How the Wickham drama unfolded
A DRAMATIC last 24 hours has seen Connor Wickham on the brink of signing for Sunderland.
The deal could be closed out today, with Ipswich Town set to receive an initial down payment of �9m, with the final figure likely to rise to over �12m, easily smashing the club record �6m received for a player, shared by Kieron Dyer and Richard Wright.
The day had started with Town accepting a bid, reputed to be in the region of �13million, for their 18-year-old striker.
Town officials remained tight-lipped, but the news effectively sent out a message that Wickham could leave Portman Road this summer.
At this point, it looked as though Wickham and his agent were in a prime position to consider their options, and perhaps wait for any rivals bids, before making a final decision.
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However, Sunderland boss Steve Bruce, a canny player in the transfer market, seems to have already been successful in luring Wickham to the Stadium of Light, so stealing a march on the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham, who had all expressed an interest in the Town No.9 in recent months.
Both Bruce and chairman Niall Quinn are renowned for their persuasive powers in selling the Wearside club to potential recruits, and it appears that Wickham is happy to begin his Premier League career at a second string top flight club, where he would be virtually guaranteed first team football, rather than hold out for any possible rival bid from one of the bigger guns.
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Liverpool had been favourites to land the England Under-21 international, but they are running out of time to launch their own bid. They would have to move quickly today, before the Sunderland deal was rubber-stamped.
Bruce knows full well that if one of the “big players” did intervene with a last gasp bid for Wickham, then he would probably lose out in any bidding war.
The Black Cats cannot compete with the Gunners, the Reds or Spurs, in terms of financial clout.
The ball is now very much in Wickham’s court, and the level-headed teenager seems to have made his decision – he and his agent would have discussed the various options over the last few months.
It might be assumed that Wickham’s agent would propose that they wait to see if any other offers did come in, especially as the player himself was in no hurry to leave. At the end of last season, he had stated that he had no burning desire to leave Portman Road during the summer – he is actually contracted until 2014.
But having known that Ipswich were now willing to sell him, the main question was no longer – “would Wickham leave Ipswich this summer?” Instead, the debate had switched to – “which club will he decide to move to.”
And the answer looks to be Sunderland.
Although no firm bids had ever been confirmed as coming from the likes of Liverpool and Tottenham, Wickham would have struggled to walk straight into their first team next season, which could ultimately have been detrimental to his career.
Although he only turned 18 at the end of March, Wickham will only progress as a player, for the immediate future at least, by playing regular first team football in the top flight, and Sunderland can offer him that luxury.
Town boss Paul Jewell probably realised within a few weeks of his appointment in January, that he would have to sell Wickham, in order to fund a squad capable of pushing for promotion to the Premier League.
He has already signed Michael Chopra, Nathan Ellington and Ivar Ingimarsson over the last few weeks, and more recruits are being lined up, but the money from a Wickham sale would help him to flesh out his squad with players of greater quality.
Jewell is still in the market for another centre-half, at least one full-back, perhaps two midfielders, a wide-man and possibly another striker when Wickham departs.
And Wickham could be off today!