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Pienaar returns to Africa; Sunderland target stays put & Macedonian Serie B striker linked

The transfer gossip stories are hotting up at the Stadium of Light ahead of Friday's first pre-season friendly.

Sunderland v Liverpool - Premier League Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Pienaar moves to South Africa

Former Sunderland midfielder Steven Pienaar has signed for South African side Bidvest Wits after being released from the Stadium of Light.

The Johannesburg club are the current champions in the nation's Premier Soccer League and have rapidly become South Africa's team of the moment.

Pienaar is thought to have had offers from a host of other sides from the country of his birth including Orlando Pirates.

Sunderland v Arsenal - Premier League
Pienaar in action for Sunderland last season
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Football in South Africa has been on the rise in recent years and a lucrative TV deal has ushered in new money to the country's game. Many pro’s can earn more in the Premier Soccer League than they can, say, in the USA and enjoy a luxury lifestyle akin to their European counterparts.

35-year-old Pienaar played in 15 Premier League games for Sunderland last season. His final campaign in English football will forever be remembered for summing up David Moyes' desperate transfer policy which became something of a joke for the unimaginative signings of ageing ex-Everton players.

Pienaar started off his brief Sunderland stint brightly with a decent showing on his Black Cats debut against Middlesbrough but the midfielder who was supposed to be a bit-part reserve was forced to play more frequently than his legs would allow as Moyes' injury crisis deepened during last winter.

Lay-offs curtailed the veteran's appearances as the season wore on with just three substitute showings in a Sunderland shirt in 2017.

Pienaar was busy on social media last night thanking well-wishers and hoping Everton have a decent campaign next season. But so far he's forgotten to thank Sunderland for the circa £20k a week he earned a week in his English football swansong.

Defender confirms Sunderland interest but opts to stay put

French centre-back Jonathan Gradit was linked with a move to Sunderland last month. The 24-year-old has spent the last few years in Ligue 2 with Tours FC.

With his contract expiring at the end of last season, the product of Bordeaux's youth system was linked with the Black Cats and a couple of other unnamed clubs in England as well as French sides.

Jonathan Gradit

But it was likely little more than a negotiating ploy as Gradit has opted to stay with Tours and sign a new deal, shunning any offer from Wearside:

I was at the end of my contract with Tours FC and with the solicitations of some English clubs like Sunderland and some Ligue 1 clubs it was true that at one point these were a starter.

I wanted to be fixed in early July and I did not want to leave. So I've always stayed in touch with Tours and in the end I'm happy to stay with the club where I feel good.

Oh well.

Some more transfer stories

Watford midfielder Ben Watson was linked with a move to Sunderland by gossip on social media yesterday but the prospect has been largely dismissed elsewhere.

Sunderland v Watford - Premier League
Ben Watson (R) playing against Sunderland in 2015
Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

The 31-year-old signed for the Hornets in January 2015 from Wigan but has increasingly found his opportunities at Vicarage Road limited and only played one game in the Premier League last season.

Leeds goalkeeper Rob Green continues to be mooted as a potential target for the Black Cats as his place as No. 1 at Elland Road is under threat by the signing of Werder Bremen stopper Felix Wiedwald.

Sunderland v Queens Park Rangers - Premier League
Connor Wickham scores past Rob Green in 2015
Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

Now aged 37 Green is touted as one who could do a job at the Stadium of Light for a season in the wake of Jordan Pickford’s exit.

Finally, Palermo stiker Ilija Nestorovski has been linked with a move to Sunderland a few times by Italian media in recent days. The 27-year-old attacker has been in Italy since last summer since being signed from his native Macedonia.

US Citta di Palermo v Empoli FC - Serie A
Nestorovski celebrates scoring last season
Photo by Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images

Nestorovski hit 11 goals last season in 37 appearances in Serie B and the Italian club may be looking to cash in this summer as they attempt to rebuild to launch a promotion push.

In an interview with website ForzaPalermo, Italian agent Atonio Stina confirmed work is underway to consider a new club for the attacker:

Nestorovski if the right offer comes in they [Palermo] will give it but it is normal that way. By now no one is not for sale at any level. There's an English team interested in the player.

That team has been said to be Sunderland in several reports now published this week.

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