Middlesbrough last night granted Tottenham Hotspur permission to speak to Jonathan Woodgate, a development that confirms the defender's days on his native Teesside appear numbered. A fee has yet to be agreed but Spurs are now ahead of Newcastle United in the race to sign the 28-year-old centre-half.
Middlesbrough paid Real Madrid £7m for Woodgate last April, following a season's loan, and will expect to receive at least that figure from Tottenham. The development came late yesterday and the fact that Stewart Downing was not mentioned suggests that the London club may have gone off the idea of signing the Boro winger.
This came at the end of a day when the Boro manager Gareth Southgate described the chances of completing the long-running attempt to sign Afonso Alves from Heerenveen before the January transfer window closes as "pretty good".
Boro have yet to reach agreement with Heerenveen over a fee, but the Dutch club had previously agreed to sell Alves to AZ Alkmaar for €18m. That equates to £13.4m, which would smash Boro's transfer record.
Boro will not go to that level but Southgate is still optimistic. Alves' circumstances changed on Wednesday when a Dutch FA tribunal ruled that AZ's agreement with the player was not binding.
"Over the last 24 hours, he's become available," Southgate said of the Brazilian, who signalled his intentions with a visit to Teesside to meet Southgate 12 days ago. "In his case with Alkmaar it has been shown there is no binding contract, so he's on the open market. Now we've got to try and come to an agreement, but he's gone the route of coming here, we're getting the right vibe. It's just the fee. The chances are pretty good, but the timescale I couldn't give you.
"I don't know the exact figure they're asking for but I believe the fee agreed with Alkmaar was €18m. But we're fortunate we've got a chairman where, if he really wants to do something, he might find a way of doing it. We've cut our cloth in terms of revenue and don't want to be spending money above what we can deal with. But, if we could complete the signing, it would give everything a big lift. A new face through the door would help everybody."
Southgate, though, has given up on the Lyons striker Fred. He said that Fred told Lyons on Wednesday night that he wished to stay.
The Boro manager said he had spoken directly to Downing to discuss the ongoing Tottenham rumour. "If anyone leaves, it won't be for financial reasons," the Middlesbrough manager added.