Mannone will fight for Sunderland’s No1 shirt

Vito Mannone.
Vito Mannone.

VITO Mannone has angrily denied rumours he has handed in a transfer request following the arrival of ex-Manchester City goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon at Sunderland.

Claims that he was unsettled, which originated in Italy, have persisted, and the Black Cats’ Player of the Season wants to kill them off once and for all.

In a statement issued to the Echo by his camp, he said: “I don’t know where this false speculation is coming from but I want to let supporters know that there is absolutely nothing in it.

“I have not asked for a transfer and I have no intention of doing so.”

Mannone is concerned that Sunderland fans who he built up such a good relationship with over the course of the 2013-14 season will doubt his commitment to the club.

And he wants to let them know that he still sees his long-term future at the Stadium of Light.

The Italian was outstanding for Sunderland after breaking into the side following injury to Keiren Westwood at the start of November.

A string of memorable performances, including a penalty shoot-out at Manchester United, made him into one of the iconic figures of Sunderland’s season.

And it was widely expected that head coach Gus Poyet would look to bring in a support keeper this summer to back up Mannone, after the departures of free agents Westwood and Oscar Ustari.

But in a statement of ambition, the club has recruited Romanian international Pantilimon (right)from the Premier League champions with a view to the two keepers vying for the number one spot next season.

The 6ft 8in new arrival has signed a four-year contract and is not coming to the Stadium of Light looking to be a benchwarmer.

Sunderland Sporting Director Lee Congerton noted: “Competition for places is healthy and brings out the best in players.

“We already have a great goalkeeper in Vito and another one now in Costel and we have a very strong stable of goalkeepers, which is vitally important in the top flight.”

Mannone knows he faces a challenge next season to hold on to his number one spot after Pantilimon’s arrival but he is the man currently in possession of the first-team gloves and plans to hang on to them.

The last thing he is looking to do is leave the Stadium of Light.

“Why would I ?” he said.

“I love Sunderland and the Sunderland fans.

“I enjoyed last season and am looking forward to next season, and hope we can reward the fans by winning something.”

As for the presence of Pantilimon, Mannone - having successfully seen off the challenge of Westwood and Ustari - is relishing the chance of proving his worth again, knowing that improving the quality of the squad can only be good for the team.

“I welcome the arrival of another goalkeeper at the club,” he said.

“All big clubs need cover in all positions.

“The manager told me some time ago that he would be bringing someone else in because two

keepers were leaving, but he also told me I am his number one and that’s good enough for me”.

The battle for the number one spot at Sunderland in 2014-15 is likely to be one of the more intriguing sub-plots of the campaign

But Mannone’s statement clearly shows it’s a challenge the Player of the Season is up for.