SUNDERLAND are confident of completing a loan deal for Inter Milan midfielder Ricardo Alvarez before the transfer window closes – and Adam Johnson has welcomed the competition the Argentinian will provide.
Black Cats sporting director Lee Congerton, who has also been in discussions with Celtic over a possible move for Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk, has agreed the terms of a season-long loan that will see Sunderland pay around €1m to secure Alvarez’s services until next summer.
At that stage the Wearsiders will have first refusal on a possible permanent deal worth around €11m, and Alvarez is expected to travel to the North-East within the next 24 hours to complete the technicalities of the move.
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The only potential sticking point is some ongoing interest from Monaco, although the Ligue 1 side are reluctant to complete any of their own transfer business before the future of their in-demand striker Radamel Falcao is resolved.
Sunderland’s interest in van Dijk is at a less advanced stage, although Congerton is understood to have held a number of discussions with Celtic officials in the wake of the Scottish club’s Champions League exit at the hands of Maribor on Tuesday night.
With Newcastle United and Swansea City also keen to sign van Dijk, Celtic are hoping to spark a bidding war, and while a potential fee of £6m has been quoted, it is unlikely that Sunderland’s finances would enable them to pay that price without some tough negotiating over the payment schedule.
At this stage, loans are regarded as preferable and Alvarez, a seven-time Argentina international who joined Inter in a £12m move three years ago, is seen as a low-risk option given his experience in the European game.
The 26-year-old can play in a central midfield role or in a wide position, and will provide further strength to a midfield unit that has already been extensively restructured this summer.
Jordi Gomez, who scored his first Sunderland goal in Wednesday’s 3-0 win at Birmingham City, and Jack Rodwell, who opened his account in last weekend’s draw with Manchester United, have already moved to Wearside, but having grown accustomed to the arrival of a succession of potential rivals during his time at Manchester City, Johnson insists he is not fazed by the increased competition.
“To be fair, I think the competition I had at City with people like David Silva was pretty good so that doesn’t worry me one bit, to be honest,” said the winger. “I think I’ve had it throughout my career with Stewie Downing and people like that. It’s never really been an issue for me.
“I think it can bring the best out of players. You’ve got to up your game sometimes and it keeps you out of the comfort zone and stops you getting relaxed. I’m not the sort of player who relaxes anyway, but it’s always good for individuals and for the team to have competition to freshen things up.”
Having missed last weekend’s draw with Manchester United because of illness, Johnson returned to action in Wednesday’s Capital One Cup win over Birmingham.
The former England international scored his side’s second goal at St Andrew’s, stroking home the rebound after Jozy Altidore’s initial shot had been blocked, and his strike helped set up a third-round tie with Stoke City.
Sunderland’s second-round victory had parallels with last season’s win over MK Dons that kick-started the club’s run to the League Cup final at Wembley, and while this season’s competition remains at a formative stage, Johnson is hoping to generate similar momentum.
“It’s always good to have a home tie,” he said. “We showed last season that at home we can beat anyone. Any team wants to be at home and, for us especially, it cuts out the travelling.
“Last season showed that with a couple of wins, you’re almost there. It didn’t really feel as long a competition as the FA Cup. Three wins and you’re somewhere near, so I think you’ve got to keep looking at that. Last season showed what a good day out it is for the supporters and the whole club.”
Last term, Johnson also scored his first goal of the season in the League Cup second round, but while it took until January before he really hit his goalscoring stride, he is hoping to be more clinical at an earlier stage this time around.
“It's always nice to get your first goal,” he said. “The pressure's off a bit now so I can try and get a string of them and hopefully get more than I got last season.”