Mignolet happy on Wearside despite growing interest

First published in Sport The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Chief Football/Golf Writer

MARTIN O'NEILL fully understands why many of Europe's leading clubs are monitoring Simon Mignolet's progress, although the Sunderland boss is confident his goalkeeper is in no hurry to leave Wearside.

Mignolet has become one of the most highly-rated shot-stoppers in the Premier League since his £2m switch from Sint-Truiden in June 2010 and is to be crowned the North-East Football Writers' Player of the Year at Ramside Hall, Durham, tomorrow night.

In the last few months his performances for the Black Cats have led to increased attention from around Europe, along with a number of Premier League clubs including leaders Manchester United.

Sunderland are in a strong enough position with his contract, knowing the 24-year-old still has a further two seasons on his deal after this one comes to an end.

But that has not stopped the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger sending their scouting teams to examine the Belgium international's displays more closely.

O'Neill said: "It's something we just have to get used to. We're delighted with him and it's great he won the award. It's a great boost for him as well.

"At the moment, he's playing brilliantly for us and here's the place for him but it doesn't stop big teams coming and hovering around.

"It's been a fantastic year for him and he seems very happy here. It's a compliment that big clubs are keeping an eye on him, there's no question about that either, they will be."

Mignolet, speaking ahead of today's trip to West Bromwich Albion, has taken to life at the Stadium of Light since Steve Bruce took him across the North Sea and is aware of the interest - but will not allow that to distract him.

"As a player I don't really tend to read about those kind of things," he said. "I try to say to people who ask me about being linked with other clubs that it goes in one ear and out of the other.

"That's what you are going to get as a footballer. Sometimes you are a hero and sometimes you are in the eye of a storm, so I know that things can change really quickly.

"The only thing I can do is focus on my own game and starting with the West Brom match. All those clubs who I am linked with, if I make a mistake on Saturday, will be unlinked straight away. It will be the exact opposite and that's why I don't really get fussed about it at all."

During O'Neill's younger days he had the privilege of working along side two goalkeeping greats in the shape of Peter Shilton at Nottingham Forest and Pat Jennings for Northern Ireland.

And he does see similarities with Sunderland's No 1. O'Neill said: "He comes in every morning and wants to do it, to work hard and improve.

"I've been lucky in my career to have played in front of two unbelievable keepers in Jennings and Shilton and he's got a similar approach to both.

"At international level, when Jennings felt he had a point to prove, he was unbeatable and I feel that Mignolet has this. He's still very young and he's got a similar mentality to those two, if he ends up having half the career of those two I'll be ecstatic. He's a clever lad without being smart. He's no smart Alec, he's an intelligent boy."

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