SUNDERLAND are set to battle Borussia Dortmund for the signature of highly-rated France Under-20 midfielder El-Hadji Ba this month.
The 19-year-old may not represent the frontline addition that Black Cats fans are hoping for, but the Le Havre youngster is regarded as one of France’s better prospects and was on the radar of Tottenham Hotspur over the summer.
And it also fits in with Martin O’Neill’s recruitment strategy, which involves trying to bring in three first-team ready players as well as a number of squad additions who might be able to support his threadbare options.
Ba (pictured right) would fit into this category, flitting between the development squad and the first-team squad in the second half of the season and viewed as one for the future.
He currently partners Juventus’ former Manchester United schemer Paul Pogba in the centre of France’s Under-20 side, and has been capped at both Under-18 and Under-19 levels, having played in the European Championships in the latter.
Ba recently broke into the first team at Le Havre and has been playing regularly in the second division over the last couple of months.
His progress has been tracked by several high-profile European teams, and Borussia Dortmund are also understood to be interested in a player that Sunderland have scouted extensively.
He is understood to be out of contract in the summer, although Le Havre would be due compensation from any team who take him on.
Sunderland’s dual recruitment drive will not prevent them from stepping up efforts to bring in reinforcements for a squad that O’Neill admits is far too slim to cope with the second half of the season.
The club were linked with a move for Bursaspor’s French midfielder Alfred N’Diaye yesterday, with reports in Turkey suggesting a £2.5million bid was lodged with the Super Lig side.
N’Diaye, 22, possesses both the physical profile and creative flair O’Neill has been crying out for in the engine room this season.
It would also suggest that a move for Tim Cahill, which has been discussed with his MLS side New York Redbulls, has been pushed onto the back burner.