Wahbi Khazri says he is getting better all the time as he recovers from injury – but he may not last the distance against England in Monday’s World Cup.

The Sunderland playmaker has not played since injuring his thigh on loan at Rennes in April, but Tunisia’s captain is such a key part of their World Cup plans he is expected to start against the Three Lions at the Volgograd Arena.

Khazri was an unused substitute in his country’s final warm-up game, against Spain, but it was said to be precautionary.



Wahbi Khazri during a Sunderland AFC training session

“I’m fine,” he said when asked about his fitness. “Better every time. I am already training with my team-mates. I feel pretty good. I’m happy to go back to work and play.

“I may not be able to play the 90 minutes but what really matters is that I can help the Tunisia national team. I’m not the leader, it’s the whole team.

“We are aware that we have a really tough group. We know that the favourites to advance to the second round are Belgium and England. But we have a good team which plays well together. Let’s fight for it.”

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A good World Cup from the 27-year-old would be great news for Sunderland.

Khazri is thought to be on wages of about £37,000 a week and although he was forced to take a 40 per cent cut after relegation in 2017, there is no secondary cut after dropping into League One. Although Stewart Donald insists the club can afford to keep its high earning players if it wants to, that sort of money is just not realistic in the third tier.

The Black Cats tried to sell Khazri last year but were unable to find a buyer, so they loaned him to Rennes for the season. He impressed in Ligue 1, even as a makeshift centre-forward. Rennes have made an offer to him but were hoping to tie up a deal before he put himself in the World Cup shop window.

Sunderland were subsidising his wages to the tune of around £8,000 a week, and Rennes will struggle to stretch to the full amount, offering less than the price they can automatically trigger a permanent deal with.

Khazri has other suitors, including the Marseille, Lyon and Roma, while Besiktas were reported to be interested in a two-year loan deal for the midfielder, which would effectively be a free transfer.

The Wearsiders paid around £9m for Khazri in January 2016. He played an important part in their escape from relegation under Sam Allardyce but never found favour with David Moyes, and was loaned to Rennes after five Championship matches on the substitute’s bench under Simon Grayson.

Jeremain Lens moved to Besiktas after a successful season-long loan last season and their Turkish Super Lig rivals Trabzonspor have also been credited with an interest in Papy Djilobodji.

The central defender had a solid season-long loan at Dijon last season, but they say they cannot afford to make it permanent. Sunderland were paying two thirds of the £8m signing from Chelsea’s £32,000-a-week wages in 2017-18.



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