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Who could fill Boro’s leadership void?

Middlesbrough secured their Championship survival last week, with a 2-1 win away to Sheffield Wednesday, but the mere fact that this was considered an acheivement demonstrates how poor of a season this was for the Teesside outfit.

That doesn’t change the fact that Neil Warnock has done a commendable job at keeping Middlesbrough in the league, the task that Boro chairman Steve Gibson asked of him after sacking Jonathan Woodgate in June.

On Monday night after 9pm, Gazette Boro confirmed on Twitter than Warnock has agreed to stay on as Middlesbrough manager for at least the next season. This was confirmed Tuesday afternoon by the Middlesbrough offical account.

During his eight matches in charge, the former Sheffield United and Cardiff boss was able to win more matches away from home (four,) than Woodgate did during his 38 games in charge of his hometown side (three.)

The has been talk, however, about targets for Warnock next season, with recently relegated Keiffer Moore reportedly a target this summer.

One area Warnock has already said that he is looking to strengthen is Boro’s central areas of the field, saying in his post-match interview at Hillsborough: “I just think we’ve got to get one or two players down the spine that are leaders.

“The lads have given me everything since I’ve been here, we just needed a different type (of player) in the dressing room.”

Neil Warnock has agreed to become the Middlesbrough manager for the 2020/21 season

This wasn’t the first time that the Boro boss had called for leadership in te squad. After his first game in charge he admitted that there was no ‘natural leaders‘ in the Middlesbrough squad.

Gibson will have to sanction some money, this off-season, to be spent on defensive reinforcements as Dael Fry and Nathan Wood the only centre halves still under contract at the club after Daniel Ayala and Ryan Shotton both chose to run down their contracts on Teesside.

Middlesbrough chairman Steve Gibson watches his side play during the 2020 restart

Today, we’re going to profile three players who could possibly come in to fill the leadership vacuum that appears to be at the club, as well as solving a need in the heat of Middlesbrough’s defence.

1. Ben Gibson

A choice which would prove popular amongst Boro fans, but perhaps the most unlikely to see a permanent transfer come about. Gibson left his hometown club in 2018 after Middlesbrough accepted a then club record £15million bid from Burnley for the defender’s services.

Burnley paid £15 million for the England Under 23 international, Ben Gibson in 2018

The Northern Echo are reporting that the former Boro captain has already been made a ‘key priority’ by Warnock the scotuing hierarchy at Middlesbrough for a return to Gibson’s boyhood club.

Since then, he has only made six appearances in 24 months at he Lancashire club, and spent the last six of those training at Rockliffe Park after Sean Dyche refused to sanction his move away from Turf Moor.

Ben Gibson celebrates Middlesbrough’s promotion to the Premier League in 2016.

If Gibson would be made available for loan, Warnock will be the first phone call requesting his services, though he will not be the only one and Burnley may not be inclined to send Gibson to his choice of team, given the frosty relationship he currently holds with the club’s hierarchy.

2. Craig Cathcart

Along with Boro’s survival, last week also saw Watford’s relegation from the Premier League after six season’s in England’s top flight. The club will surely be looking to offload some high earners, such as Gerard Deulofeu and Abdoulaye Doucoure ahead of the 2020/21 campaign.

LONDON, ENGLAND – JULY 17: Hayden Mullins of Watford spins the ball on his finger prior to the Premier League match between West Ham United and Watford FC at London Stadium on July 17, 2020 in London, United Kingdom. Football Stadiums around Europe remain empty due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in all fixtures being played behind closed doors. (Photo by James Griffiths/West Ham United FC via Getty Images)

Should caretaker manager Hayden Mullins keep the job at Vicarage Road, however, the 31-year-old Craig Cathcart could be surplus to requirements for The Hornets.

Cathcart most recently played during Watford’s 3-1 loss against Southampton on June 28th, with Mullins preffering a partnership of Craig Dawson and Christian Kabasele for his two matches in charge.

Craig Cathcart (centre) challanging with Trezuget of Aston Villa (R) during this season’s relegation battle

The Northern Irish international is, however, the only Watford defender to play more than 20 games this season, due to injuries to his teammates.

The Hertfordshire Mercury expect Cathcart to be part of The Hornet’s side who will be looking for an automatic return to the Premier League, but if Warnock and Boro could put in a reasonable bid for his services it may force the hand of Gino Pozzo and those in charge of Watford.

3. Shane Duffy

Another player with Premier League experience, Shane Duffy has made 19 Premier League appearances this season, but has seen his playing time reduced towards the end of the restart, only playing five minutes in the last six matches of the season.

BRIGHTON, ENGLAND – AUGUST 17: Shane Duffy of Brighton and Hove Albion looks dejected following his teams draw in the Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion and West Ham United at American Express Community Stadium on August 17, 2019 in Brighton, United Kingdom. (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)

Duffy’s chances will be further limited by the return of Ben White from Leeds United. The 22-year-old centre back was majorly impressive at Elland Road this season, after being a relatively unhearalded loan signing last summer, but Brighton manager Graham Potter has expressed his desire to keep White on the south coast for next season.

Brighton loanee Ben White facing off against Middlesbrough in February

Should Potter get his wish and Marcelo Bielsa fail to get his man, the 28-year-old Republic of Ireland international could be looking out for a new challange.

The problems in this deal would be financial, with transfermarkt valuing The Seagulls’ defender at £8.5 million. In reality a deal could probably be done for north of £3 million, but still Duffy’s wages – a reported £40,000 per week – would need to be almost cut in half to see any move take place.

Shane Duffy has captained Republic of Ireland on four occasions.

Honorable mentions: Simon Francis – Out of contract at Bournemouth. Liam Moore at Reading. Dan Burn at Brighton.

If you have any suggestions for transfers you think #Boro could or should make then get in touch with us and let us know!

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