Seeing Jermain Defoe walk Bradley Lowery onto the Wembley pitch before slotting home in clinical fashion on Sunday made me, as a Sunderland fan, swell with pride. The man who has almost single handedly kept the club in the discussion for the past 18 months thoroughly deserved his return to the national side after a four year absence, and his Man of the Match award was the cherry on top of a perfect day for him and young Bradley.
I’m not deluded, and do not expect Defoe to be at the club next year. Even if we pull of another great escape (and this one would be the greatest, all things considered), his contribution to the side will never be forgotten by any Sunderland fan. His work-ethic, professionalism and goals have shown him to be a role-model on and off the pitch, and it’s been a pleasure watching him in red and white throughout his time in it.
Sunderland will need a striker in the summer. In fact, they’ll probably need several. This week I take a look at an unlikely hitman who is making a name for himself on the continent in another struggling side.
Under the microscope this week is Palermo’s Macedonian striker Ilija Nestorovski.
Palermo have had an absolute shocker of a season. The Sicilian outfit currently find themselves marooned in the bottom three of Serie A, seven points adrift of safety with only nine games to go. It looks very likely that they’ll be playing in the second tier of Italian football next season, but their star centre-forward almost certainly will not.
Ilija Nestorovski is a late bloomer. Up until his move to Sicily last summer for a paltry €500,000 his career had been unremarkable, with a prolific three season stint in Croatia – only one of which was played in the country’s top tier – its only real highlight. The Macedonian international has impressed from the off in Italy, surprising people with how readily he has taken to Serie A, showing a knack of scoring goals in a struggling side. Yep, definitely sounds familiar.
Nestorovski has the materials to be a complete centre-forward. He is good in the air and more than mobile across the ground, with decent technical attributes and a fierce work rate. His work rate is perhaps his most telling quality, and typifies his rise from eastern-European obscurity to one of the continent’s most revered leagues when well into his twenties. His ten Serie A goals this season have demonstrated his ability to take a chance when it comes along, and his movement off the ball and willingness to lead a line display an intelligence that is vital when succeeding in a poor side.
Nestorovski’s meteoric rise has not gone unnoticed, either. Everton and West Ham were credited with interest in the January transfer window, but with both sides harbouring loftier short-term ambitions than a side like Sunderland, Nestorovski is unlikely to be a pivotal part of their plans. The Lads are more than likely going to need a replacement for Jermain Defoe, and even in the unlikely event of us having his services next season, another striking option is essential.
I don’t want to repeat myself about ‘big’ Championship clubs being able to compete with lower-table Premier League sides in the transfer market again, but it’s looking more and more likely that we are going to be one of them next season. In order to maximize our chances of an immediate return, an ambitious, relatively big-money gamble on a player could be the difference between promotion and perpetual decline.
Nestorovski’s value will have sky-rocketed since his summer move in 2016, but with relegation looking on the cards for Palermo, the club are all but certain to cash in on their prized asset in the summer. A fee around £8-10m could be enough to convince them to sell.
Fancy it, Ilija?