Bakero the foil for Boro

Simon Turnbull sees a Spanish master in a smaller pool at Hartlepool
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The Independent Online
In the nine years he spent on the pay-roll at the Nou Camp Jose Maria Bakero probably never expected to be playing for his future at Hartlepool one day. At 33, though, the one-time captain of Barcelona and of Spain found himself and his professional reputation on the line at one of the outposts on England's basement division map. He may have twice been on the winning side in a European Cup final but a 1-1 draw in a pre-season match arranged by Hartlepool to benefit Keith Houchen, the manager they sacked last year, was of considerable importance to Bakero. After a year playing for Vera Cruz in Mexico, the veteran midfielder is on trial with Middlesbrough.

As one half of the foreign legion in Boro's starting line up, he appeared to be in cruise control mode for much of his abbreviated test at Victoria Park. He patrolled his midfield patch with more neat-and-tidy diligence than dynamic industry. He also missed the one sitter manufactured in the opening half, a header served on a silver platter by Phil Stamp. His one notable contribution was decisive, however. Ghosting into the Hartlepool box seven minutes into the second half, the Spaniard controlled an angled pass from Paul Merson and slipped a scoring shot past Damien Boyd.

Whether Bakero will get the chance to join Merson on Middlesbrough's recovery mission in the coming season remains to be seen. He made way in the 63rd minute for the man he needs to impress before his trial period ends on 31 July, Bryan Robson. The one-time Captain Marvel, 40 now, could not inspire his team to victory. The equaliser Joe Allon struck from the penalty spot a minute before the changing of Middlesbrough's midfield guard was the final say on the scoresheet. It was a fair reward for Hartlepool's spirited endeavour, though it would be unfair to suggest that Boro were not at the races yesterday, not to mention inaccurate.

Robson and his players departed for Redcar racecourse, where a horse called Gunners Glory happened to be in the field for the 8.15 race, the Middlesbrough FC Selling Handicap. In football's buying stakes, of course, Boro have put their money on a former Gunner. And Merson looked a good - if expensive - bet on the evidence of his second game for his new club. The pounds 5m signing looked a class apart, as he had done at York on Wednesday. The Boro No 10 shirt did not sit uneasily on his broad shoulders.

It emerged yesterday that the last man to wear it, Oswaldo Giroldo Junior, remains - technically, at least - a Middlesbrough player. But there is no real hope of Juninho lining up to face Charlton on the opening day of the Nationwide League season. Boro are merely withholding his international registration until they receive the second instalment of the pounds 12m transfer fee they agreed with Atletico Madrid. "There is no worry," Jesus Gil, Atletico's president, insisted. The pesetas, he assured the sellers, would be deposited this week.

Boro, it seems, are also hopeful of banking pounds 7.5m from Everton in return for Fabrizio Ravanelli. Though the Italian has turned down the offer of a pounds 25,000 weekly wage at Goodison, Robson said: "I have spoken to the people involved and they tell me the deal is far from dead." If the transfer does materialise, Robson may make another attempt to prise Ian Wright from Arsenal. With two Gunners in their attacking armoury, Boro would take some stopping in the First Division glory stakes.

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