SUNDERLAND face the prospect of shelling out a £1million-plus down payment, if they want to sign teenage trialist Max Clayton.
Out-of-contract Crewe Alexandra striker Clayton is midway through a fortnight’s trial at the Academy of Light, as he attempts to win a move to the Premier League.
Crewe accept there is no chance of Clayton playing for the League One side again after the 19-year-old has wound down his deal at Gresty Road for the past 18 months, and they have agreed to his trial at Sunderland.
But SportMail understands that there have been no talks yet between the two clubs over a potential fee for Clayton, and if he does impress Sunderland’s coaching staff, the Black Cats have little hope of landing him cheaply.
Crewe are looking for an initial fee in excess of £1m - plus add-ons - if they are to approve Clayton’s departure.
And it will be in Sunderland’s interest to agree a fee, as the Black Cats could face an even higher bill if the case goes to a tribunal, with Crewe owed compensation due to the frontman’s age.
England Under-19 international Clayton came through the famed Crewe academy system alongside winger Nick Powell, who joined Manchester United in the summer of 2012 for a £3m initial fee, plus £3m in add-ons.
The club have long held the view that Clayton, who made his first-team debut at 17, has the potential to be even better than Powell and was always envisaged to be a late-developer.
Given Clayton has made almost 100 competitive appearances for the club and Crewe’s track record of producing players, the club could expect to be lucratively compensated if the case did go to a tribunal.
Crewe boss Steve Davis said earlier this week: “They (Sunderland) have spoken to us and as he is out of contract, he can go where he likes. He is within his rights to do that.
“It will be a type of trial and they will make a decision on him after that.
“They must be keen on him to have a look at him and if he impresses, I am sure they will come back with an offer.
“We are due compensation and hopefully something can be decided between the clubs if it comes to that.”
Sunderland’s pursuit of Clayton is the latest example of the club increasingly looking to recruit promising young senior players and then developing them.
The Black Cats brought in Duncan Watmore, Charis Mavrias and El-Hadji Ba 12 months ago, with all three making their first-team debuts last season.