SUNDERLAND will look to avoid African signings this summer for fear of losing too many players to next season’s African Cup of Nations.
Last season the Black Cats had half-a-dozen players who could have potentially been involved in the competition.
And although the situation has eased considerably with departures at the end of the campaign, manager Steve Bruce is conscious he doesn’t want to lose a significant section of his squad just after the turn of the year.
He told the Echo: “When you are choosing players, you never consider their nationality, only the question of whether they’re good enough and that’s still the case with us.
“But certainly, as things stand, we would be reluctant to sign players from African nations because looking ahead to next season, it would be a real worry.
“The competition also comes at a time – end of January, beginning of February – where it’s a really testing time for your squad anyway.
“If we had the same injury crisis next year as this year and then lost half-a-dozen players to Africa for three weeks, we really would be goosed!
“I’m aware of the situation and it’s something we’ve addressed – you don’t want to lose a load of players at one fell swoop.”
Sunderland would make an exception if the player was deemed right for the club and the Black Cats have pondered a move for West Ham’s Senegalese forward Demba Ba, who has now signed for rivals Newcastle.
But Bruce (pictured, right) is determined not to run the risk of leaving himself short in the forthcoming campaign.
Had the bi-annual tournament been held in the season just gone, Sunderland would have been in all sorts of trouble, with half the squad eligible for involvement.
Sunderland had three Ghana internationals at the club in the shape of the nation’s skipper John Mensah and fellow Black Stars Asamoah Gyan and Sulley Muntari.
Ahmed Elmohamady is a regular in the successful Egyptian side and as well as Benin international Stephane Sessegnon, Sunderland had full-back Nedum Onuoha who could have been called up for Nigeria.
So potentially, Sunderland could have lost six first-team players at a time when their squad had the longest injury list in the division.
The issue is much less of a problem as things stand, with Mensah, Muntari and Onuoha having left the Stadium of Light at the end of last season.
And of the players who remain, only Gyan seems certain to have to miss a chunk of next season, with the tournament starting on January 21 and concluding on February 12.
Ghana are favourites from their group and should qualify, in which case Gyan is likely to miss a month of the Black Cats’ campaign.
But the good news, for Bruce at least, is that Sessegnon’s Benin are unlikely to qualify and holders Egypyt have been surprise flops in the preliminary round, with the champions for the last three tournaments also unlikely to reach the finals.
Even so, Sunderland will be cautious when it comes to recruiting African internationals and instead, their transfer policy this summer has been geared overwhelmingly to bringing in established Premier League players of British and European origin.