Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Back to work

The Boro squad have returned to Rockliffe this week to begin pre-season training. With a month to go until the season opener against Sheffield United, there is still some work for the beleaguered Gareth Southgate to undertake.

There are some notable absentees from the training ground. Although the reports that Tuncay's absence is unauthorised are wide of the mark, expensive flops Mido and Afonso Alves have not bothered to turn up.

With Southgate believed to be keen to move on at least one of the pair, the Boro boss will have his work cut out after this latest lapse in professional standards. If this development is disappointing, few can be surprised. Mido has a long history of disruptive behaviour which was no secret before Boro paid Spurs £6m for the Egyptian in 2007. There has been little improvement since the move north with Mido's contribution seriously restricted by injuries and a relaxed attitude to personal fitness.

While it is has been some time since Boro condemned Mido to the naughty step, Southgate is likely to feel more let down by Alves' no-show. After a dismal showing in his first full season in England, it is unlikely Boro will be able to recoup anything like the £12.7m paid to Heerenveen in January 2008. The club's bargaining position is even weaker now.

Alves does have form in this area. He refused to attend a fans' award ceremony while trying to engineer an exit from the Dutch club in 2007. His agent released a statement to the press comparing his employers to Nazis.

"Much is said about slave labour in Brazil," it began. "And yet in some cantons of liberal Holland slave-trading instincts still bloom strong. Heerenveen have tied Afonso to the bars of an outdated contract. And yet now they ask him to go to their fans' awards ceremony! No. Why should Afonso show up at an event full of Nazis?"

That perhaps should have been a warning.

Two players who have turned up for training are new signings Mark Yeates and Danny Coyne. Coyne, 35, has signed on a free transfer from Tranmere and is expected to act as back-up to Brad Jones. While not a move that will attract the headlines, Coyne's performances in League One earned praise and he should provide some reliable cover. It should also allow young Jason Steele some time to develop.

Yeates has signed from Colchester for £500,000 with a reputation as a set piece specialist. Capable of playing down either wing or up front, the Irishman became a favourite at the U's after joining from Spurs. Boro will be hoping Yeates' lower division experience will help him to make an immediate impact.

There has been little else taking place on the transfer front. As expected, Ross Turnbull has accepted the cushy role of sitting on his arse watching Petr Cech and playing the occassional Carling Cup tie for Chelsea. Matthew Bates however has signed a new contract and seems likely to be heavily involved in the first team picture next season.

With last season's horribly ineffective midfield and attack still largely untouched, July promises to be a busy month. The desire to sell duds like Mido must be balanced with the need to raise cash should offers be received for more desirable players. At the same time, Boro need to bolster both the first team and the squad to ensure they're ready for a gruelling 46 game season while working out their budget on the fly. There is much work to do.

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