Michael Ledger is targeting first-team football at Sunderland after a successful loan spell in Norway – as clubs across Europe weigh up a move for the defender.
The promising 19-year-old played every minute for Viking Stavanger in the Norwegian top flight during his 13-game spell, catching the eye of scouts.
Ledger played his final game for Viking last weekend and, while the Eliteserien side have struggled, Ledger has impressed.
The Echo understands that Viking wanted to keep the Sunderland academy product until the end of their season, which runs until November.
But Sunderland are bringing him back to Wearside to see if he can break into the first-team set-up ahead of the Championship campaign.
Skipper John O’Shea is set to extend his stay, as revealed by the Echo, but Sunderland are short on central defenders with former loanee Jason Denayer returning to parent club Manchester City while there are doubts over the futures of Papy Djilobodji and West Ham target Lamine Kone.
It could pave the way for more first-team opportunities for Ledger as managerless Sunderland look to bounce back from relegation from the Premier League.
The Echo understands that if Ledger – who has been at Sunderland since the age of eight – doesn’t break into the team then he will have the option to go back to Viking on loan.
There is also strong interest in him from several German clubs, who scout the Norwegian league extensively.
It is understood German Bundesliga side Mainz are among the clubs to have enquired about taking him on loan, while there is also strong interest from the Scottish Premiership and League One in England.
Viking prop up the Eliteserien after 13 rounds of fixtures but Ledger has done well in central defence, playing every minute of every game he has started, scoring one goal.
Ledger impressed Viking boss Ian Burchnall during his loan spell, which saw him play 1,170 first-team minutes.
Speaking earlier this year, Burchnall said: “It’s quite possible Sunderland will need Michael in the Championship this autumn.
“He’s in any case already playing at League One level.
“How many 19-year-olds without a single senior game under their belt go right in and play the way he does? It’s very impressive.”
Consett-born Ledger has been a regular for Sunderland’s Under-23 side but is yet to break into the first team at Sunderland.
The Sunderland squad returns to pre-season training at the Academy of Light on Thursday for tests ahead of a week-long training camp in Austria.
The Black Cats then have friendlies lined up against Bury, Hibernian, Livingston, St Johnstone, Bradford City and Scunthorpe United.
Given the busy pre-season schedule, Ledger is set to be given game time to prove his worth ahead of the opening Championship game against Derby County at the Stadium of Light on Friday, August 4.