SUNDERLAND are closing in on the signing of £5million-rated Tottenham midfielder Tom Huddlestone.
The Echo first revealed the Black Cats’ interest in the 26-year-old last month, after preliminary talks were held.
Since then, little has been heard publicly, with delicate negotiations going on behind the scenes.
But a move could now to be tied up in the next few days, with Spurs understood to have accepted a price for the tough-tackling play-maker.
White Hart Lane chairman Daniel Levy is known for driving a notoriously hard bargain and to be happy dragging out negotiations to do so.
But this time Sunderland look set to profit from Spurs’ desire to set the ball rolling as soon as possible on their summer clear-out.
Levy, who is determined to hold on to world-class asset Gareth Bale, knows that the club has to move up to the next level to keep their superstar happy.
Already Spurs have made a statement of intent, breaking the club transfer record with the signing of £17m Brazil midfielder Paulinho and are rumoured to be readying a £15m opening bid for free-scoring Valencia striker Roberto Soldado.
But the spending spree will need to be supported by sales and Spurs want to get on with a major offloading of players.
As well as Huddlestone, the Echo understands that even the likes of promising young full-back Kyle Naughton and striker Jermain Defoe can go, as well as other more obvious targets like Scott Parker, Emmanuel Adebayor and Benoit Assou-Ekotto.
High-earning under-achievers William Gallas and David Bentley have already been released after their contracts expired.
But Levy needs to begin the clear-out sooner rather than later this summer.
And with Sunderland having made a firm offer for Huddlestone, Levy has decided to accept, in a bid to set the ball rolling on White Hart Lane’s summer sales.
Huddlestone, who had become unsettled at Spurs because of his lack of first-team opportunities, is ready to move.
The 6ft 3in former Derby County prodigy played 29 games last season but was keen to be involved in many more.
“At times, you think you might need to move,” he admitted.
“I am 26 now and missed a year to 18 months through injury.
“You just want to play every game.
“And if that opportunity is not at Tottenham, then I will have to look elsewhere.”
Huddlestone is under contract until 2015, which would normally put Spurs in the driving seat, especially as Hull City boss Steve Bruce has shown an interest and Fulham made an offer in January.
But Sunderland have been upfront and positive in their approach for the player – just as they were with another major target, Jozy Altidore – and that looks set to pay dividends again.
The one thing that could clearly scupper a Huddlestone move is if he fails a medical – given the serious ankle injury which sidelined him for so long at Spurs.
But there’s no doubt that a fit and in-form Huddlestone would be a tremendous addition to Sunderland’s squad.
And the ball-playing midfielder with a fearsome shot would expect to be a first-team regular in the new season if he signed.
Now Sunderland, who are closing in on other targets, will hope to make swift progress on the Tottenham midfielder.
The Black Cats’ pursuit of Huddlestone – just like that of 28-year-old Juventus midfielder Emanuele Giaccherini – also gives the lie to the suggestion that the club will be slavish in their adherence to the “Udinese model” where they would only interested in buying young players of promise with a potential high re-sale value.