Sunderland linked with former Middlesbrough, Liverpool & Aston Villa winger Stewart Downing

Sunderland look favourites to sign Stewart Downing – if the ex-England winger returns to the North-East.
West Ham United's Stewart DowningWest Ham United's Stewart Downing
West Ham United's Stewart Downing

Downing could be part of a double Dick Advocaat swoop for Aston Villa talent past and present with Dutch defender Ron Vlaar also linked with a move to the Stadium of Light.

The arrival of Downing would provide an attacking edge for the Black Cats, down either flank.

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The 30-year-old enjoyed an outstanding season at West Ham United, but it is understood new boss Slaven Bilic is planning to re-shape the squad he has inherited from Sam Allardyce.

Initially, Downing had been linked with a return to Middlesbrough, the hometown club he made his name with.

But Boro would not be able to get close to the wages the 35-times-capped England international currently commands, which is around the £80,000 mark.

However, Sunderland could get close to that figure and it would give Downing the chance to move back to Teesside.

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While a skilled left-footer, Downing is just as comfortable down the right side and such versatility would tempt Advocaat, who is hardly blessed with great options on the flanks.

Experienced Downing has also spent time at Liverpool and Aston Villa.

Out of contract centre-half Vlaar is attracting interest from a clutch of clubs.

Not only have Sunderland been linked with the Dutch star, so too have Newcastle United, along with Turkish side Besiktas, Everton and West Ham.

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Vlaar has yet to commit his future to Villa and the player, who reached the 2014 World Cup semi-finals with the Netherlands, said recently: “I have in consideration [a new deal], I think about it.

“I want to maximize my career and think I can go a step higher.

“I will look at it [before deciding].”

Sunderland have been courting Arsenal full-back Carl Jenkinson and Leeds United right-back Sam Byram, while Liverpool defender Sebastian Coates is expected to sign for £4million..

But Advocaat could add Vlaar too, especially with his fellow Dutchman available on a free.

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Whether a move to Sunderland would be seen as a “step higher” is open to debate though the chance to work with Advocaat would appeal to the 30-year-old.

Meanwhile, Byram insists he is fully focused on the season ahead - at Leeds United under new boss Uwe Rosler.

Byram, who has a year left on his Elland Road contract, said: “I haven’t met Uwe Rosler yet, so I’m looking forward to getting back to pre-season and trying to impress him throughout the month.

“There’s new staff that have come in as well, so I’m looking forward to getting back in and meeting all the new players as well.

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“It shows that the club are making moves in the right direction.”

And Byram is showing no signs of being distracted by the ongoing transfer speculation.

He added: “As a team, we’ve got to look towards getting promotion. That’s the main focus.

“From a personal point of view, I want to keep trying to improve and play as many games as I can.”