Southgate out for Middlesbrough middle men

May 16, 2008

Middlesbrough boss Gareth Southgate will concentrate on midfield when he attempts to re-shape his squad for the new season.

The former England defender was dealt a major blow last summer when he lost strikers Mark Viduka and Ayegbeni Yakubu and the 35 goals they had contributed during the previous campaign.

Much of Southgate's summer and January transfer windows were spent trying to find the players to plug that gap and, albeit at great expense, he is confident £12.7million record signing Afonso Alves, Mido, Tuncay Sanli and Jeremie Aliadiere have done that.

However, as he prepares to step into the market once again, it is the middle of the park which will occupy his mind following the departures of Fabio Rochemback and forgotten man Gaizka Mendieta.

Southgate, who has already been linked with a series of frontmen, said: 'Strikers are not a priority for us.

'That might change at some point, but I wouldn't foresee it. I am quite happy with the blend we have got.

'Mido has got a challenge ahead of him now, but the priority with Fabio going is midfield players.'

Brazilian Rochemback has already re-joined former club Sporting Lisbon, and the cash freed up by getting him and Mendieta off the wage bill will help Southgate's summer plans.

However, he is still awaiting former skipper George Boateng's decision on whether he intends to see out the final year of his contract on Teesside or move elsewhere.

Southgate said: 'With George, it is very similar to this year really. When he came back, I think he expected to be first choice right through the season, and it was difficult for him to come to terms with that during the year.

'But he knows if he is here, he will be an important part of the squad. It is whether he wants to be part of the squad or whether he wants a guarantee of first-team football.

'I said to him, 'there is no guarantee you will be in the side, but there is no guarantee you won't be in the side - it is very much up to you'.

'He wants to go away and think over the summer about what sort of options he has, but if he walks back through the door, I will be happy because he will be a strong squad member for us.'

Chelsea's Steve Sidwell is understood to be among the manager's targets, although Boateng's decision and Gary O'Neil's retention amid rumours he has not settled in the north-east could have a major impact on his plans.

Southgate is also waiting to hear from goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, with whom the club has opened talks over a new contract with his existing deal due to expire at the end of next month.

The 35-year-old is being courted by Juventus among others, although suggestions that Tottenham's Paul Robinson could replace him have been played down on Teesside.

• Meanwhile, South Korea striker Dong Gook Lee is in negotiations with five Japanese teams after being released by Middlesbrough earlier this week.

The 29-year-old former Pohang Steelers frontman left the Riverside on Tuesday after failing to hold down a regular first-team place following his move to England in January 2007.

Lee was not named in Huh Jung-moo's squad for the forthcoming World Cup qualifier against Jordan as he is unavailable due to the ban he received following an incident at the Asian Cup.

'We cannot disclose all the teams under negotiation, but we plan to make our choice within the next three months,' Lee's agent Kim Ki-Hoon told Yonhap news agency.

'We believe we have no need to hurry, although we hope for the earliest deal possible.'

Lee, who previously played for K-League outfit Gwangju Sangmu Phoenix and also had a six-month loan spell at Werder Bremen, scored twice in 29 appearances for Boro but did not feature after February.

'I will join a club where I'm wanted and I can be of help,' said Lee. 'I'll take my time to weigh up my decision.'