EVERTON are close to completing the £17million capture of goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.
Toffees boss Ronald Koeman has targeted the Sunderland star as he looks to build a squad capable of challenging for a top four finish next season.
And the Black Cats have reluctantly conceded they cannot stand in the way of Pickford leaving following the club’s relegation from the Premier League.
Sunderland are bracing themselves for the break-up of their squad as the top flight clubs circle around their best players now they have dropped into the Championship.
Boss David Moyes admits Jermain Defoe has a clause in his contract allowing him to leave if the club is relegated, and the striker looks certain to leave the Stadium of Light.
But the first man out of the door could be Pickford, who is a lifelong Sunderland fan who came through the youth system on Wearside.
The 23-year-old is not demanding a move away from the area, but he is well aware he needs to be playing top flight football to stay in contention for a place in the England squad.
His season has been ruined by a knee injury, but he is still a leading contender to be in Gareth Southgate’s plans as he builds for the World Cup next year.
Yet playing Championship football would do his chances of being on the plane to Russia no good, so Pickford knows he has to leave the Stadium of Light for the good of his career.
Several other clubs have been tracking the keeper, but Everton have been quick to make their move and they appear to have stolen the march on their competition.
Koeman knows he needs a top class keeper in his squad with doubts over the quality of Joel Robles and Maarten Stekelenburg at the highest level.