COSTEL Pantilimon is pencilled in to be Sunderland’s new first-choice stopper after completing his move to the Stadium of Light.
Out-of-contract Pantilimon was last night unveiled as Sunderland’s third Bosman signing of the summer after agreeing a four-year deal with the Black Cats, albeit his free transfer from Manchester City will not be formalised until July 1.
The 27-year-old follows Billy Jones and Jordi Gomez in arriving at the Stadium of Light on free transfers this summer, as Sunderland have fulfilled their remit of boosting their threadbare square with proven Premier League performers.
But the arrival of Pantilimon, who was released by the Premier League champions at the end of the season, immediately throws the status of last year’s Player of the Season Vito Mannone into doubt.
Despite Mannone becoming a huge fans favourite during his maiden campaign at the Stadium of Light, the Echo understands that Gus Poyet has been on the lookout this summer for a keeper capable of being his first-choice custodian.
Poyet, who was linked with Crystal Palace’s Julian Speroni, has been prepared to relegate Mannone to a back-up role to accommodate a proven new stopper, rather than simply bringing in cover for the Italian after the departures of Keiren Westwood and Oscar Ustari.
But that does not mean Mannone will be offloaded, with Poyet envisaging an intense level of competitions between his two front-line stoppers. Pantilimon does not expect to continue as a back-up keeper though after predominantly offering cover for England stopper Joe Hart at Man City, albeit he started against Sunderland in March’s Capital One Cup final.
The 18-time Romanian international was no longer content to be second fiddle at City and didn’t want to extend his contract there - reinforcing the likelihood that he is unlikely to accept a similar situation at Sunderland.
“It is a great privilege and honour to join a club like Sunderland. They have an amazing history and tradition and of course passionate fans,” said Pantilimon.
“When I left Manchester City, it was important that I chose a club with good ambition and a manager who has the hunger and desire to take the team forward. “After speaking with the boss, I knew this was the right place and he was the right man. I can’t wait to start.”
Sunderland sporting director Lee Congerton added: “Competition for places is healthy and brings out the best in players. We already have a great goalkeeper in Vito Manonne and another one now in Costel.
“Add to this youngster Jordan Pickford, who recently signed a long-term deal and we have a very strong stable of goalkeepers, which is vitally important in the top flight.”
Meanwhile, released Sunderland keeper Westwood could be heading in the opposite direction after being linked with a return to Man City.
Westwood, who started his career as a trainee at Man City, has been rumoured as a target for Manuel Pellegrini’s side after Sunderland opted against offering a new deal to the Republic of Ireland international, who missed the final six months of last season with a shoulder injury.
With Man City being forced to name five homegrown players in their Champions League squad next season - as part of a UEFA punishment for breaching Financial Fair Play rules - Manchester-born Westwood could appeal.