A FOURTH successive clean sheet for Middlesbrough today would help to fuel Premier League interest in David Wheater, but the highly-rated defender is ready to stick around for as long as he is wanted – because he likes “kicking people” in the Championship.
Everton this week became the latest top-flight club to weigh up a late August move for the centre-back, as Joleon Lescott edges closer to Manchester City.
But even though there has also been interest shown in him from Aston Villa and Liverpool, Wheater has revealed that making sure his hometown club make a quick return to the Premier League this season is the only thing on his mind.
Manager Gareth Southgate has already conceded that players will leave the Riverside Stadium this month, but the 22-year-old is deemed untouchable and one of the key ingredients to Boro’s push for promotion this season.
“I never asked to leave. If the club accepted an offer, it would be different. But I am here and just want to get Boro back in the Premier League,” said Wheater.
“I am only young, time is on my side and I do not think I am ready to move. I have only had two seasons in the first team. I want another three, four or even five years here before I even think about leaving.
“It never crossed my mind to leave after relegation. I really do love it here. I just cannot picture myself playing for anyone else to be honest.
“I want to stay at Boro. I told the manager that at the end of last season. It hasn’t changed.
I have always said my aim is to stay here and get promotion with my team. That’s all I want this season.”
Villa boss Martin O’Neill was at Middlesbrough’s opening match of the season to personally run the rule over Wheater when he kept a clean sheet against Sheffield United on August 7.
His partnership with Huth, who O’Neill also checked on, has been instrumental in the two further clean sheets at Swansea City and Scunthorpe United, highlighting the pair’s ability to cope with what the Championship can throw at them.
Teammate Adam Johnson described the duo as the best central defensive partnership in the division earlier this week, and Wheater admits he is relishing the role he has been afforded.
“We like heading it and kicking people and stuff like that so it is good for us at this level,”
said Wheater, with a smile on his face. “Huthy and I have got a good partnership. We have always played well when we’ve been together and hopefully he will be here come September 2. It would be terrible for the team, especially for me if he left. He is a great player and a great leader.”
Like so many of the homegrown Boro squad, this season is not the first time they have played in the Football League, something which Southgate has regularly outlined during the last couple of weeks.
Wheater is one of those. He had loan spells at Darlington and Wolves, while he also spent two months at today’s opponents, Doncaster, in early 2006, when he made seven appearances and scored once.
“I was there at 18 when Dave Penney was manager,” he said.
“When I came back I made my debut for Boro so it clearly helped me. It was my first real taste of first team football. It was at their Belle Vue home, a real old-fashioned ground, tight with the fans right on top of you.”
It is that sort of experience Wheater feels stood him in good stead at Glanford Park on Tuesday, when a hostile atmosphere failed to prevent Middlesbrough from claiming an impressive 2-0 win.
Not every member of the squad, however, knew what to expect. “When you arrive at some of these grounds and the lads look around the dressing room, some of their faces are a picture,” he said.
“But I have been to a lot of them during my time with Doncaster and Darlington so I know about them. It is the first time for a lot of the lads.”