Just who were Sunderland watching when they despatched a scout to Wales’s World Cup qualifier in Austria?
A smart, sharp, and not inaccurate, answer from the club would be “everyone”, but as the Echo reported yesterday, the Black Cats have been regular viewers of the Austrian team over the last 12 months.
It was assumed that the then Sunderland boss, Sam Allardyce, a good centre-half in his day, had his eye on the Austrian central defensive pair of Martin Hinteregger and Aleksandar Dragovic.
Given Austria’s steel – they had totted up six clean sheets in their Euro 2016 qualifying group – it was no great shock that the centre-backs were being watched.
But any move for Dragovic would be a non-starter given he is just months into a four-year deal with Bayer Leverkusen after moving to the Bundesliga in the summer from Dynamo Kiev.
Hinteregger too now plays in Germany’s top division with Augsburg, for whom he joined in the summer, having spent the second half of last season on loan at Borussia Monchengladbach from Red Bull Salzburg.
However, Sunderland’s shopping targets could still be in Germany, should they continue their pursuit of Austrian talent.
Right-back Florian Klein is a regular in the Vfb Stuttgart side and a first-choice too for Austria.
At 29, he is not short on experience and given Stuttgart are now in the second tier of the German leagues, may not be too difficult to prise away, with his contract running out in the summer.
Zlatko Junuzović could be a good shout for the Black Cats.
Like Klein, he is also 29, not shy on the experience front and a regular in the Bundesliga, though he is in the top flight with a contract which runs until the summer of 2018.
A dead-ball specialist, he usually plays just off the main striker and his assist ratio is greater than his own scoring tally.
Junuzovic was to the fore for Austria last night, bringing a fine save from Wayne Hennessey with a crisp low shot from range.
The Crystal Palace goalkeeper was at it again, superbly diverting a deflection wide after Klein and Junuzovic had carved the Welsh defence apart with a one-two.
A third candidate is Marcel Sabitzer and, yes, he’s another German-based talent.
The attacking midfielder is a star with RB Leipzig, a club establishing itself as a major force in the Bundesliga.
At 22, he’s the youngest of the trio but he has committed himself to a long-term deal at his club – until 2021.
After success on loan at Red Bull Salzburg last term, he has started this season well at Leipzig, scoring in the opening two games.
Like Herr Hinteregger and Dragovic, it would appear he’s in the Bundesliga for the duration.
Only time will tell who Sunderland representative Robert Cooke had his gaze on at the Ernst Happel Stadium last night.