JERMAIN Defoe is in the thinking of Martin O’Neill, with the Sunderland manager’s efforts to sign Steven Fletcher appearing to have hit the buffers for the moment.
It is understood that it is not a case of either/or, when it comes to the two strikers – the Black Cats’ boss wants a targetman capable of scoring goals – a Fletcher figure and ALSO a prolific goalscorer, in the mould of Spurs striker Defoe.
Both players fit the bill in terms of the type of frontmen the Sunderland manager is determined to bring in – but whether Fletcher and Defoe appear in Sunderland colours remains to be seen, with a deal for either appearing a long way off this morning.
As far as Fletcher is concerned, Sunderland have reached complete deadlock, with Wolves now wanting colossal money for the wantaway striker.
The Black Cats have upped their offer three times in negotiations and this week reached the £12m mark they’d been led to believe would trigger talks for the Scottish forward.
But the West Midlands club have now shifted their position, wanting a transfer fee in the region of initially £15m, rising to near £20m with add-ons for their star player.
That leaves the deal dead in the water as far as Sunderland are concerned, with Martin O’Neill still looking to make progress on other fronts and the club not ruling out a move for Spurs hit-man Jermain Defoe.
Defoe has been linked with Sunderland before – he was mentioned as a potential signing for Steve Bruce last summer and also at the start of the current transfer window when it became obvious the club were seeking proven strikers this summer.
But any move for the Londoner would not be quick or easy – Spurs always drive hard bargains with negotiations never swift.
And even if new Tottenham boss Andre Villas-Boas was ready to let the 29-year-old leave, he is short of strikers himself – with only Dutchman Rafael van der Vaart realistically available to call on, now that Emmanuel Adebayor, Roman Pavlyuchenko and Louis Saha have left White Hart Lane.
Spurs would almost certainly want a replacement in before Defoe was let go and that would mean no deal soon, with any move more likely to be pushed through towards transfer deadline day.
That doesn’t help Sunderland, who want strikers in quickly and had hoped to make quick progress on Fletcher this week after raising their bid, only to face what appears to be a prohibitive fee for their target.
The Wolves board’s stance seems based entirely on the fact that ex-Black Cat striker Darren Bent made a journey in the opposite direction, moving from Sunderland to Aston Villa in January 2011 for an initial £18m rising to £24m – Wolves pointing out that at 25, not only is Fletcher younger than 28-year-old Bent, but that he also outscored the England man last season.
They also appear to have been encouraged by Sunderland’s obvious shortage of proven strikers and the knowledge that the Black Cats are desperate to sign goalscorers ahead of a Premier League campaign which starts a week tomorrow.
Sunderland however have no intention of going anywhere near the Championship club’s inflated valuation and unless Wolves shift their position the deal is likely to be dead in the water, much to the frustration of the player himself who has made it clear he is now desperate to leave.
The striker has now taken the step of handing in an official transfer request, later tweeting: “Just handed in a transfer request just to let the fans know where I am at right now.... #headsgone”
Wolves chief executive Jez Moxey confirmed the transfer request had been received, saying the player had become frustrated because several offers had been knocked back, but stated: “Rumours that we have accepted a bid from Sunderland are incorrect. They want the player, but we haven’t accepted anything.
“No player will be leaving this summer unless our valuation of that player is met.”
A waiting game, which suits no-one, now looks likely as far as Fletcher is concerned and O’Neill could well be reaching the point where, even at this late point, he begins to look elsewhere.