FULHAM and Sheffield Wednesday are leading the chase for Sunderland discard Phil Bardsley.
Those two clubs have emerged as the ones making the early running for a player who has been completely bombed out by Sunderland head coach Paolo Di Canio.
But the Echo understands that others are also monitoring the situation of a player who is set to leave Sunderland sooner rather than later.
Bardsley (right) was always likely to leave the Stadium of Light this summer in the wake of embarrassing pictures of him on a late night out at a casino just before the end of last season, coupled with stinging public criticism from Di Canio in the days that followed.
But the final straw is the decision to leave the 28-year-old defender at home while the rest of the squad flew out to their training camp in Italy.
Despite all that has been said, Bardsley takes his fitness exceptionally seriously and will have been disappointed not to go to the high-intensity training camp.
Last season was the most disappointing in his five-year stay at Sunderland and he laid the blame for that on an ankle injury which prevented him completing a proper pre-season.
He will not want to miss out on another pre-season.
Speaking at a charity sports event yesterday, he said: “I think it’s quite clear to everyone that I’m not part of the plans at the club.
“So I’m just waiting and, you know, hopefully something will pop up in the near future.
“There has been interest from other clubs so, as I say, just waiting, and hopefully something is just around the corner.”
Fulham and Sheffield Wednesday offer him completely different escape routes out of Sunderland.
Wednesday boss Dave Jones is desperate to get Bardsley on board.
He can promise the full-back he will be central to his plans and Bardsley would be able to move closer to his Manchester base.
But Fulham will offer him the chance to say in the Premier League and follow the route taken by former Sunderland team-mate Kieran Richardson, who left the Stadium of Light for Craven Cottage last summer.