SUNDERLAND are pulling out all the stops to sign Adam Johnson and will not be beaten on either the transfer fee or wages.
But the rival clubs chasing the England winger are both top-eight sides and the fear is that the 25-year-old might decide they offer him a better chance of success and of firmly establishing himself in Roy Hodgson’s long-term international plans.
Certainly if Johnson’s aim is to drop down as little as possible from the Premier League champions, that gives the advantage to a side playing European football.
And Sunderland must hope Martin O’Neill’s long-term ambitions and, perhaps, the pull of his native North East, will prevent that happening and persuade the Easington-born midfielder to return home.
The Echo understands that a total of FIVE Premier League clubs initially matched Manchester City’s £10m asking price for a player the Blues snatched from under Sunderland’s nose in 2010, when City bought him from Middlesbrough in a £7m deal.
Since then, the player has rejected the overtures of two of the five but has not so far rebuffed Sunderland’s interest.
The Black Cats have ensured that as far as the three-horse races goes, they have given themselves the best chance of winning – chairman Ellis Short prepared to agree a financial deal which would satisfy the player’s demands while at the same time meeting City’s valuation of the ex-Boro boy.
The identity of the other two clubs Sunderland are now battling against is not entirely clear – Spurs, Everton, Liverpool, Newcastle United and others have been linked with an interest in the player.
But Spurs are believed to be the club in pole position at the moment with new manager Andre Villas-Boas looking to put his own stamp on Harry Redknapp’s squad.
So far, Tottenham’s rebuilding this summer has been relatively modest by their own standards with £10m Ajax defender Jan Vertonghen and Hoffenheim’s £6.8m midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson the chief arrivals at White Hart Lane.
And the signing of Johnson would certainly send out a signal that AVB means business when it comes to the club’s determination to maintain a challenge for Champions League places.
Sunderland though will continue to battle away for a player who came within a whisker of joining them under Steve Bruce, only for the Black Cats to be blown out of the water by Man City’s 11th hour swoop.
The move to Eastlands suited both Johnson and City at the time but the love affair has coolled markedly and although Blues boss Roberto Mancini chose his words carefully yesterday afternoon in the wake of his side’s exciting 3-2 win over Southampton, but it seems almost certain the winger will leave the club by the end of the current transfer window.
Mancini said: “Adam deserves to play because he is a good player, but it is not easy for me because I can only have 11 in my team. Every player who doesn’t play is frustrated. I can understand that.
“I will talk to him about what will happen now, but it is difficult to let him go because I need to have all my players at this moment.
“When we start the Champions League, we hope to be playing a game every three days for 10 months, so it is not easy to decide about Adam.”
Johnson himself wants his future resolved, believing his bit-part involvement in Manchester City’s Premier League winning campaign cost him his international place.
“I will be speaking to him about my situation,” he said, referring to Mancini. “There’s been no bust-up.
“But I think what happened to me at City last season was why I missed out at the Euros.”
Johnson though appears to have already made his mind up to leave – just as one of Sunderland’s other main target, striker Steven Fletcher already has at Wolves - that he wants to go.
Sunderland have far from given up hope of landing Fletcher, despite Wolves’ public intransigence.
And the Wearsiders’ hand might well have been strengthened over the weekend thanks to their gutsy draw at Arsenal, which eases immediate pressure, combined with Wolves 1-0 defeat to Leeds, which must have increased the desire for the West Midlands outfit to make their own ambitious moves in the transfer market.