SUNDERLAND transfer target Andreas Granqvist insists he could stay with Italian outfit Genoa, despite speculation over a January exit.
Black Cats boss Martin O’Neill watched Granqvist in action for Sweden in October’s friendly against England last month, as he looks to boost his uncertain defensive options.
Sunderland central defensive duo Matt Kilgallon and Titus Bramble are both out of contract at the end of the season, while there are continued doubts over the fitness of Wes Brown, with the former Manchester United man approaching a year on the sidelines through injury.
But Sunderland are not alone in tracking Granqvist and it would be a major coup for the Wearsiders to beat off interest from elsewhere to land the 27-year-old.
Lazio, Roma, Zenit St Petersburg and several Premier League clubs including Liverpool, Spurs and Newcastle have all been linked to Granqvist, who has been widely tipped to leave Serie A strugglers Genoa in the transfer window.
But Granqvist, who scored an equaliser in Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Torino, says he may not even leave Genoa and his fate rests with the club’s hierarchy.
“I’m fine to stay with Genoa, but I don’t know what will happen,” he said. “Everything depends on the President.”
Granqvist made just 14 appearances in an 18-month spell at Wigan before rebuilding his career in Sweden and earning a £2million move to Genoa in the summer of 2011.
His form in Italy has attracted attention across Europe, despite Genoa currently lying second bottom of Serie A.
But Granqvist’s agent, Simon Canovi, has reiterated the words of the international team-mate of Sunderland’s Seb Larsson, stressing that Genoa need the services of the defender to move away from the threat of relegation.
“He is a player of real value which may be important for Genoa to climb the table,” said Canovi.
“I think it is normal that Andreas is appealing to other clubs.
“But, in my opinion, there are not many strong defenders like Granqvist around and they cost too much.”
Although Sunderland may miss out on Granqvist, O’Neill is eager to boost the Black Cats’ ranks in the transfer window.
Sunderland owner Ellis Short had envisaged a quiet January at the Stadium of Light, but the club’s perilous position has led to a rethink over the funds available to O’Neill.
The Sunderland manager is keen to add some physical muscle to his options, which have been depleted by injuries to Lee Cattermole and Phil Bardsley.
“We will have to look to strengthen in the second half of the season,” said O’Neill after last weekend’s defeat at Manchester United. “You only have to look at the back of the programme to see that we don’t have any real numerical strength, as much as anything else.”
O’Neill will not sanction any exits before he can bolster his ranks – despite speculation over loan moves for Bramble and Fraizer Campbell – but one player who will be allowed to leave the Stadium of Light in January is Ji Dong-won.
The South Korean striker has not featured for Sunderland’s first-team this season and the Black Cats have been talks with Bundesliga strugglers Augsburg over a loan move for the 21-year-old.
But reports in the Korean press yesterday also linked Ji with a return to former club Chunnam Dragons.
The K-League outfit are said to be interested in a £1million deal for Ji, although Sunderland would be eager to recoup the bulk of the £2.5million they paid for the frontman 18 months ago.
O’Neill did confirm earlier this month that there were several parties interested in Ji, who scored twice in 19 Premier League outings last season.
“Augsburg have been in touch and would be interested in Ji, but they are not the only club who want to take him. There are several others,” said O’Neill.
“I have to say that if he was to out on loan, I would want him to go to a club that has every intention of using him regularly.”