May 27, 2013, 9:40 PM EST
In the wake of a run-in that left Sunderland fortunate to stay in the Premier League, manager Paolo Di Canio is promising big changes. The Black Cats may need “half-a-dozen” new signings this summer (really, an annual ritual around the Stadium of Light), though in order to keep that number from escalating, Di Canio’s going to have to hold on to the few solutions he has. That means keeping Steven Fletcher, retaining Stephane Sessegnon, and fighting off the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool for Sunderland’s true gem: goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.
The 25-year-old Belgian was among the league’s best `keepers this season, facing the second-most shots in the league as he played every minute for the flounder Cats. Behind that barrage, Mignolet felt the downside of Martin O’Neill’s negative tactics, his ability tested not only with shots on goal but having cut out changes on endless balls sent into his area. Both aggressive off his line and posessing quick shot-stopping reflexes, Mignolet was given plenty of opportunity to shine behind a terrible team.
Unfortunately for Di Canio, it may be impossible to keep Mignolet now that clubs near the top of the table are in pursuit. No young Belgian heads to England to spend the rest of his career at Sunderland. Teams like the Black Cats provide a proving ground for foreign talent eager to work their way into the league’s seven high-profile teams. Once one comes knocking, it’s usually a matter of extracting full value.
Depending on how Liverpool feel about Pepe Reina, that my be difficult to extract from the Reds, as it’s unclear Brendan Rodgers is ready to let the Spaniard return to Barcelona. Arsenal, on the other hand, moved away from Wojciech Szczesny at year’s end, and while Arsène Wenger has typically imported younger goalkeepers, Mignolet makes sense if he’s looking for a new number one.
Able to speak five languages (Flemish, Dutch, German, French, and English), Mignolet will immediately be able to communicate with the bulk Arsenal’s defenders, and being a rare footballer with a four-year degree (politics, University of Leuven), Mignolet may be a natural fit for Wenger’s more erudite approach.
Add in the fact Arsenal won’t have to set any transfer records to bring the Belgian to The Emirates and everything lines up, though if Di Canio’s remarks to the Hartlepool Mail are to be taken at face value, Mignolet’s move would be a contentious one:
“It is clear that we have to bring in players over the summer – half-a-dozen, maybe more,” said Di Canio.
“We finished near the relegation zone and so it is obvious that we need to make changes to make sure that we are not in this situation next season.
“But at the same time we already have some quality players here, and I want them to stay.
“I want to build something here at Sunderland and take the club forward – that is my mission. So the last thing I want to do is to let any of our quality players leave.
“Simon is a top class goalkeeper,” he said. “He’s very important to us.”
For Di Canio, it would be better if he cashed in and reinvested the money. Sunderland needs some much at so many positions, getting a potential eight-digit (or, high seven-digit) sum for your goalkeeper has to be considered. With Irish international Kieran Westwood on the bench, the Cats have somebody who should be able to do a minimal job should a different replacement fail to head north.
For Arsenal, it’s just a matter of prioritization. If they do have a £70 million war chest, as has been speculated, how much of that do they want to allocate toward a goalkeeper? And are they willing to give up on Wojciech Szczesny?
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