From contracts to transfers: Seven big issues for Neil Warnock to tackle this summer as Middlesbrough boss targets promotion
Middlesbrough are heading into a pivotal summer as Neil Warnock looks to build a side which can challenge for promotion next season – but what are the biggest challenges facing the Boro boss?
We take a closer look at what will be on the agenda for Warnock and his staff in the coming months.
Resolve the contract situation
Warnock will have already dealt with this issue after holding talks with all of his players after the Wycombe game last weekend.
Boro have three players approaching the end of their contracts in Marvin Johnson, Nathaniel Mendez-Laing and goalkeeper Jordan Archer while Marcus Bettinelli, Neeskens Kebano and Yannick Bolasie are nearing the end of their loan deals.
Decisions will have already been made about the current group and the club are expected to announce their retained list later this week, or early next week.
Warnock said he has been looking at potential replacements for the aforementioned players who could leave the club as he has to plan for that scenario.
Sign a first-choice striker
It’s been well documented that Boro need to bolster their attacking options, and Warnock has said he wants to sign three new forwards ahead of next season.
Last summer Warnock wanted to sign Barnsley frontman Kieffer Moore, who eventually joined Cardiff, and you can only imagine where Boro would have been if they had captured the Welsh international.
There will inevitably be competition for the players Boro are looking at this summer, so the Teessiders will have to act fast to try and land their primary targets.
Of course there will be other forwards who become available as the window progresses, as Premier League clubs assess their squads and allow players to leave on loan.
Yet if Warnock wants to sign three new frontmen, he will want to land at least one as soon as possible and beat the competition.
Find a new goalkeeper
At the other end of the pitch, Boro will need to find a reliable first-choice shot stopper.
After joining on a season-long loan deal from Fulham, Marcus Bettinelli never looked totally convincing and also made some costly mistakes as the campaign progressed.
With Archer also out of contract, Boro could be looking for two new goalkeepers to provide competition between the sticks.
Dejan Stojanovic is still under contract at the Riverside until 2023 following a loan spell at German side St. Pauli, yet it’s clear Warnock didn’t fancy him as a No 1 choice.
With Anfernee Dijksteel, Dael Fry, Grant Hall, Paddy McNair and Marc Bola providing strong defensive options, Boro will need to make sure they have a convincing keeper behind them.
Get key players fit
While needing to strengthen in certain areas, Warnock knows he has a strong core of players who he can rely on.
Several of those, including Fry, Dijksteel, Sam Morsy and Marcus Tavernier, were injured at the end of last season, but will need to be fit and firing from the start of the new campaign.
The hope is that those players will be ready for pre-season, yet Fry has been on a different training regime in recent weeks to try and rectify a back issue.
Warnock will also have to make sure Paddy McNair is ready to go again after a grueling campaign, which has seen him start all 46 league games and play regularly for Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland didn’t qualify for the European Championships this summer but do have two friendlies in a few weeks.
Build a strong team spirit
When Warnock won promotion from the Championship with Sheffield United, QPR and Cardiff, it was clear there was an excellent team spirit within his squad.
It has been claimed by both former manager Jonathan Woodgate and Warnock, there has been a positive atmosphere at Boro, yet the latter admitted last month there were cliques forming in the dressing room.
Since then, Britt Assombalonga and Ashley Fletcher, who was offered a new deal, have left the club and Warnock said the atmosphere improved over the last few weeks of the campaign.
The Boro boss wants to build his team around characters such as Jonny Howson, Fry, Tavernier, McNair, Hall, Morsy and Duncan Watmore, whose attitudes have regularly been praised.
Make a decision on loan players
This won’t be at the top of Warnock’s agenda, yet there will be a couple of players returning to Boro following loan spells elsewhere.
Lewis Wing will come back following a fine spell at Rotherham, while Nathan Wood has been out on loan at Crewe.
Warnock has said there is always someone who surprises him in pre-season, which makes you think there is certainly a chance for Wing to break back into the first team.
Wood is still only 18 and it’s unclear if another loan spell would be beneficial after a mixed stint at Crewe in League One.
Boro also have a handful of promising academy products such as Josh Coburn, Connor Malley, Hayden Hackney and Isaiah Jones, to name a few. But, if they do leave on loan, it’s important they are playing regularly.
Drive ticket sales
It will be great to have fans back at the Riverside next season. It really hasn’t been the same this campaign.
If Boro are to challenge for promotion, they will need to make the Riverside a fortress and get supporters behind them from the off.
There are bound to be setbacks, yet it’ll be important for fans to stick with the team.
Despite an underwhelming end to the season, Boro have made progress this campaign and it’s hoped that Warnock can take them to another level.
The summer will be crucial to build the foundations though.