SUNDERLAND have received a public slapdown from Wolves over their prolonged pursuit of transfer target Steven Fletcher and effectively been told either to put up or shut up.
Although a statement released from Molineux yesterday did not directly name the Black Cats, there could be little doubt that it was the Wearsiders who were the intended target of chief executive Jez Moxey’s scathing comments.
Relegated Wolves are firm on the fact that they want £15m for a player who cost them £7m two years ago.
And they have shown exasperation at Sunderland submitting improved bid after improved bid which, they say, falls short of their bottom-line valuation of the striker.
Moxey said: “All parties need to draw a line under this matter, which has now dragged on for over a month.
“We need to focus on the season ahead and these disruptions to the squad’s preparations are unhelpful.
“We have always said we want to keep our best players.
“If our valuations of them are not met then they will remain at Wolves but we cannot allow this speculation about their futures to drag on indefinitely up to the closure of the transfer window.”
This is in danger of becoming embarrassing for Sunderland.
Moxey’s bullishness on the Fletcher issue is more befitting the sort of stance you’d expect from a Champions League manager brushing off a covetous approach for one of their top players from a lesser club.
It is not what you would expect from a chief executive of a demoted side facing a calamitous drop in revenue and aware that the target of Sunderland’s interest has publicly said he wants to leave Wolves.
But it is an indication not only of Wolves’ impressive financial stability – they have no significant debt burden and therefore no need to frantically offload – but also of the knowledge that Sunderland are absolutely desperate to strengthen their forward line.
With Stephane Sessegnon struggling with injury, Connor Wickham sidelined and Ji Dong-won still recovering from a summer’s international football, the only striker raring to go is Fraizer Campbell.
But even if all four were fit, Sunderland boss Martin O’Neill knows he needs reinforcements up front and in particular the recruitment of an experienced targetman capable of holding the ball up and who thrives on crosses – someone like Fletcher.
O’Neill revealed over the summer that a small number of targets had been identified and the club would be pursuing them.
But there seems to be no Plan B to the choice of Fletcher, and Wolves are hoping to capitalise on that by digging their feet in over the fee.
Now it remains to be seen whether Sunderland bite the bullet and pay £15m for the Championship striker or whether, at this late juncture, they switch their attention elsewhere.
Even if they do decide to look at alternative targets though, they are now likely to find the asking price inflated there as well, as other clubs look to cash in on Sunderland’s striker-strapped situation.