McClaren banks on Downing

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The Independent Football

The Middlesbrough manager, Steve McClaren, began securing the future of his Carling Cup-winning side as the youngster Stewart Downing signed a new four-year deal yesterday.

The Middlesbrough manager, Steve McClaren, began securing the future of his Carling Cup-winning side as the youngster Stewart Downing signed a new four-year deal yesterday.

Extending contracts of key players will be a priority for the next couple of months as Boro aim to build on winning a European place by beating their best-ever Premiership finish of ninth.

Downing, a traditional-style left winger, would have been out of contract in the summer and created an impression on loan at Sunderland, scoring three times in six appearances.

At 19, he has shown enough potential to warrant such a lengthy deal, according to McClaren. "I think it is a great coup for the football club to secure his future," McClaren said.

"We have high hopes for Stewart and we have said to him before he has to make it at his home club if he wants to go on in football, and that is what he has decided to do. We are very proud of our academy and the young players coming through.

"Wherever you are you need good players coming through because ultimately they are the core of the club."

McClaren's Blackburn counterpart, Graeme Souness, has had to deal with problems caused by some of his older players, and yesterday told his men to shape up.

Souness takes his struggling side to Aston Villa today in the wake of a training-ground altercation with Dwight Yorke and a report from Andy Cole to the Professional Footballers' Association complaining that he has been victimised by the manager.

"Now is the time to stick together and not for griping or complaining about ridiculous things," Souness said. "We have got to be rowing together and we need everyone pulling the same way.

"You find out about people when the going gets tough and we are in a tough situation. Everyone is a winner when you are winning, but when you are not that's when you see some looking for the exit door."

* Chelsea will meet British and Italian opposition for their pre-season tour in the United States. A three-match schedule includes fixtures on both coasts. Chelsea play Celtic on 24 July in Seattle, Roma in Pittsburgh on 27 July, and Milan in Philadelphia on 2 August.

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