SOUTHAMPTON boss Claude Puel has upped his ramped up his interest Anderlecht’s Steven Defour in the past 24 hours as he looks to finalise his 25-man first-team squad for the 2016/17 campaign.
New Saints’ gaffer Puel has money to burn after the sales of Sadio Mane to Liverpool for £30 million, Graziano Pelle’s switch to Shandong Luneng (£13m) and Victor Wanyama’s £11 million move to Tottenham Hotspur earlier in the window.
Experienced campaigner Defour, 28, has been identified as the man to fill the void in the middle of the park at St Mary’s.
Compatriot Toby Alderweireld has already shown that footballers from the Flemish land can thrive on the South Coast before his £13m switch to Tottenham last summer – and 46-cap Defour is known to be close friends with many of the Red Devils’ players based in British football.
Despite having three years remaining on his current deal in the Belgian capital, the tough-tackling schemer has ordered his agent Paul Stefani to set the wheels in motion on a move across The Channel.
An offer said to be around the £6m mark has been suggested as the figure required to satisfy current boss René Weiler who will have to make alternative plans should he lose the captain of last season’s Pro League runners-up.
Defour has expressed his desire to make the move to the Premier League this summer although Qatari side Al-Arabi have also shown their hand as they bid to take the former Standard Liege and Porto midfielder to the Middle East.
Boss Weiler has named his skipper in the squad for tonight’s Champions League Third Qualifying Round second leg against FC Rostov. The ‘Royal Sporting Club’ are looking to overturn a 2-2 draw from the first game in Russia – which would see the Belgian’s eliminated on away goals – in which Defour played 90 minutes.
Saint’s boss Puel would love to tap into that experience of European nights, in total Defour has amassed 27 Champions League games (one goal) to date in his career in Belgium and Portugal, as well as 34 Europe League ties – and played against both Tottenham and Arsenal last season.
Southampton will join in Europa League Qualifying at the round three stage after finishing sixth in the Premier League last season – their opponents are, as yet, unknown.
If the transfer for Defour can be struck before those ties take place, then the Belgian would be free to play in those ties despite already playing in the Champions League qualifying stage.