TONY MOWBRAY has revealed that Isaac Lihadji was left out of the Sunderland squad for tonight’s pre-season friendly defeat at Hartlepool United because he is in talks about a move away from Wearside.

The French midfielder is understood to be in discussions over a potential move to Qatar, with those talks having progressed significantly in the last couple of days.

As a result, while it was originally intended that Lihadji would start at Pools’ Suit Direct Stadium, he was a late withdrawal from the squad despite having been a substitute in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Real Mallorca at the Stadium of Light.


Mowbray said: “Lihadji was left out because there’s some discussions at the moment about his future. They are ongoing, so let’s wait and see how that pans out.

“He was going to play in the starting line-up tonight, but we took him out. It was quite late, after we’d done the training session in preparation for this game, the team changed.”

Lihadji is closing in on a move to the Middle East, with Qatari club Al-Duhail having been heavily linked with a move for his services.

The 21-year-old only joined Sunderland from French club Lille in January, signing a two-and-a-half year deal, and made six senior appearances in the second half of last season.

Asked whether a move to Qatar was imminent, Mowbray added: ““I don’t know the extent of it, but I think it’s got something to do with that (Qatar interest). Whether that pans out or doesn’t pan out, I honestly don’t know.

“Lihadji at this moment is a young boy at our football club, trying to make an inroad. He’s not going to impact too much onto the first-team starting set-up at this moment, he’s just one of the young boys that’s trying to break through. He’s got bags and bags of talent, but let’s wait and see what the next few days brings.”

Luke O’Nien was also absent from tonight’s squad, but he was given permission to miss the game because of a family issue and should be available for Sunday’s Championship opener against Ipswich Town.

Mowbray said: “O’Nien had an issue at home, a family issue that he had to deal with and was given permission not to travel. There’s no injury or anything amiss, he’s okay but just had to deal with the situation he had at home, which he was given permission to do.”

Sunderland are set to confirm another incoming transfer in the next 24 hours, with goalkeeper Nathan Bishop set to complete his move from Manchester United.

Bishop has returned to the UK following the end of Manchester United’s US tour, and should be confirmed as a Sunderland player in time to take a place on the substitutes’ bench at the weekend.