Sunderland's transfer market activity surged into life yesterday with a remarkable raid on Tottenham Hotspur that could see Steed Malbranque, Teemu Tainio, Younes Kaboul and Pascal Chimbonda swap White Hart Lane for the Stadium of Light.
A collective fee of £23m has been agreed with Spurs, though the players have yet to speak directly with Sunderland manager Roy Keane and Chimbonda, for one, has also been linked with a move to Everton.
But all four players are understood to have returned to England last night from the Tottenham training camp in Spain and are expected to discuss personal terms with Keane today. It is not known if that will occur on Wearside as Sunderland are due to fly to Portugal, with Keane, at lunchtime for their pre-season tournament in Lisbon.
There is also the possibility that Sunderland will return to Spurs to ask again for Darren Bent, Keane having confirmed that Kenwyne Jones will be out for at least the first two months of the coming season.
Should Sunderland conclude all four transfers the £23m price-tag will be seen as high in some quarters and extortionate in others. But that is the market reality, as they discovered last summer when being forced to pay around £13m for three Championship players: Jones, Michael Chopra and Greg Halford.
Keane, speaking confidently yesterday about imminent arrivals, stressed that this summer he wants signings "who have handled the Premier League."
Of the Spurs quartet only Kaboul can be said to be unproven in the division, the £7m signing by Martin Jol having had an in-and-out first season in England. His debut was at the Stadium of Light, when Sunderland won 1-0 courtesy of Chopra. Given the scale of the £23m, it would appear that Tottenham are getting back the money they paid to Auxerre. Some will see the deal as a sign of panic by Keane and his chairman, Niall Quinn, but within the club it is viewed as a sign of ambition. What cannot be disputed is that Sunderland have the support of their Irish investors, comparatively this being the biggest outlay since the 1950s when Sunderland were known as "the Bank of England club."
Keane had sounded bullish yesterday, talking of buying the "five or six players who can take us to the next level" by next week. Even if only two of the four join, it would be a move in the right direction in terms of numbers and quality.
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