MIDDLESBROUGH are willing to listen to offers for Jonathan Woodgate, setting up a two-way fight between Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur for the 28-year-old centre-back.
But the England international’s future could be further complicated by the Magpies’ interest in Spurs defender Pascal Chimbonda – and Tottenham’s in Boro winger Stewart Downing.
Although in public the Teessiders are doing nothing to encourage speculation about the future of a player signed for £7m from Real Madrid last summer, privately they are making it known they would be willing to listen to any offer in the £8m-9m bracket.
With Robert Huth and Emmanuel Pogatetz back to full fitness, and youngster Matthew Bates not far behind after playing for the reserves in midweek, Boro are well-blessed with central defenders, and selling Woodgate could therefore make financial sense.
David Wheater has emerged as arguably Boro’s first-choice central defender this term and has formed a solid partnership with Huth since the former Chelsea defender’s long-awaited return from injury. With Chris Riggott also in the squad, Woodgate (pictured above right) has become an expendable commodity at the Riverside Stadium.
Middlesbrough do not have to sell to buy, and hope to sign one of the Brazilian pair of Fred and Afonso Alves before the transfer window closes at midnight on Thursday. But with gates disappointingly low this season, sacrificing Woodgate would ease the financial pressure on Southgate and improve his chances of hanging on to another local boy, Pallister Park winger Downing.
Boro would prefer to keep the 23-year-old England international and could expect to raise a similar price for Downing as they would by selling Woodgate, but Downing is four years younger and has a far better fitness record. Southgate revealed the club has not received offers for either player but The Journal understands Woodgate has been sounded out by Newcastle and there have been rumoured sightings of him in the city this week. New manager Kevin Keegan is a long time admirer of Woodgate, having handed the then-Leeds United defender his first England cap away to Bulgaria in 1999.
Keegan spoke this week of the need to bring a defender with good organisational qualities and Premier League experience to St James’s Park. Woodgate meets both criteria. He was also a popular player in his first spell with the club, where he produced arguably the best football of his career in between regular injuries.
Ever since the Magpies sold Woodgate to Real Madrid in 2004 they have been anxious to bring him back. Former chairman Freddie Shepherd famously told the Middlesbrough-born player the club were keeping the number six shirt for him, even though £8.5m signing Jean-Alain Boumsong was wearing it at the time.
Glenn Roeder almost brought Woodgate back from Spain last year but the player was less than impressed with the uncharismatic United manager and opted to join his hometown club instead.
French international Chimbonda is keen to leave Tottenham after their very public courting of Rangers right-back Alan Hutton. Even if Spurs are unable to tie up a deal for the Scottish international by Thursday, Chimbonda realises the writing is on the wall for him at White Hart Lane.
Were Spurs to land Woodgate it would probably make Newcastle more keen to buy Chimbonda, and doing so would allow the Londoners to balance their books somewhat.
The Magpies have reportedly also sounded out striker Óscar ‘Tacuara’ Cardozo about a possible move. Benfica would be reluctant to sell the 6ft 4in Paraguay international, having only signed him from Newell’s Old Boys in June, but might be prepared to do so if they could make a profit on the £6.8m they paid for an 80% stake in the player’s economic rights.
Cardozo, who has scored twice in 12 internationals, was the Eagles’ second most expensive player after Simão Sarbrosa and has three goals in six Champions League games this season.
United have also been credited with an interest in Croatia playmaker Luka Modric. The £15m Dinamo Zagreb player is also said to be interesting Chelsea and Manchester City.