After ninety minutes of animation on the Stadium of Light touchline this Sunday as his side take on Manchester United Martin O’Neill will be presumably heading home to do likewise in his living room as he lives every second of the Levante v Bilbao clash desperately hoping striker Arouna Kone doesn’t score.
This is due to an unusual clause set in the Ivory Coast international’s loan deal with Los Granotes that states that should Kones score 18 goals or more during his spell there his agreement with his parent club Sevilla will be automatically renewed. After 17 strikes and proving himself to be a surprise revelation at the Ciutat de Valencia that is something neither Levante or a host of other interested parties – led by the Wearsiders – want.
The debate in Spain is whether coach Juan Ignacio Martinez will start with his in-form hit man and risk triggering the clause that would scupper a move for one of the most desirable free transfers available this summer. With Kone happy and firing at the club it is they who are hot favourites to land his signature should he indeed become a free agent. However, with Levante still in contention for European places on La Liga’s final day Martinez is unlikely to drop the 28 year old poacher despite a slight knee strain this week giving ammunition to those who think otherwise.
O’Neill meanwhile will be watching developments closely with the prolific striker emerging as a key target for the Mackems who are resolved to bringing in additional firepower this window. It is felt that Kone – who cost Sevilla £12m in 2007 – is open to the idea of trying his luck in the Premier League despite his public proclamations at being happy in Spain.
Another free-scoring agent that O’Neill would love to lure to the north-east is Pavel Pogrebnyak but again the Irishman is being forced to watch developments from afar and hope that things go awry with other interested clubs. In this instance it is Fulham who are firmly in the driving seat to secure a permanent deal for a striker who has bagged six in his last ten games on loan at Craven Cottage since his switch from Stuttgart in January.
The 28 year old is set to feature for Russia at the Euros, a tournament he cruelly missed through injury on the last occasion, and should he continue his hot streak there he is sure to be a much sought after figure.
Acutely aware of this Martin Jol is keen to finalise a deal in the coming week with talk of it even coming to fruition before Fulham’s game at Spurs this Sunday.
Pogrebnyak has stated his intent to a Russian news agency on staying in England – ideally at the Cottage – but should there be complications, particularly over wages, Sunderland are waiting in the wings to swoop.
It may be a frustrating time for O’Neill but while there is even the slightest possibility of nabbing one of two excellent front men for little-to-no outlay he and Sunderland are resigned to playing the waiting game.