we will never stand in the way of our players as long as the right procedure is followed.
“If there are any clubs interested in him, we won’t stop him from leaving but those clubs must talk to us.”
Sunzu would have come into the reckoning for a possible summer of rebuilding in defence which looks all but inevitable now.
Titus Bramble and Matt Kilgallon are out of contract at the end of the season and neither is expected to be handed a new deal.
Mangane is only on loan to the end of the campaign and has yet to be involved in first-team action – with Carlos Cuellar now fit, he faces an even bigger challenge to get into the first team.
And doubts continue over the long-term future of Wes Brown after more than a year on the sidelines for the former Manchester United man.
Sunzu has many attributes on his side in terms of moving to a Premier League club – he is big, strong, athletic, still only young yet with an impressive international pedigree.
But the attractiveness to Sunderland of the proven Zambian international clearly diminishes somewhat when it comes down to a choice of getting him for nothing or paying £4m for his services.
O’Neill said: “We’re aware of him now and we’ll keep tabs on him, but that’s as far as things go as it stands.”