8:00am Monday 11th June 2012
By Scott Wilson
PREMIER League champions Manchester City have emerged as surprise suitors for in-demand Sunderland attacker Stephane Sessegnon.
And while their interest remains at a formative stage, the Black Cats could yet use Roberto Mancini's admiration for the African as leverage in a possible move of their own for Adam Johnson.
Despite last season's title success, Manchester City boss Mancini is set to make changes at the Etihad Stadium this summer.
One of those changes could see the departure of France international Samir Nasri, who failed to live up to his billing following a £25m move from Arsenal.
Mancini is believed to harbour concerns about Nasri's inconsistency last term, and would look to replace the attacking midfielder if he was to move on this summer.
City's riches mean the Italian would effectively have the pick of the world market, but sources in France claim he has expressed an interest in Sessegnon.
The Sunderland forward has enjoyed a successful 18 months on Wearside since making a £6m move from Paris St Germain in January 2011, and Martin O'Neill's biggest decision of the summer will relate to the Benin international.
His value has more than doubled since he left France, and the Black Cats are braced for a string of formal approaches before the transfer window closes.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger is a long-standing admirer, while Paris St Germain have also been linked with a possible attempt to re-sign the 28-year-old now their financial situation has been transformed.
O'Neill will be loath to lose Sessegnon, who is the most naturally-talented member of the Sunderland squad and a key attacker now Nicklas Bendtner has rejoined Arsenal following the end of his loan spell.
However, the forward has struggled to settle in the North-East and a parting of the ways could yet suit both parties.
With Ellis Short keen to keep Sunderland's finances under control, Sessegnon's departure would transform O'Neill's spending power at a stroke.
The Northern Irishman would ideally like to make up to five or six signings this summer, and by selling Sessegnon, he would create a situation where he could bid for a higher quality of player in a number of different positions.
If City were to make a formal approach for Sessegnon, O'Neill could also use their interest to enhance his own chances of signing Johnson on loan for a season.
The Sunderland boss is aware of Johnson's desire to play regular first-team football next season, something that is unlikely to happen at the Etihad.
The Black Cats will not be the only interested party if the former Middlesbrough winger is allowed to leave Manchester, but by linking a deal to the departure of Sessegnon, they would hope to push themselves to the front of the queue.
Signing a winger is one of O'Neill's priorities this summer, with Wigan's Victor Moses another player currently under consideration.
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