Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Free Agent Cuellar's a Black Cats Target

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Free Agent Cuellar's a Black Cats Target

Article excerpt

SUNDERLAND are monitoring the availability of Aston Villa defender Carlos Cuellar, who will be out of contract at the end of the season, writes MARK DOUGLAS.

Martin O'Neill is prepared to make changes in the summer to refresh a Black Cats squad that requires strengthening but, as chief executive Margaret Byrne pointed out this week, they must be "creative" in the market to maintain their positive progress off the pitch.

The Journal understands that process will include the Wearsiders casting around for high-profile free agents in the close season - with Cuellar (pictured left) a priority defensive option if he opts to leave Villa.

At the moment his representatives have only held preliminary conversations on a new deal but they are aware how highly O'Neill rates a player he signed for pounds 7.8million from Rangers.

The Sunderland chief is looking for reinforcements in every area of the pitch, with a centre-back and a centre-forward particular priorities. The absence of a transfer fee would make Cuellar a compelling option, although the days of huge salaries at the Stadium of Light are behind Sunderland.

O'Neill has major decisions to make on the futures of several key men but will look to refresh his squad in every area if he is given board backing in the summer.

Cuellar, along with goalkeeper Brad Guzan and veteran striker Emile Heskey, must wait until the end of the season before learning whether they have been given a new deal. "The gaffer's said he would rather put all these talks back until the season ends," said Villa's assistant boss Peter Grant yesterday. "Alex has always been one of these guys who prefers to do his business at the end of the season. He knows the most important thing is Aston Villa Football Club winning games. "His thinking is 'I'd rather leave it as much as I possibly can' and I think the players we're working with understand that now. …

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