LEE CATTERMOLE has backed Martin O’Neill to “stamp his mark” on Sunderland’s squad after beginning his Black Cats cull.
O’Neill allowed nine players to leave the Stadium of Light for nothing last week, with Britain’s most expensive goalkeeper Craig Gordon the most high-profile of those released by the club.
Sunderland’s three loan players – Nicklas Bendtner, Sotirios Kyrgiakos and Wayne Bridge – also returned to their parent clubs, while there may still be further exits from Wearside.
Their replacements will stem from O’Neill’s first genuine chance to land new recruits after being in the Sunderland hotseat less than a month before the January transfer window opened.
And skipper Cattermole believes it will be an intriguing summer for the Black Cats as O’Neill looks to re-shape the side he inherited from Steve Bruce.
Cattermole told the Echo: “We’ve changed so many players this season and I’m sure the manager will have ideas for his own players and what he wants to do.
“It will be an interesting time for Sunderland.
“It will be nice to see what he does and I’m sure he’ll want to improve us.
“There’s a few players we’ve got on loan who’ll go back and a couple of lads who’ve come to the end of their contracts.
“The manager has got a summer now to prepare his team and I’m sure he’s decided which players he wants to keep or let go.
“It happens every year. Players will be coming and going and I’m sure he’ll stamp his mark on the team.”
Blackburn winger Junior Hoilett is known to be among O’Neill’s targets, although Arsenal are thought to be in pole position for the Canadian, whose contract at Ewood Park expires this summer.
Hoilett’s agent held a series of meetings with the Gunners last week, with Spurs and Champions League runners-up Bayern Munich also monitoring the 21-year-old.
Arsenal are also understood to be interested in freed Sunderland keeper Gordon, to provide competition for first-choice Wojciech Szczesny, although SPL champions Celtic are eager to land the Scotland international.
Homegrown winger Jordan Cook was the only player freed from the Stadium of Light with first-team experience, with the 22-year-old expected to move permanently to Carlisle after spending the last four months of the campaign on loan at Brunton Park.
O’Neill is also keen to offload those surplus to requirements on Wearside.
The saga involving Asamoah Gyan’s permanent exit to the Middle East continues, while West Ham’s promotion to the Premier League is likely to see George McCartney’s season-long loan with the Hammers converted into a permanent switch.
West Ham boss Sam Allardyce is also interested in Sunderland duo Ahmed Elmohamady and Kieran Richardson, with the latter having just 12 months remaining on his Black Cats deal.
O’Neill has also been linked with Norwich striker Grant Holt – player of the season for the last three years – who has had a transfer request rejected by the club. Holt’s representatives met with the Norwich hierarchy yesterday in a bid to resolve their differences.
Agent Lee Payne said: “Grant has had a tremendous three years at the club and he just feels it was a decision that he had no other choice to make at this stage. Why would he not want to stay? His family is here and he is adored by the fans, but things have to be done correctly.
“Grant just feels over the last couple of months some comments have been made and things have been said which have been very unfair. If they ever come out in the wash, I am sure everybody will understand why he did what he did.”
“It is not all about money. I think players like to feel like they are being valued and being respected.”