Sunderland have finally been given permission to speak to Wigan defender Leighton Baines.
PA Sport understands the Black Cats have been given the go-ahead to open talks with the 22-year-old left-back, although the clubs have yet to agree a fee.Roy Keane has been chasing the England Under-21 international for several weeks and has seen three bids rejected by the Latics.
However, it appears he will now get his chance to persuade £6million-rated Baines that his future lies at the Stadium of Light.Keane has so far spent £16million this summer as he tries to build a squad capable not only of surviving in the Premier League, but of doing so with some comfort. The bulk of the cash has gone on £5.5million winger Kieran Richardson and £5million striker Michael Chopra, with defenders Greg Halford and Russell Anderson and midfielder Dickson Etuhu taking up the remainder. But the Irishman is keen to strengthen further at the back, where his efforts to land former Celtic team-mate Bobo Balde and Hearts keeper Craig Gordon have so far come to nothing. Baines has been linked with a series of potential suitors so far this summer, although Sunderland have perhaps been the most persistent. Wigan boss Chris Hutchings had claimed the Liverpool-born left-back had told him he wanted to stay at the JJB Stadium, but his later admission that every player has his price reopened a window of opportunity for the Wearsiders. Keane now faces the task of selling his vision to a man who is tipped for a big future in the game, although it remains to be seen whether or not the competition now shows its hand. Baines' England Under-21 team-mate David Nugent spoke to Sunderland earlier this summer, but the club withdrew its offer after waiting in vain for an answer. They will hope for a more positive response from the defender with the start of the new season less than three weeks away.