SUNDERLAND will have to beat off competition from at least three clubs in the Championship if they are to sign Dion Sanderson this summer.

Sanderson’s future is set to be resolved shortly, with Wolves understood to have signalled their willingness to sell the centre-half, who spent last season on loan at the Stadium of Light.

Bruno Lage is set to replace Nuno Espirito Santo as Wolves boss, but the Molineux hierarchy have already decided to cash in on Sanderson this summer rather than wait for their new manager to assess the 21-year-old in pre-season training.

Sunderland boss Lee Johnson has made Sanderson his number one summer target after the defender became an increasingly influential figure in the second half of last season. Sanderson forced his way into the first team at the turn of the year, and was a key factor in Sunderland’s rise up the table in the second half of the season. Johnson does not regard it as a coincidence that his side’s form dipped when the centre-half sustained an injury and was forced to return to Wolves before the end of the campaign.

While the Black Cats will have to work within a fairly strict budgetary limit this summer, there should be scope to meet Wolves’ asking price, which is likely to be around £2m.

However, Sanderson’s performances in the second half of last term mean Sunderland’s recruitment team will not have things their own way, with at least three Championship clubs understood to have held preliminary discussions with either Wolves officials or the defender’s representatives.

Sheffield United are known to be long-term admirers, with the departure of Chris Wilder having done nothing to dampen the Blades’ interest. Huddersfield Town, Stoke City and Birmingham City have also been linked with Sanderson, who faces a difficult decision over his future.

Sunderland will be hoping that his positive experiences on Wearside last season work in their favour, although it remains to be seen whether Sanderson is willing to reject the chance to play in the Championship in order to spend another season in League One.

As well as looking to secure new recruits, Sunderland remain in talks with Denver Hume, Luke O’Nien, Aiden McGeady and Charlie Wyke, all of whom have been offered new contracts, with their current deals due to expire this month. All four players are understood to have received alternative offers from elsewhere, and at this stage, it remains unclear whether the Black Cats will be able to persuade any to commit to the Stadium of Light.

Jermain Defoe was linked with a possible return to Wearside last month, but the former Sunderland striker will not be signing up for a second spell in the North-East as he has signed a new deal with Rangers.

Defoe, who was a hugely popular figure during his time in a Sunderland shirt, has signed a new one-year deal at Ibrox, and is set to become a player-coach alongside Rangers boss Steven Gerrard.

“It is well-documented how much I love the club, and the relationship I have with the fans, the players and the staff at the club,” said Defoe, who is now 38. "So, to get the deal over the line, I am just delighted.

“It is something I wanted to happen, even before the season finished, especially the way we finished the season with winning the league.

“It was the perfect time to be at the football club and it was so special, so to sign another contract as a player-coach, and to still be a part of it, it is an amazing feeling for me and my family.”