Middlesbrough's upcoming decisions which could ease Neil Warnock's big transfer task
Neil Warnock believes he needs to make ‘eight or nine’ new signings at Middlesbrough this summer – not a complete overhaul of the squad, but a revamp that would give the Teessiders competition for places.
Warnock’s assessment initially seems a high target, yet when you consider Boro could potentially need two new goalkeepers, cover at centre-back and left-back, a couple of wide players and perhaps an attacking midfielder, the numbers quickly stack up.
Then there is the striker situation, Boro’s top priority, after Warnock told the Mail last week he wanted three new forwards.
Some of the aforementioned positions could merge. For example, a defender who could play at centre-back and full-back would prove valuable, as would a forward who can operate on the flank.
As Warnock has repeatedly said, he has a strong core of players to work with, such as Grant Hall, Dael Fry, Anfernee Dijksteel, Marc Bola, Jonny Howson, Paddy McNair and Duncan Watmore.
Still, there are clearly some gaps if the Teessiders want to challenge for promotion next campaign. When Boro reached the Premier League in 2016, Aitor Karanka’s squad boasted at least two options for every position.
Boro’s requirements will also depend on whether they keep players who are out of contract or on loan at the club.
Warnock has said those conversations will take place after the final round of Championship fixtures this weekend, and that the club have plans in place if those players do depart.
The men in question, who are nearing the end of their contracts, include Marvin Johnson, Nathaniel Mendez-Laing and goalkeeper Jordan Archer.
In terms of their positions, Johnson and Mendez-Laing fall into a similar category. As previously mentioned, Boro could be left with a shortage of wide options with Neeskens Kebano likely to return to Fulham, while fellow loanee Yannick Bolasie’s situation remains unclear.
So, in what is likely to be an unpredictable transfer market, Johnson and Mendez-Laing could provide an opportunity for Boro to tick off some positions.
It’s clear Boro fans haven’t seen the best of Mendez-Laing during his time at the club, yet the 29-year-old has shown flashes he can replicate the form which made him a promotion winner with Warnock at Cardiff.
As for Johnson, he can consider himself unfortunate not to have received more game time this term, given his performances in the first half of the season and impressive cameos from the bench.
The player’s attitude, from getting back into the first team, playing when his contract was up and waiting for his opportunities, is commendable. Johnson’s versatility on the left flank is also an asset.
The 30-year-old would at the very least provide competition for places and deserves to be offered another contract extension.
Still, it would be understandable if Johnson feels he can gain more first-team football elsewhere.
At the other end of the pitch, Archer’s situation has come into focus, with the keeper replacing Marcus Bettinelli between the sticks.
With Bettinelli’s loan spell set to end, it’s clear Boro will be looking for a new No 1 goalkeeper in the coming months, someone who can be relied upon week in, week out.
Archer is unlikely to be trusted with that role but has shown he’s a capable back-up option. He has waited for his opportunity and taken it.