SUNDERLAND’S summer transfer work has already begun, with the club set to compete for the best of the Bosmans on offer in the days ahead.
Manager Martin O’Neill says the Black Cats cannot afford to hang around when it comes to courting the free agents available and the Wearsiders are fully aware that players such as Aston Villa defender Carlos Cuellar, Wigan midfielder Mohammed Diame and Bolton striker Kevin Davies are available for nothing in the close season, with their contracts expiring.
Blackburn Rovers star Junior Hoilett can also leave this summer and Sunderland are interested in a player who came of age last season, but, although his contract will expire at the end of next month, Rovers can expect significant compensation for their former youth team player who is still only 21.
Provisional talks have already taken place between O’Neill and owner Ellis Short over Sunderland’s transfer policy and the two have agreed a strategy for the summer.
But while the club appreciates the transfer window is a marathon, the pursuit of Bosman signings can be a sprint and Sunderland are hoping to be as successful as they were last season when Seb Larsson, David Vaughan and Keiren Westwood were all recruited.
O’Neill has already been linked with Cuellar, who he took to Villa Park in 2008, Wigan’s Diame and Bolton’s Davies, who are all set to become available at the end of June – although the Sunderland manager has always been a cagey operator when it comes to transfers.
“We will be looking in every market,” he said.
“But I agree, that there might be one or two players available on Bosmans who are really worthwhile and can be an asset to the football club.
“We will have to be sharp and quick off the blocks though, because anyone who is half-decent will not be available for long. It has more than crossed my mind, already.”
There will be no shortage of offers coming Sunderland’s way – some they will be interested in, most they will not.
And O’Neill is anticipating a busy time in the transfer window.
“The agents soon start getting on the phone,” he smiled. “And there are some agents who I haven’t heard of for six or seven years who are, all of a sudden, back in touch again.
“Their numbers may have changed but the voices are still the same – and sometimes they are offering the same players they were six or seven years ago!”
O’Neill’s six months in charge on Wearside have given him ample opportunity to assess his playing squad and now he is looking forward to reshaping it.
“I’m very excited by that,” he said.
“It has been a very busy six months, but it has at least given me the chance to look at the squad and decide where we need to bring in reinforcements.
“Obviously, when you look at the fact that no-one reached double figures in terms of goals for us last season, that is one area we need to address.
“But there are other areas I would like to look at too.”