Sunderland signs Larsson and Westwood
Sebastian Larsson has told his new Sunderland team-mates they should be aiming for Europe next season as Steve Bruce continues his summer overhaul.
The 26-year-old Sweden midfielder formally completed his free transfer move from Birmingham on Friday morning when he signed a three-year deal at the Stadium of Light.
He, like former Blues colleague Craig Gardner, who sealed his switch to Wearside from St Andrew’s on Thursday night, has left behind Europa League football after opting instead to remain in the Barclays Premier League.
However, he is convinced that having managed a first top-10 finish since their return to the top flight last time around, the Black Cats should be raising their sights when the new campaign gets under way.
Larsson told SAFC TV: "It’s a big club with big ambitions. We have got to try to improve each year – hopefully, that’s the aim and that’s what I think the club is aiming for.
"Everything is here to progress and with a good start, why not challenge for Europe if it’s possible?”
Larsson, of course, knows Bruce well from their time together in the midlands – it was the Sunderland boss who took him to Birmingham from Arsenal – and the winger is looking forward to re-establishing that working relationship after gravitating ever closer to his homeland.
He said: "Obviously, it wasn’t a bad thing for me. It worked well when I worked with him at Birmingham the last time, and when he showed that he wanted me here, it made the decision that little bit easier.
"I started off my career in England in London, I have just seemed to go further and further north.
"It just felt like the right move for me because it’s a big club with ambitions and if things go well, then you never know how far it can go.”
Larsson’s arrival at the Stadium of Light coincided with that of former Coventry keeper Keiren Westwood, who has also put pen to paper on a three-year contract after ending his time at Coventry.
The Republic of Ireland international will provide stiff competition for the currently injured Craig Gordon and Belgium international Simon Mignolet.
Speculation over Gordon’s future has been rife since it emerged Westwood was in Bruce’s sights, and with the Scotland international set to miss the start of the season as he recovers from knee surgery, the newcomer will have an early opportunity to press his claims.
He started his career at Manchester City, but was released as a teenager and has since had to work his way back up the divisions after rekindling his career at Carlisle, initially in the Conference.
Westwood, also 26, said: "When I got released by Manchester City as a 19-year-old, it was the kick up the bum that I needed, and it gave me that hunger and desire to prove a lot of people wrong.
"I started down in the Conference and I have gradually worked my way back up.
"At the end of the day, it’s a game of football. Obviously, the level is going to improve and that is something I am relishing and really looking forward to.”
Westwood has seven senior international caps – he qualifies through his grandmother – and is determined to push number one Shay Given all the way for the top spot.
He said: "Obviously, that is very difficult. Shay Given is an amazing goalkeeper and he has dominated the goalkeeping situation for Ireland for many years now.
"Obviously that’s another challenge that I have been chipping away at for the last couple of years, and hopefully playing in the Premier League will make it harder for me and a bit of a challenge for him."