SUNDERLAND will turn their focus away from the Bosman market after landing their third out-of-contract player of the summer.
The Black Cats completed a hat-trick of free transfers this week after ex-Manchester City stopper Costel Pantilimon followed Billy Jones and Jordi Gomez to the Stadium of Light.
Landing three players well-versed in the demands of the Premier League has proved to be prudent business from head coach Gus Poyet and sporting director Lee Congerton, who have been faced with the task of reinforcing a squad decimated by the departures of seven out-of-contract players and five loanees.
But the capture of Pantilimon is likely to represent the final Bosman signing of the summer, with Sunderland now shifting their attention to targets who will involve a transfer fee.
Sunderland have been linked with out-of-contract Blackpool winger Thomas Ince – who would require a compensation fee to be paid to the Seasiders due to his age, rather than being a free transfer.
But the Gazette understands that the 22-year-old, who is being targeted by QPR, Stoke and Hull, is NOT on Sunderland’s radar after coming under consideration by Poyet during the January transfer window.
Instead, it is those players who are under contract to other clubs who are now at the top of Sunderland’s hit-list – a shift which is unlikely to see any further arrivals imminently.
Swansea centre-half Ashley Williams and last season’s loan success Fabio Borini are two of Sunderland’s principle targets and the Black Cats are prepared to be patient in the pursuit of both.
Sunderland saw a £4m bid rejected for Williams last week, but that has not dissuaded the club from maintaining their interest in a player who is about to enter the final year of his contract.
With veterans John O’Shea and Wes Brown both reaching the final 12 months of their Sunderland deals, Poyet realises the need to have an eye on the future in his central defensive ranks.
Swansea chairman Huw Jenkins is due to return from holiday today and Williams’ future will be at the top of his agenda, with the Welsh club still hopeful of agreeing a new deal for the 29-year-old.
As well as Sunderland’s concrete interest, QPR are firm suitors too, although Hull are now likely to pull out of the race as they near a deal for out-of-contract England defender Joleon Lescott.
Sunderland’s hopes of re-signing Borini on a permanent deal also promises to drag on and is likely to depend on whether the Italian is willing to leave Liverpool.
After boosting their attacking ranks with the signing of England international Rickie Lambert, Liverpool could be receptive to offloading Borini if they receive a tempting offer for the forward who was Sunderland’s joint top scorer last season.
But Sunderland’s hierarchy realise that Borini still wants to prove himself at Anfield and although they are ready to invest heavily in the 23-year-old, he needs to be prepared to re-join the Wearsiders.