Chelsea ready to test Boro over Johnson

19 November 2009 09:45
CHELSEA are hoping to outflank their Premier League rivals in the race to sign Adam Johnson in January by offering to loan the winger back to Middlesbrough for the second half of the season.

With just one transfer window in which to buy players before a suspended transfer embargo is due to commence in February, Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti is expected to embark on a spending spree in two months time.

The Italian has drawn up a list of leading transfer targets headed by Atletico Madrid striker Sergio Aguero, but as well as recruiting tried-andtested talent, Ancelotti is also expected to pursue a number of younger players who will bolster Chelsea's squad in anticipation of a future signing ban.

Sources in London claim Johnson is one of the emerging young talents on Chelsea's radar, with Blues director of football Frank Arnesen a known admirer of the Easington- born wideman.

However, with Sunderland and Everton also expected to pursue Johnson when the transfer window reopens on January 1, Ancelotti may have to be creative if he is to lure the 22-year-old to Stamford Bridge.

And in an attempt to force Middlesbrough's hand, the Italian is willing to loan Johnson back to his current employers in the second half of the season.

With Johnson's current contract due to expire in June, the Teessiders will face a difficult decision if they receive formal offers for the winger in January.

A bid of £3m or £4m would be difficult to turn down in the knowledge that Johnson will be free to leave for nothing at the end of the season, but chairman Steve Gibson has played hardball in the past over Stewart Downing's future and is keen to support his new manager, Gordon Strachan.

Ancelotti's offer to loan Johnson back to the North- East would represent a compromise, with Boro officials able to pocket a significant fee while still retaining the players services for a crucial five-month period that will determine whether or not the Teessiders are playing Premier League football next season.

Neither Everton nor Sunderland are understood to be willing to loan Johnson back to Boro in January, but the interest of both clubs is well known, and the England Under-21 international may prefer to be playing Premier League football from the minute he leaves the Riverside.

Chelsea will attempt to persuade him otherwise and, having successfully prised Ross Turnbull from Middlesbrough when the goalkeeper refused to sign a new contract last summer, the Blues have enjoyed previous success in luring up-and-coming youngsters from Teesside.

Chelsea scouts are expected to be in attendance at a number of Middlesbrough's games between now and Christmas, although it remains to be seen whether the club has a presence at the Riverside on Saturday when Strachan's side entertain Nottingham Forest.

Johnson is a certain starter in two days time, and the winger could be joined in the starting line-up by Emanuel Pogatetz despite the defender breaking his cheekbone in the 1-0 defeat to Plymouth three weeks ago.

Pogatetz has been fitted with a protective plastic face mask, and Boro officials will seek permission for the centre- half to wear it in Championship matches.

Provided Football League officials give the go-ahead, Pogatetz could return to the Boro squad at the weekend.

Fellow defender Chris Riggott is also in contention for a first-team recall against Forest after featuring in a behind- closed-doors friendly against Leeds reserves.

Andrew Taylor, Gary Martin, Shaun Saiko and Josh Walker were all on target as Boro won the practice game 4-3 at Leeds' Thorp Arch training ground.

Middlesbrough's reserve game with Grimsby on Wednesday, November 25 has been switched to the Riverside (ko 7pm).

Emanuel Pogatetz and Mark Yeates will be signing official merchandise in the MFC Official retail store in Captain Cook Square, Middlesbrough, between 4-5pm this evening.

The signing session will be a chance for fans to get Christmas gifts signed, including the 2010 Boro Calendar, Boro Legends Calendar, You Are My Boro Annual, home and away shirts plus a wide range of posters and collectors' cards.

Further signing sessions will take place during the build-up to Christmas, with the next set for Thursday, November 26, when Gary O'Neil, Justin Hoyte and Brad Jones will be at Boro's town centre store between 4-5pm.

Source: Northern_Echo

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