LIVERPOOL are winning the race to sign Sunderland keeper Simon Mignolet and the Black Cats’ Player of the Season could be Anfield-bound within days.
Reds boss Brendan Rodgers has made the Belgian stopper one of his top targets of the summer but faced potential competition from Arsenal who are also involved in a summer of rebuilding, with Gunners’ boss Arsene Wenger given a massive war-chest to transform the London side into title contenders.
Liverpool are looking to do their transfer business early this summer and made an opening bid of £6.5m hoping to do an early deal, while Arsenal made their interest known but have yet to take that further.
Sunderland rejected Liverpool’s offer out of hand for a player who was pivotal in keeping the club in the Premier League last season.
But the Reds have not been dissuaded and have tabled several improved offers, rising to £8m early this week.
Yesterday, the Merseysiders were prepared to go to £9m but Sunderland are holding out for a fee in excess of £10m for a player Steve Bruce paid £2m for, three years ago this week.
Now it looks like Liverpool have accepted Sunderland’s valuation.
And with the Reds prepared to pay a fee which the Black Cats’ believe approaches the keeper’s market value, Mignolet appears on his way to Anfield.
Arsenal could always step in with an 11th hour bid but their are no immediate signs on an intervention from the Emirates and, that being the case, the deal to take Mignolet to Liverpool is on.
The club’s hottest property has been the subject of intense speculation since the end of the season and talks on an extension to his contract at the Stadium of Light, which still has two years to run, had stalled as the player and his agents considered their options.
Mignolet’s chief agent, Guy Vandersmissen, said earlier this month that the keeper would not ask for a move but that the ball was firmly in Sunderland’s court.
“There is a contract so we have to respect that, but I don’t think at this moment we would be prepared to sign a new contract,” commented Vandersmissen.
“There is another two years on his contract, if they want us to stick to that, we will stick to that and perhaps leave after two years if there is an interest in Simon.”
Sunderland though would not want the 25-year-old, whose reputation grew by the month in the Premier League last season, to leave on a Bosman in a couple of years time.
And it will be hard for the Black Cats to reject a particularly big offer which would give Paolo Di Canio room for manoeuvre under the financial fair play restrictions and allow him to strengthen other areas of the team.
Mignolet’s exit could see top-quality understudy, Republic of Ireland keeper Keiren Westwood, promoted to number one with England Under 19 goalkeeper moving up to number two.
That remains the most likely option, although Di Canio could also look to bring in a replacement for Mignolet which will still leave him the bulk of the transfer fee, or even look to bring in another keeper as Westwood’s number two.
What is clear though is that Mignolet will not be going anywhere unless Sunderland receive an acceptable offer and Liverpool appear to have accepted that valuation as they urgently seek a genuine replacement for Kop cult hero Pepe Reina, who is now expected to leave this summer.
Mignolet has been happy at the Stadium of Light since joining the club from St Truiden three years this week.
But he is desperate to oust Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtis as Belgian number one before the 2014 World Cup finals and knows that a good move would improve his chances.
The Sunderland keeper had an excellent season just gone and was absolutely pivotal in keeping the Black Cats in the top flight by the skin of their teeth, thanks to many points saving performances over the course of the campaign.
But he knows that a move to a higher profile stage will enhance the international prospects which mean so much to him.