Middlesbrough confident of Downing extension

February 14, 2008

Middlesbrough chief executive Keith Lamb has revealed that Stewart Downing's contract wrangle could be resolved within six weeks.

The 23-year-old's future with his home town club came under the spotlight during the January transfer window amid a row between his agent Ian Elliott and chairman Steve Gibson following the player's rejection of Boro's initial offer to extend his current deal.

However, Lamb is confident that the situation could be resolved soon.

Speaking at a BBC Radio Tees fans' forum, he said: 'I am very confident that we will reach agreement sooner rather than later.

'It is something that myself and Steve Gibson have been very conscious of and have been working at over the last couple of weeks.

'I would not like to put a date on it, but I would hope that within the next four to six weeks, we get a solution to it that's acceptable to Stewart and to the football club, and then we can put it to bed and Stewart can concentrate on playing his football.'

England international Downing, who has more than two years remaining on his current contract, had been linked with both Tottenham and Everton as initial talks stalled.

But no official offer materialised and Elliott suggested the player could see out the rest of his deal before leaving on a free transfer.

However, manager Gareth Southgate has made no secret of his desire to retain the services of his former team-mate and is hopeful that a breakthrough is imminent.

He said: 'From Stewart's point of view, he knows how much every department of the club wants him to stay, he is very, very settled in his mind he wants to play his football here and he is an incredibly valuable part of the team.

'I know negotiations have been going on for quite a while, but what we have tried to do with all the young players is keep rewarding them every year or two years for their performances and get their contracts sorted out before it gets to the stage where they have only a few months left.

'With Stewart, we are talking about this, but he still has actually two years-plus of his contract to go.

'We see it as one of our priorities, but obviously in terms of the timescale, there is still time to negotiate with him.'

Meanwhile, Southgate will continue his preparations for Sunday's FA Cup fifth-round trip to Sheffield United looking to extend his side's unbeaten run to eight games in all competitions.

He will do so with record signing Afonso Alves still working his way to full fitness following his arrival from Dutch side Heerenveen on the final day of the transfer window.

Southgate said: 'Just by training with the rest of the team, he will pick that fitness up.

'He had a break in Holland over Christmas, and then he had two weeks where Heerenveen knew he was going to be moving on, so they did not want him training with the rest of the team.

'Already over the last couple of days, we have seen an improvement in him.

'It will need a bit of time because if he was fully fit, coming from the Dutch League to the Premier League is a still a big difference.

'We have got to be patient with him, and also from my point of view, the team is getting results anyway and it is important that the players who are in that team realise how valuable we feel they are.'