Strong reports coming out of Italy have this evening suggested that Martin O'Neill is looking to bring in Lazio's Mauro Zarate to bolster Sunderland's attacking options. The 25-year-old Argentine has fallen out of favour at the Rome club, and the Black Cats boss sees the former Birmingham City loanee as an ideal addition to his squad.
According to Il Messaggero, the Italian capital's most popular paper, one founded way back in 1878 and with strong ties to Lazio, Sunderland are preparing to submit a bid in the next few days.
O'Neill is expected to lodge a loan bid for the attacking midfielder-cum-auxiliary striker but, crucially, the deal is believed to include a clause whereby Sunderland can choose to make the deal permanent for a sum of €8m.
The news comes by way of CNN correspondent, and Gazzetta dello Sport (one of Italy's biggest sports dailies) contributor Tancredi Palmeri, who tweeted earlier:
Zarate has been the subject of interest from a number of clubs, but it is believed that the Argentine, who enjoyed his spell in the Midlands in spite of Birmingham's relegation in 2008, favours a return to England.
Indeed, CalcioWeb's live transfer feed this evening stated:
Zarate's future could lie in England. Sunderland have been following the Argentine striker for some time, writes Il Massaggero, with O'Neill looking for a loan deal with right to redemption for €8m - €2m less than the €10m Dinamo Kiev have offered, only for Zarate to refuse that move.
With Zarate out of favour at Lazio, O'Neill will likely fancy his side's chances of securing the signature of another creative player. Despite being used sparingly by his club, Zarate has managed a goal and three assists in six Europa League appearances this term. As the player wants to leave, and Lazio show no signs of wishing to keep him, the Black Cats' lower offer of €8m could well be enough to sway a move.
Though his career in Rome has taken a turn for the worse, Zarate was initially signed by Lazio for a hefty €20m and remains highly rated. Should Sunderland be successful in their pursuit of the South American, it would see some healthy competition for places provided for the likes of Stephane Sessegnon, James McClean and Adam Johnson.