IT LOOKS like things are starting to move at Rockliffe. While jittery fans fretted about a lack of activity during the surface stillness of football’s tumbleweed weeks, behind the scenes Boro’s business nerve-centre has been a ducks feet flurry, buzzing with Skype conference calls, on-line agent haggling and furtive meetings in the Spanish sunshine.
The club spent much of last week in talks with David Nugent’s camp and were hopeful of doing what would have been a significant deal with a proven goal-getter, one of their priority targets. They were ready to offer a pay-rise from his soon to expire current Leicester contract , a two year deal and regular football (as opposed to sitting on a Premier League bench) but they withdraw from talks as they didn’t want to get drawn into a wages arms race with their their interest being used by his agents to drive up his demands for a new deal at City or other clubs.
Good. I like that hardline stance. “This much and no more.” The club need to bring in proven players who can beef up the squad but they are still restricted by Financial Fair Play rules and the budget is strictly limited. They can’t just keep piling more cash on the table. Those days are long gone.
And it wasn’t just Nugent they were talking to last week. Today the Gazette has revealed that Boro are close to making their first big signing of the summer. They have already agreed a fee with Real Betis for right-back/wideman Juanfran (no, not that one. Or that one. The other one) and last week thrashed out personal terms. He then asked for time to think it over, which may ring alarm bells for some. But then, it is a very different culture here, it is cold and damp and he would be forced to publicly eat a parmo and not everyone would be as eager (or crazy) to swap sunny Seville for Teesside as we would be. He may have a spouse to convince too, I don’t know.
But either way the financial have been agreed and he promised to give his answer before the squad return to pre-season training on Monday. Let’s hope it is a big and assertive ‘Si’ and then Boro can move on to address the other key positions – up front, left-back cover and a creative midfielder.
Should he give it the nod, Juanfran he could be joined on Monday by a new coach too, with ex-Real Madrid team-mate Ivan Perez arriving to beef up the Boro backroom staff. Things are starting to move.
Aitor Karanka knows Juanfran well from his development years in Real Madrid’ second string – and here’s five things you should know too – and has identified him as a player with the physical and mental attributes as well as the ability to flourish in the Championship and so far the boss has proved a good judge of that. Karanka’s pull and the Spanish accent on the training ground may swing the deal.
Some may question a switch from Betis to Boro and wonder why he would “take a step down” but his club will need to cull their squad after relegation and the Championship – the fourth most watched league in Europe – is a far more competitive and lucrative set-up than the Spanish second tier.
And outside the handful of giants there is not a lot of money in Spain. Their TV set-up and institutionalised big club bias makes for an even more distorted division than the Premier League. If the top clubs in Spain don’t want him then few others could match the wages, facilities and crowds that Boro can. And then there is the challenge. And the prospect of catching the eye of bigger clubs in England.
It seems a big chunk of the budget to splash out on a right-back/wing-back/winger but it could be worth it to deal with what has been a problem position for years. Club sources have hinted that the total package is potentially close to Euro 2m. Spanish sources are saying the fee is about Euro 500,000 (about what was being asked for Jozsef Varga remember) with Betis also asking for promotion bonuses and sell-on clauses. If that includes wages then that outlay is not going to break the bank.
Naturally the Spanish football cognescenti in Teesside cyberspace have already declared him “crap” having watched all his 34 La Liga and 11 Europa League matches last season. And if they are that dedicated and informed you have to respect that judgement over a three times Champions League winner and international defender.
It was ever thus. I can’t remember a player who has ever been linked with Boro who has not been roundly condemned before he has even put pen to paper. Running the gauntlet of ingrained cynicism is a rite of passage. And it pre-dates the internet: Bobby Murdoch? Past it, knees gone, carrying a bit of timber. Bernie Slaven? No mark who scored a few in a Jock pub league. Graeme Souness? Fancy Dan who couldn’t cut it at Spurs? If Boro signed Messi tomorrow he would be castigated for lacking ambition, not tracking back and being no good in the air.