Sunderland make final N'Zogbia push
SUNDERLAND boss Steve Bruce has made a final attempt to hijack Charles N'Zogbia's proposed move to Aston Villa, but Newcastle manager Alan Pardew has admitted defeat in his own attempts to sign the Wigan Athletic winger. With Stewart Downing expected to complete a £20m move to Liverpool before the weekend, Aston Villa have made an immediate move to sign N'Zogbia as the former Middlesbrough midfielder's direct replacement. Indeed, sources in the Midlands claim Villa boss Alex McLeish would not have sanctioned Downing's departure unless he had received firm assurances that N'Zogbia would plug the gap. Having already signed nine senior players this summer, Bruce is delighted with his transfer dealings so far, and as he prepared to fly to Germany this morning ahead of a three-game tour, the Black Cats boss insisted he would be happy to go into the new campaign with his current squad. However, N'Zogbia has been one of his targets ever since he swapped the DW Stadium for the Stadium of Light, and with left midfield arguably the only position Sunderland are yet to fill, Bruce yesterday made a final push for the Frenchman. Wigan are holding out for £9m, but while N'Zogbia's wage demands of £65,000-a-week will cause the Black Cats problems, they are reluctant to admit defeat until a deal with Villa is concluded. If there's one area where we're maybe a little bit short, it's a natural wide left player, said Bruce, whose side take on Armenia Bielefeld in the opening game of their tour on Sunday. But there's not many of them about. But if you look at what we have in the squad, I think we have a really good balance now. We have four strikers, six or seven defenders and a host of midfielders as well. If I don't do another thing, I'll be quite happy to go into bat with what we've got. But as a manager you're never totally happy, and we'll still be keeping an eye on things and getting involved if we think something arises that could help improve the squad further. That something could yet be N'Zogbia, even though Newcastle have already admitted defeat in their pursuit of their former midfielder. The Magpies had an £8m bid rejected in January, and despite extensive talks this summer, Pardew does not expect to be re-signing the winger. I'm told that Charles has an imminent move, and I don't think that will be us, said the Newcastle boss. Pardew was clearly alluding to Aston Villa's interest, and for all that Bruce is determined to keep fighting until the end, it looks difficult for anyone to gazump the Midlands club now. Nevertheless, Bruce can point to the arrival of the likes of Connor Wickham, Wes Brown, John O'Shea, Seb Larsson and Kieren Westwood as evidence of Sunderland's progress this summer. The boss feels his squad is significantly stronger than the one that finished last season in tenth, and points to the capture of Brown and O'Shea in particular as evidence of Sunderland's new-found status in the Premier League. The big thing for me was the two United boys, said Bruce. I think when they joined there was a real feelgood factor about things. All around the town, everybody's talking about the start of the season and that's terrific. It's up to us now to get a team together, but we're moving in the right direction. To get two established players out of Manchester United is quite a coup. If I'm honest, I didn't really think it would be possible. Two or three years ago, it probably wouldn't have been, but now they're looking at it and seeing that Sunderland are having a right good crack. Significantly, Bruce has also completed the bulk of his transfer business before the middle of July, something he hopes will enable his side to hit the ground running in the early weeks of the season. I always felt it was going to be important to get as many players in as quickly as possible, he said. We lost six players, so it was important to get a few in before we started. The eight days in Germany will be important for us because we'll get all of the new lads away and they'll get to know each other a bit better. We've made a lot of changes, so it's important the new lads hit the ground running when the season starts, and the trip to Germany will help in that process.
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