Sunderland's ideal Jobe Bellingham replacement is right under their nose if £12m deal goes through

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The midfielder is being linked with a Premier League exit this summer

Day 102; nobody on Wearside can even remember what it is like to have a permanent manager anymore. Chaos and apathy have descended like plunging gulls on Roker seafront, plucking any writhing semblance of optimism from the frigid waters. The Academy of Light has descended into a Lord of the Flies situation; nobody is listening when Mike Dodds blows his conch, and somebody has just smashed the lenses of Luke O’Nien’s spectacles. Sightings of Kristjaan Speakman are rarer than sasquatch.

It is within this context - this unending, purgatorial context - that the hyenas have begun to gather. Sunderland were always likely to field interest in several of their precocious young talents this summer, but the fact that the process of fending off has started already, before a managerial appointment has been decided upon, has added an extra pinch of head loss to a state of affairs which can, perhaps, be diplomatically referred to as ‘directionless’.

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On Thursday, Fabrizio Romano, Italian transfer guru and presumed insomniac, took to the platform FKA Twitter to suggest that: ‘Crystal Palace are in talks to sign Jobe Bellingham as one of their priority targets for the summer’. Brilliant. The reporter then added: ‘Oliver Glasner wants him and Dougie Freedman is working to convince the player.’ Brentford are also understood to be keeping tabs on the teenager.

Of course, this is not the first time that Jobe has been touted for a lucrative exit in recent weeks. Earlier in May, Football Insider made claims that Borussia Dortmund, evidently inspired by their success with the elder Bellingham, Jude, were also monitoring the Sunderland midfielder. In that instance, an asking price of around £12 million was mentioned - although it remains to be seen how concrete that figure actually is.

Certainly, at that valuation, you suspect Sunderland would be tempted into a sale. It was only a year ago that they prised Jobe away from Birmingham City for around £3 million or so, and a 300% profit margin is the kind of financial adrenaline shot that their recruitment model (All hail the model!) would struggle to ignore.

Common sense dictates that keeping Jobe for another season or two would yield an even higher return further down the line, but common sense is a rare commodity at the Stadium of Light these days. As such, a departure cannot be ruled out, and that immediately raises the question as to how Sunderland should go about replacing a player who registered 3,755 minutes of senior football last season. Without a comprehensive knowledge of the continental academy system, and a glimpse into the twisted vision of the lesser-spotted Speakman, it is impossible to say for sure, but the answer very probably lies close to home.

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In Chris Rigg, the Black Cats have a special proposition on their hands. Still only 16, the prodigious midfielder made 21 appearances in the Championship last term, scoring twice, and rarely looking out of his depth. The expectation is that next season will bring with it greater opportunities still, and his induction into the starting XI could be accelerated rapidly if Bellingham were to depart for the Premier League in the coming weeks.

Ordinarily, placing such an exhaustive level of trust in one so inexperienced would feel absurd or risky, but where Sunderland are concerned it is pretty much the entirety of their mantra, and as for Rigg, he genuinely looks ready. Hell, if he continues on his current trajectory, he may force his way onto the team sheet regardless.

In other words, the Black Cats should be doing all they can to keep Jobe in the North East this summer. But if they do relent and let him leave, they shouldn’t have to look too far for his natural successor.

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