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Quinn wants Phillips to spearhead attack
NIALL Quinn is hoping to re-unite one of the most successful forward lines in Sunderland history by enticing his former strike partner Kevin Phillips back to the Stadium of Light.
And after being formally confirmed as Sunderland's 24th permanent manager yesterday, the Irishman will also make a last-ditch attempt to prevent fans' favourite Julio Arca joining North-East rivals Middlesbrough.
Quinn used his first formal press conference as Black Cats boss to underline the extent of his long-term ambition following the Drumaville consortium's successful purchase of Bob Murray's majority shareholding in the club.
The group's £10m takeover is almost complete and, with Sunderland's opening game of the Championship season just 11 days away, Quinn is desperate to begin spending the "significant" transfer fund he now has at his disposal.
The purchase of both a goalkeeper and a versatile left-footer top his list of priorities, but he also hopes to complete the eye-catching capture of Phillips once a new manager is installed at Villa Park.
Quinn made a formal approach for the 33-year-old, who scored 132 goals in 236 appearances during a six-year spell on Wearside, earlier this month.
And while David O'Leary's hasty departure from the Midlands has complicated matters, the new Black Cats boss is hopeful of resurrecting a deal before the transfer window closes at the end of next month.
"To be truthful, I made an inquiry about Kevin," said Quinn, who spent five seasons playing alongside Phillips before hanging up his boots in November 2002.
"But then the Aston Villa situation blew up in the air and all bets were off.
"It's something that we may revisit once a new manager comes in there. He might come in and want to change things around."
With Quinn's appointment as both chairman and manager having created an air of expectation ahead of the new campaign, the arrival of Phillips would cap a magnificent month for Sunderland's long-suffering support.
The former England international broke the club's goalscoring record when he scored 35 goals in the 1997-98 season and, while he might have lost some of his pace in the intervening years, he would be guaranteed a hero's reception if he was to return to Wearside for a final hurrah.
Arca would also be guaranteed a warm welcome if he was to make a surprise U-turn later today and, while the South American spent yesterday completing contract discussions at Middlesbrough's Rockliffe Park training ground, Quinn has not given up hope of persuading him to turn his back on Teesside.
Arca's contract allowed him to speak to Premiership suitors once Sunderland's relegation from the top-flight was confirmed and Quinn was therefore powerless to prevent the Argentinian travelling down the A19 once Boro declared their interest.
But the Irishman has promised to match the Teesside club's offer and is refusing to rule out a last-minute change of heart.
"Julio had permission to go and speak to Middlesbrough again (yesterday)," said Quinn. "He's a super lad and this isn't something I'm really cross about.
"I'm disappointed, but he's a terrific guy and I've told him, 'Your'e entitled to go there, but we're here for you'.
"He's very happy here in the region, I know that. If Middlesbrough had been down in London, we would have had a better chance. Unfortunately, he'll be able to drive in and out of work from where he is.
"I've told him that whatever Middlesbrough offer, we'll match. There's a couple of things going against us, but there's still a bit of hope and we're trying very hard."
Quinn's willingness to match Boro's offer underlines the extent of the resources that are now at his disposal and, while Arca is still expected to complete his switch to the Riverside later today, the Black Cats are also certain to make signings of their own within the next two weeks.
Sunderland officials are understood to have approached a number of clubs yesterday, with Quinn himself having spoken to Arsenal in an attempt to secure the loan signing of highly-rated midfielder Fabrice Muamba.
The England Under-18 international, who arrived in this county as an asylum seeker after fleeing civil war in DR Congo in 1999, appeared at the Stadium of Light as Arsene Wenger's side knocked Sunderland out of the Carling Cup last season.
Five other Championship clubs are understood to have approached the Gunners this month, but Quinn is hoping that his seven-year spell at Highbury will have left him in pole position.
"I've spoken to Arsenal twice," confirmed Quinn. "We hope to be able to take one of their players, but I can't talk about names."
Sunderland are also expected to sign a new goalkeeper before next month's Championship opener - Kelvin Davis' departure has left just Ben Alnwick and Trevor Carson on the books - while the purchase of a left-back will become an even greater priority if Arca completes a move to Middlesbrough this week.
George McCartney has been ruled out for the best part of two months after injuring his knee in Monday night's 2-0 win in Shelbourne, and Quinn is hoping to step up his pursuit of a number of defensive targets now that he has been officially installed as manager.
"It was impossible for me to attract new players because they all had the same response," he said. "They said that there's no manager and wondered what would happen if the new man didn't like them.
"I couldn't sign a player - now I can. I have already spent an hour-and-a-half on the phone trying this morning. We need a left-sider."
Quinn's transfer efforts will undoubtedly be assisted by the financial support he is guaranteed as a member of the Drumaville group.
Sunday newspaper reports suggested that Bolton boss Sam Allardyce, who was the consortium's leading choice as Mick McCarthy's long-term successor, had questioned whether rumours of a £30m fighting fund were realistic.
But while Quinn was unwilling to put a figure on the resources at his disposal, he insisted that all of his managerial targets had been hugely impressed by the guarantees he was able to make.
"I can't give you numbers," said the Irishman. "But one of the things I said to people we were looking at was, 'Give us your idea of how much the club needs'.
"They gave us their thoughts and ideas and I said, 'Well okay. We can do a lot more than that."