WE know Aitor Karanka has been on the blower to Jose Mourinho. He has said as much. In fact, he’s probably got him on speed-dial. And Aitor could be eating into his mobile minutes this week as he tries to shape a squad fit for a promotion challenge.
Boro will be looking to use their fledgling relationship with Chelsea to bring in some serious talent before the big kick-off next month.
We have already seen the value of that route. In January Karanka called Jose and took imposing centre-back Kenneth Omeruo and tidy midfield metronome Nate Chalobah on loan and both played important roles in turning the season around.
Big Ken, fresh from the World Cup with Nigeria, has already indicated that he would be happy to come back to Boro.
And he could be joined by more of the Stamford Bridge second string. Clubs can take up to four players on loan from another club and while Boro may not go to the max it is nice to think we could get a chance to rifle through their reserves.
It would be nice to pick a couple of good ones, not unproven kids but a couple that, like Ken, are not quite ready for the Chelsea first team but who are more than capable of making a matchwinning impression in this league. They won the FA Youth Cup and the Under-21 Academy League last season.
The prospect of Boro taking Chelsea lads on loan is not just because Jose and Aitor are mates, although that helps. The style of play on the pitch is similar (although obviously Chelsea are applying it with far better players) and the training regime is similar, with both managers applying the methodology they used at Real Madrid.
Boro train with a technical complexity and intensity that matches the Stamford Bridge regime. Chelsea coaches who visited Rockliffe last year to check on the progress of their lads were delighted with the set-up. And when the players returned and were debriefed they both gave glowing reports. So there is a tactical and philosophical synergy that makes Boro a logical choice for Chelsea.
In the past they have sent their starlets out to Vitesse Arnhem to get first team action but increasingly they are trying to get pitch-time in the Championship too to acclimatise them to the tempo and physicality of English football before they are thrown into the Premier League. Boro are well placed to offer that plus they play and train in a way that is a good fit with Chelsea.
“Jose and I have a fantastic relationship and that can help,” said Karanka explaining the link. “But we have to work in the same way that we worked in the past.
“The most important thing is Chelsea will be happy sending players to Middlesbrough. Also it is important the players who come here are happy – like Ken and Nate – and that Jose and me are happy because the players are playing for me and are good for me and so for him too.”
So which Chelsea players would Boro want? There are plenty to choose from. Chelsea had 27 out on loan last year right across Europe – and with most of them on season long deals.
Obviously one of those slots should be Omeruo. He grew by the week last term to become a confident and physically imposing defender and showed in the World Cup that he can handle even the very best opposition.
But what about the rest?
Chalobah was a useful player last season and while he had patches when his form drifted a bit, he has plenty of experience at this level and with a full pre-season under his belt he could be a significant force.
After that there are a wide range of positions and profiles to pick from.
When asked online “who should Boro sign this summer” Omeruo was a popular choice along with fellow Chelsea starlets Thorgan Hazard and Patrick Bamford.
Eden’s little brother is set for a stint in the Bundesliga next season with Borussia Monchengladbach. But Bamford could be up for grabs. Interested? He ticks a lot of boxes.
Let’s look at some of the best Chelsea talent we could be after.
Two seasons of first team football have toughened up Bamford as he adapted with ease with life in first League One then the Championship.
With excellent close control and a burst of pace to beat defenders he was deadly at MK Dons where he banged in 21 goals in 44 games. Then in January he opted for Steve McClaren and Derby ahead of Boro and a host of other clubs and scored another eight in 21 appearances after slotting straight in.
He signed for Chelsea for £1.5m in January 2012 after just two first team outings for Forest but a blistering run through the FA Youth Cup. He scored five and set up three in a 9-1 win over Wigan and then got four in a 5-1 spanking of Southampton, both in front of an army of scouts.
He is a clever lad too. He got A-levels in French, history, biology and general studies and is currently learning Spanish… could be useful.
Boro fans were gushing the first time they saw Nathan Ake. He took total control of the midfield in Chelsea’s 2-0 FA Cup win at the Riverside in February 2013.
He was quick, tough-tackling and showed a superb range of passing and looked to be pointing and bossing Chelsea’s superstars around. It was his first start for the senior team. And he was out of position. The dreadlocked central defender looked totally assured in a holding role and was the best player on the pitch.
Later that season he had a few cameos in the league and then played in the quarter and semi finals of the Europa League too. He’s not bad. Ake, 19, was signed from Feyenoord in 2011 and last year signed a new five year deal. He has played for Holland at every youth level and is a current Under-21 regular.
An international team-mate of Albert Adomah with Ghana, Atsu has done his stint in Holland and may now be available for a Championship side.
He joined Chelsea from Porto in September 2013 and signed a
five-year deal then was loaned out to nursery club Vitesse Arnhem for the rest of last season playing 26 games and scoring five times.
Atsu is a left-sided midfielder who can play in the centre, on the wing, as part of a front three or as a second striker. He joined Porto from the superbly named FC Cheetah.
After a loan stint at second division Rio Ave he broke into Porto’s first team last season and made 17 appearances as the club won the title and played eight games in the Champions League too.
Atsu made his debut for Ghana in June 2012 and was a regular by the time of last January’s Africa Cup of Nations and put in some impressive displays in the World Cup in the group games.
Chelsea fought off Barcelona and Juventus to sign Brazilian youth international striker Piazon in January 2011.
He spent a season at Stamford Bridge and helped win the FA Youth Cup before being loaned out to Malaga in Spain and then last year made the switch to Vitesse.
He played and scored on last summer’s Chelsea tour of the United States then in Holland he won rave reviews as he scored 11 and got eight assists in 33 games playing as a second striker.
PATRICK VAN AANHOLT
Even Chelsea fans will have forgotten van Aanholt. He hasn’t played for them since 2011 and has spent the last two years on loan at Vitesse. But the highly-rated left-back, now 23, is a full Dutch international with 100-plus top flight games under his belt.
He had short loan spells at Coventry, Newcastle, Fulham and Wigan before being farmed out to Vitesse where he has now played 67 games.
The Mexican attacking midfielder, now 23, joined Chelsea from Chivas in August 2011 and signed a five- year deal.
He had the mandatory year-long loan at Vitesse Arnhem and has since spent two years in the second division in Spain, first at Sabadell then last year at Cordoba. He was a first team fixture there and ended the campaign against Barcelona B in a play-off where he scored a last-minute goal that took the club into the top flight for the first time in over 40 years.
Kurt Zouma signed for Chelsea from St Etienne in January 2013 and was loaned straight back to the French club for the rest of the season.
The central defender, 19, has already played 52 times and scored four times for ‘Les Verts’ where he is a first team fixture despite his age. He is a physically imposing 6ft 2in French Under-21 international who plays in the middle but who is also comfortable at right-back.
Chileans are hip. Left-back come left winger Cristian Cuevas joined Chelsea from Chilean club O’Higgins last summer.
Still just 18, he played for the Chile Under-20 side that reached the World Cup quarter-finals last summer and has trained with the senior international side. He was in action against Ben Gibson in the Under-21 Toulon tournament in May.
He started last season on loan at Vitesse Arnhem before a January switch to Dutch second division club FC Eindhoven.