SUNDERLAND boss Steve Bruce has reassured his players they can realise their international dreams on Wearside.
At the end of a week during which former striker Darren Bent revealed he had been told by England boss Fabio Capello, right, that he had enhanced his chances of winning further caps by moving to Aston Villa, Bruce insisted playing for the Black Cats should not be any bar to success on the bigger stage.
He said: “The big problem we have here is not playing for Sunderland – it’s the geography. How many times has Mr Capello been to Sunderland? Or Newcastle, for that matter?
“I can understand that because the fella covers a lot of games, to be fair to him.
“But he will probably look at his schedule and say, ‘Well, if I go to London or Manchester or the North West, I can be at a game in the morning, a game in the afternoon and probably a game at night’.
“If he comes here, then he can’t, so I think it is a geography thing.
“I don’t think it should be any bar. The problem we have got is Mr Capello hasn’t been here for 20 months.
“That causes a bit of a problem because he probably only sees us away from home – and to be fair, for a year or so, we weren’t very good.”
Bent scored his second senior international goal in Wednesday night’s 2-1 friendly victory in Denmark and then revealed Capello had told him the transfer had helped his England chances. That annoyed Bruce, who paid an initial £10million to bring him to Wearside from Tottenham during the summer of 2009.
Bruce said: “That’s a frustration for us all and it is hugely disrespectful if he has said those sort of things.
“Darren Bent scored 24 (Barclays Premier League) goals for us and played an unbelievable season, and yet didn’t go to the World Cup, so I find that a harsh statement.”
The Capello camp have insisted since his initial comments that the Italian believes that Bent, who scored his second England goal in Denmark on Wednesday night, has improved significantly as a player since he left him out of his squad for last summer’s World Cup finals, and that part of that progress is down to Sunderland.
But he also feels the way in which he is being used by Villa, where he has scored twice in four starts, is better suited to the international game.
However, with young midfielder Jordan Henderson, who won his first senior cap in November, attracting the interest of some of the Premier League’s big names, Bruce’s concern is understandable.
Capello has not been to the Stadium of Light since August 18, 2009, when he saw Chelsea beat the Black Cats 3-1 with Bent on the scoresheet, but he was at Stamford Bridge in November last year to see Bruce’s men chalk up an impressive 3-0 win.
In addition, members of his coaching team have watched both the striker and Henderson repeatedly home and away during the ensuing period, and senior scout Dave Geddis, whose opinion is highly-regarded, will be on Wearside today.
Bruce, of course, made his own name as a player away from his native North East, but he is convinced that Sunderland currently represents a genuine option for international players from around the world.
As evidence to back his argument, he pointed to the Black Cats’ ability to persuade Stephane Sessegnon and Sulley Muntari to join their push for Europe, which continues with Tottenham’s visit tomorrow.
Bruce said: “The big thing we have got is we can attract them because we are at the right end of the table at the moment. The difficulty attracting them is if you are at the wrong end of the table.
“But if you are fighting for a European place, it makes your job a lot easier.
“Take Muntari, for example – you are not telling me last summer or the summer before, I would have been in a position to sign him?
“But because we are going well and the team is improving, he looks at it and thinks, ‘Well, why not?’, and when they get here and see the facilities and the stadium and the crowds we get, then it is a very decent place to ply your trade, believe me.”