GUSTAVO POYET has learned of increased interest in Connor Wickham after Southampton earmarked the young Sunderland striker as a potential replacement for Rickie Lambert.
Lambert’s move to Liverpool earlier this summer has left new Saints boss Ronald Koeman searching for forward to lead the line and Wickham is among those under consideration along with Feyenoord’s Graziano Pelle.
Southampton have plenty of money to spend before the start of the new season after the sales of Lambert, Adam Lallana and Luke Shaw brought in around £60m. Strengthening Koeman’s attacking options is a priority at St Mary’s.
Wickham’s contract situation at the Stadium of Light makes him a realistic option and he suits the south coast club’s way of doing things in that he is a promising footballer with, it would seem, his best years ahead of.
Leicester City, Crystal Palace and Stoke City have been touted as possible buyers for Wickham, while Aston Villa and Southampton are the latest to be keeping an eye on the situation.
Wickham only has 12 months on his contract remaining and, after ending last season in good form for Sunderland, he has never been held in such high regard since his £8m move from Ipswich in 2011.
Poyet, desperate for fresh attacking options to call on, would like the 21-year-old to commit to a new deal but would be willing to listen to offers if the player is reluctant to sign a new deal.
Sunderland do have the safety net of his age, meaning he will not be able to walk away from the club for nothing in 12 months time because he is under the age of 24. They are unlikely, though, to receive as much as they would if they agreed to sell him now.
Poyet is willing to let Danny Graham and Ignacio Scocco go if buyers can be found. Middlesbrough, Watford and Burnley are all keen on Graham but are in no rush to meet the £1m asking price and meet his wage demands. Scocco, on the other hand, wants to join Newells Old Boys, but Sunderland want to recoup a large chunk of the £4m fee paid for him in January.
Poyet revealed that Jozy Altidore, who struggled to make an impact following his £6m switch from AZ Alkmaar last summer, should be fit to take part in pre-season.
Altidore suffered a hamstring tear in America's opening Group G game at the World Cup with Ghana. He was back on the bench for the last-16 date with Belgium.
Poyet said: “In the beginning it looked bad but it got much better during the weeks and Jozy was nearly available for the last-16. If, say, the US had got through to the next stage, Jozy would have played a part.
“We know hamstring injuries are tricky and that you have to be careful not to come back too quickly. Jozy deserves his holidays now. We have an agreement as to how many days he will have after finishing the World Cup.
“I am sure that if nothing goes wrong then Jozy will be back with us for pre-season training. He is going to be fit to start the training without any problems.”
Sunderland are pursuing transfer targets but are not in a position to finalise anything, while Schalke left-back Christian Fuchs is on their radar.
The Black Cats’ sporting director Lee Congerton, formerly of Hamburg, is exploring German links and Austrian Fuchs, 28, is seen as a possible replacement for Marcos Alonso, who has not tied up a deal to return after a successful loan from Fiorentina.