The transfer window opens in less than a week. From June 9th to August 31st, all Premier League and EFL clubs will be able to officially buy and sell players as they try to build squads capable of delivering on the hopes and dreams of returning supporters.
For Neil Warnock, this transfer window looks to be one of the busiest of his storied career. The Boro gaffer has regularly discussed the need to bring in “8 or 9” new faces this summer.
He already has one of those in new goalkeeper Joe Lumley who has signed from QPR with the belief that Warnock sees him as his nailed on Number 1.
1 down, 7 or 8 to go.
There is a reason that Warnock will have drawn up such a substantial list. Boro have a number of glaring gaps in their squad that will, at least initially, be looking to challenge for a play-off spot after finishing the season in 10th.
Those gaps aren’t only in terms of quality but in numbers. The 24 professionals currently under contract at the club include six young lads who’ll likely spend next season out on loan in Sol Brynn, Nathan Wood, Hayden Hackney, Connor Malley, Josh Coburn and Ste Walker.
There’s also questions marks over the futures of Dejan Stojanović, Hayden Coulson, Lewis Wing, Djed Spence and Chuba Akpom. A mass clear out could lead to as little as 12 or 13 senior pros at the club before reinforcements are added.
Any transfer dealings this summer will be done within the financial constraints that all clubs face after the crippling impact of the COVID pandemic and any difficulties that arise in the foreign market due to Brexit.
That means we’re likely to see freebies, reasonable loan deals or lower-league bargains rather than marquee signings or big names.
While they have cut a significant amount off the wage bill with the departures of Britt Assombalonga and Ashley Fletcher, that money won’t all necessarily be available to Neil Warnock. The club posted a £35.5 million loss last year.
Seeing those two leave for free *should* also reinforce the need for players who are brought into the club to have some resale value even though Warnock will be eyeing immediate success.
So where are the biggest needs for this team and who could Boro add to their ranks as the Red Army gears up to finally get back to the Riverside?
Despite signing Lumley , there is still a need for another goalkeeper to compete with him now Bettinelli and Jordan Archer have left. Dejan Stojanović has had a solid spell at St. Pauli but doesn’t possess the qualities Warnock wants from his keepers.
With the belief that Lumley is going to start the season in goal, that would also put the blockers on any move for Leicester’s Daniel Iversen, who was arguably the best ‘keeper outside the top six in the Championship last season while at Preston and looks to be the long-term replacement for Kasper Schmeichel for both club and country.
While Leicester are open to the Dane having another year on loan in the Championship, it would have to be as the Number 1.
Genuine competition is needed for Lumley. We saw last season that Bettinelli’s poor performances never affected his place in the team as there wasn’t anyone ready and able to take the gloves off him.
Kieren Westwood, recently released by Sheffield Wednesday, remains a handy goalie at this level. The Irish keeper had a better save percentage from his 20 games last season (68.2%) than Adam Davies (67.4) and David Marshall (65.8) who’re both included in their respective countries Euro 2020 squads.
Even if Lumley has a terrific season, Westwood has a wealth of experience and knowledge that he could pass onto the younger shot-stopper and he’d be able to push him every day on the training ground. The 36 year old would have to take a knock down on his Sheff Wed wages but at his age, he’d be expected to anyway.
With Warnock wanting so many players, he’ll have to box clever with his resources and with a need for cover at left-back and centre-back (to allow Nathan Wood a full season on loan), it’d be worthwhile taking a two for one offer so that more funds can be allocated further up the pitch.
Wes Harding, from one of Warnock’s many former clubs Rotherham, was the definition of a utility man last term for the Millers. The 24 year old played in all 46 games in the league with 14 appearances at right-back, 12 at centre-back, 17 as a wing-back on both flanks and 3 games as a traditional left-back.
His efforts earned him a first ever call up to the Jamaican national team and Rotherham’s relegation could mean he’d be available on the cheap.
Someone who’d be even cheaper is Gillingham’s Connor Ogilvie. One of the star men for the Gills last season, Ogilvie played the majority of his football at left-back (30 apps) but also shifted into the heart of the defence 15 times, getting four goals and four assists. He recently turned down a new contract to stay at Priestfield Stadium, making himself a free agent.
Moving into midfield, Neil Warnock must address the imbalance that plagued the engine room especially in the second half of the season. Jonny Howson, Sam Morsy and George Saville are too similar and conservative to play together in a trio when you’re looking to dominate games.
Fulham or Bournemouth away next year when you’re looking to strangle the life out of the opposition? Sure, they’re great for that, but Warnock needs to add a forward thinking centre mid to this team to get the Boro playing it on the deck more often.
The dream of course here is Alex Mowatt. He’s mint, man. The out of contract Barnsley captain was the heart and soul of the Tykes charge up the division under Valérien Ismaël earning the clubs’ Player of the Season award for a third time on the bounce.
The all-action midfielder can do it all at this level, whether that’s scoring or setting up team-mates (8 goals and 7 assists last season), get himself stuck in or offer a calming influence to Barnsley’s otherwise hectic playing style. He’s got a wand of a left peg and hits a great dead ball, shown by Barnsley being joint second for set-piece goals with 17, edging Boro by 1. Imagine how many we’d bag with him and McNair!
Mowatt really feels like the midfielder we thought we were getting when Jonny Howson first arrived on Teesside. However, there isn’t a team in the Championship who wouldn’t benefit from having him so the competition will be fierce and expensive.
Someone with a left foot to rival Mowatt’s is Leicester’s Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall. While his surname sounds like somewhere you’d have your prom, the midfielder was a revelation while on loan at Luton last year.
The 22 year old recently picked up four end of season awards – the Ian Pearce Memorial Trophy, given for most man of the match performances at home in ratings from the Luton News, Junior Supporters’ Player of the Season, Internet Player of the Season and the Players’ Player of the Season.
Dewsbury-Hall’s 3 goals, six assists and eye for a forward pass really set the tone for Luton who really punched above their weight to finish 12th. Those performances might have put him out of Boro’s reach with Brendan Rodgers open to promoting young players into the first team picture and even if Dewsbury-Hall is available for a loan, it would be hard to see him not returning to Luton.
Blackburn’s Joe Rothwell has also been linked with a move to Teesside in recent weeks although Rovers did trigger a one year extension in his contract so there’d be a transfer fee attached to his signing.
There’s rumours that Blackburn would be happy to cash in on Rothwell as it would mean they could tie down strikers Adam Armstrong and Ben Brereton to long-term deals.
While inconsistent, Rothwell is a genuinely gorgeous football player to watch. He glides about the pitch and dances round tackles, he’s exciting if not completely efficient yet. Having someone like that in the side to get people off their seat, with fans finally back in the stands, would be brilliant to see and who better than Neil Warnock to iron out the creases in his game?
The gaffer may decide that his best option for that advanced midfielder/number 8 option is already at the club and pencil Marcus Tavernier into that role permanently. If so, there is still need for an able deputy because as last season showed, Boro aren’t even playing the same sport sometimes without Tav.
Scott Twine was lighting up League Two during a loan spell at Newport County, orchestrating their midfield and notching 7 goals and six assists in all competitions, when his parent club Swindon Town recalled him in January.
The Robins were facing a relegation scrap and hoped that the 21 year old could help them to safety. Twine had effectively been taking the piss in League 2 with multiple long-range screamers and knuckleball free kicks flying in while averaging nearly 2 key passes a game and Swindon hoped he could replicate that a division up.
When he slammed one into the top corner from 30 yards on his first game back against Ipswich, Swindon looked like they had found their saviour.
Even with Twine netting 7 goals and three assists, as Swindon increasingly pushed him into a more advanced role, Town were relegated.
This was no fault of Twine’s, Swindon conceded EIGHTY NINE goals last season, with the youngster already positioning himself for bigger things after turning down a contract extension to dive into free agency.
With a long shot that rivals if not betters Lewis Wing’s and an ability to use both feet, Twine is going to be some player as he matures.
There’s also an argument to be made for Crewe’s diminutive and fiery Tom Lowery who chipped in with 8 assists and 3 goals for the League One outfit who’ve won a few avant-garde admirers for their willingness to pass their way through teams in a notoriously rough and tumble division.
The most gaping and obvious holes in the current Boro squad are out wide and up front. The wingers especially are integral to a Neil Warnock team with his game plan focused around a physical presence up front bringing the more talented wingers into play.
Warnock’s widemen need to be able to contribute goals, create chances, keep hold of the ball to allow reinforcements to arrive from midfield and act as inside forwards in certain systems.
It’d be no surprise to any Boro fan if one of Warnock’s old favourites Junior Hoilett turned up at Rockliffe holding the new shirt up and beaming alongside the gaffer and Neil Bausor. The Canadian international was particularly dazzling in Cardiff’s promotion campaign under Warnock but there is a reason the 31 year old was phased out by Mick McCarthy, only playing 21 games in the league last season.
There will also be plenty of chat about another of Warnock’s former Cardiff charges and perma-linked Kadeem Harris who was released by Sheffield Wednesday and does offer pace while his team-mate at Hillsborough and former Boro boy Adam Reach, who has also been released, provides that eye for a cross with 34 assists across his five seasons for the Wendys.
If Warnock opts against familiar faces, Portsmouth’s Ronan Curtis has consistently been the best left winger in League One since arriving at Fratton Park in 2018. He’s been the key creative outlet for Pompey as they try to stabilise after years of financial mismanagement. An incredibly accurate crosser of the ball, Curtis has set up 31 goals in three seasons including ten this year in all competitions.
When he isn’t setting them up, Curtis is scoring them. No player has scored more goals combined for Portsmouth in the past three seasons (40) than the Irish international who regularly ghosts in from the left hand side to get on the end of crosses or weaves past defenders. Curtis would usually cost top dollar but Pompey have to cash in on the 25 year old this year to fund Danny Cowley’s much needed squad overhaul.
Another of League One’s brightest talents is Crewe’s flying winger Charlie Kirk. A product of their respected Academy system, Kirk took the stellar form that saw him terrorise League Two in Crewe’s promotion run and build on it.
With a sleeve tattoo, bright boots and a swagger that makes defenders want to break him in half, Kirk has all the hallmarks of a traditional tricky winger and he often baits players in before leaving them in the mud with a quick jink. His six goals and 8 assists helped The Alex finish 12th in their first season back in the third division, just eight points shy of the playoffs.
The 23 year old was joint fourth for key passes per game (1.9) in League One and is exactly the type of exciting player that Boro fans want to see join the club.
The player Kirk was tied with for key passes was another winger who has the qualities needed to be a Warnock wideman while ticking the box as a cheap option. Gillingham’s Jordan Graham finally looks to have broken out after years of threatening to fulfil the potential he showed as a youngster at Wolves.
Now 26, Graham played off both wings for the Gills on the way to bagging 12 goals, his best ever return. While four of those did come from the penalty spot, Graham was a constant threat with his quick feet and a deep love for a stepover while also showing some pinpoint crossing to notch 6 assists.
Graham, like Connor Ogilvie, rejected a contract extension at Gillingham making him a free agent. Whether he can replicate last season’s form on a consistent basis is another matter.
Warnock’s main aim this summer will be to bag at least two strikers that are “his type”. After the farce over Chuba Akpom going from Warnock’s “first choice” to being someone he’d only watched highlights of, the manager will be heavily scrutinised on his choice of forwards.
Given the club’s failed pursuits of Kieffer Moore last summer and James Collins this summer, it is obvious what Warnock wants from his strikers. Big horrible, nasty bastards that are going to win headers, batter defenders, hold the ball up and maybe, just maybe score a goal or two.
That’s why Boro’s reported interest in Michael Smith is no surprise. The Rotherham man, 6 foot 3, is a bully of a forward. In fact, it was his manhandling of Nathan Wood in the Millers’ 3-0 win at the Riverside that convinced Warnock that Wood needed time on loan to toughen up. Only Kieffer Moore won more aerial duels than Smith last season and the 29 year old did score more goals than any Boro player managed (10).
Bristol City are also apparently interested in Smith, funnily enough, as a replacement for another of Boro’s potential targets Famara Diédhiou. The Senegalese striker, who scored twice at the Riverside in typical Boro fashion in February, ran down his contract at Ashton Gate after supposedly pricing himself out of a renewal.
That was also the suggested reason behind him not joining Boro in the January window and would prove a sticking point this summer.
Cost aside, Diédhiou might not be the best bet for Warnock. While he wins plenty of headers, he’s more likely to lose the ball trying to dribble through a defence than hold it up and bring others into play.
Another former favourite of Neil Warnock’s Callum Paterson, who holds the Premier League record for most aerial duels in a single game at 23, could be a strong back up option and with the late wage turmoil ongoing at Hillsborough might be open to cutting his losses at Wednesday.
Paterson was the top scorer for Cardiff in the season they were promoted and highlights exactly the skillset Warnock wants from his strikers.
Charlie Wyke, whose 26 goals were not enough to get Sunderland promoted from League One (lolz), seems like a logical option with the Boro born striker out-of-contract at the end of the month. While it would be great to see the Mackems cry again as Wyke comes home and fires us to promotion, this season’s goal tally was aided by Sunderland’s team being built solely to produce a constant conveyor belt of chances for Wyke.
However, Wyke is great in the air (he scored 12 headers last term) and is able to hold off defenders which would make him a capable back up option to a more seasoned striker.
A team that were promoted from League One, Blackpool, relied heavily on strikers Jerry Yates and Everton loanee Ellis Simms to fire them back to the Championship. With 30 goals between them, Simms haul of 10 coming after joining in January, the Tangerines front two resembled a throw back to the “little and large” strike forces of a bygone era.
While Yates is the type of player Boro *should* be targeting, with the potential to grow and prosper before being sold on, he simply doesn’t fit the Warnock mould. He’s a great finisher and does graft his socks off but we can’t spend anymore time seeing our strikers strain their necks as they watch countless hoofballs fly over their heads.
Simms on the other hand offers the physical presence that Warnock covets and anyone that watched him bully and harass Oxford’s backline in the play-off semi-finals will agree that he’s an exciting prospect.
He made light work of Oxford’s highly rated centre-half Elliott Moore on his way to two goals in the second leg. Simms is also surprisingly quick for a man that stands at 6 foot 2 and will be available for loan once Everton appoint a new manager.
While it’s highly doubtful that Neil Warnock will “risk” going abroad for his strikers this summer, a leftfield route for the club to take is Victor Edvardsen who plays for Degefors IF in the Swedish topflight. After firing Degefors back to the Allsvenskan for the first time since 1997 by scoring 16 goals on the way to a 2nd placed finish, Edvardsen has scored five times in the first 8 games of the Swedish season.
He’s strong, direct, gets in behind and looks like a composed finisher. Have I broken the cardinal rule of transfers and scouting by falling in love with a player from YouTube clips? Yes. Yes I have. Is it mainly because I can see him getting amongst it in the South Stand? Yes.
This transfer window is, like they all seem to be, massive. The club have to get it right this time and not just in regards to where the team finishes in the upcoming season.
The team that Neil Warnock puts out in front of the Boro supporters has to be fun to watch whether that’s through the results or the individual talent on display. The past 15 months have been incredibly bleak and grey so we need some colour in our lives.
We also have to play our part as well, as fans. This transfer window, in my opinion, will be the most revealing yet about exactly where we are as a club. That’s a discussion for another time but we have to get behind the boys Warnock brings in instead of sniping on social media. Class getting your move to Boro to be met with loads of fans tagging you on Twitter saying “shite him”.
We’ve been united during this horrible time in our lives but it’ll soon be time to draw the lines again, at least for 90 minutes every weekend.
Teesside vs. The World.
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