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Liverpool rival Sunderland for Johnson deal
LIVERPOOL have emerged as Sunderland's major rivals in the race to sign Manchester City winger Adam Johnson .
But after weeks of delicate negotiations, the Black Cats are finally close to sealing a deal for long-term target Steven Fletcher.
Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill is involved in a string of ongoing transfer negotiations, which include discussions with Tottenham over Danny Rose, Jermaine Jenas and Tom Huddlestone.
The Northern Irishman is expecting a hectic end to the transfer window, having only brought in free agents Carlos Cuellar and Louis Saha so far.
He is keen to sign Johnson, who has been told he does not have a future at the Etihad Stadium, and Sunderland officials are ready to break the club's existing wage structure in order to secure the services of the Easington -born winger.
The Black Cats will not be matching the 25-year-old's current package, which is worth around £80,000-a-week, but are confident that a deal involving a bonus structure and signing-on fee will appeal.
Johnson is understood to have rejected the advances of Everton, but has told some of his closest associates that he is willing to discuss a move to the Stadium of Light.
He is set to receive a counter-offer from both Liverpool and Tottenham, although the latter will not be in a position to make a formal approach until Luka Modric has completed his proposed move to Real Madrid.
That strengthens Liverpool's hand, and Brendan Rodgers is hoping to reunite Johnson with his former Middlesbrough team-mate Stewart Downing at Anfield.
Rodgers is keen to remodel his midfield, and while he has already recruited Joe Allen from Swansea, he is hoping to add more creativity before the end of the transfer window.
Johnson would fit the bill, and Liverpool officials are hoping to hold formal talks with the England international and his representatives before the end of the week.
Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini has not completely given up hope of retaining Johnson, but understands the Teessider's desire to play regular football.
"Adam can have a future here but you should also understand when you are 23 or 24 years old, you want to play," said Mancini.
"If you are at a top team, you can't always do that, so I agree, if he wants to, he has to leave. But if that happens I will be so sorry because Adam is a good guy."
As well as pursuing Johnson, Sunderland are also closing in on Fletcher as sources in the West Midlands claim Wolves have finally softened their stance and grudgingly accepted they will be unable to retain the striker.
The Championship club have rejected two separate offers from Sunderland already this summer, but have indicated a willingness to enter into another round of talks.
Sunderland's hierarchy are reluctant to increase their most recent offer of around £12m, but are ready to alter the way in which the deal is structured, something that could pave the way for an agreement.
Wolves are hoping to secure a larger up-front payment than Sunderland had originally offered, and are hoping to reduce the percentage of the fee that is dependent upon future appearances and achievements.
The Black Cats' need for attacking improvements was underlined as they drew 0-0 at Arsenal at the weekend, and O'Neill would ideally like to have Fletcher in place ahead of Saturday's home game with Reading.
He has considered alternatives to the Scotland international, most notably Dimitar Berbatov, who does not appear to have a future at Manchester United, and Jermain Defoe, who has spoken of his frustration at being left on the sidelines at Tottenham last season.
However, the former's wages would present a significant obstacle to a season-long loan, while the latter is not currently on the market after scoring his side's goal in Saturday's 2-1 defeat at Newcastle.
Other Spurs players are available though, and O'Neill has inquired about Rose, Jenas and Huddlestone in the last week.
The former is his primary target, and Spurs have informed the defender he is free to leave on a season-long loan as he is unlikely to break into Andre Villas-Boas' first team.
Rose played at both left-back and left midfield for Team GB during the Olympics, but while his versatility would be useful, Sunderland would primarily be signing the 22-year-old as a defender.
O'Neill's need for a left-back would increase if Kieran Richardson was to leave Wearside this month, but even if the former Manchester United man remains, the lack of a natural left-back has been a thorn in Sunderland's side for a number of seasons.
West Brom's Jonas Olsson is an alternative target, although Rose is a viewed as a more realistic option. Sunderland are not the only club to have inquired about the Doncaster-born defender, but his first-team prospects are likely to be better on Wearside than at any of his other suitors.