Middlesbrough quick to play down Heskey link

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Middlesbrough yesterday played down reports that they have opened talks with the Liverpool striker Emile Heskey over a move to Teesside.

Boro maintain claims that negotiations have already taken place are incorrect, but added little else as speculation mounts over the England international's future at Anfield.

What is certain is that the manager, Steve McClaren, intends to strengthen his attacking options during this month's transfer window, and that Heskey is the calibre of player he would like to recruit. McClaren has invested heavily to sign Massimo Maccarone, Michael Ricketts and Malcolm Christie, but as yet neither they nor Szilard Nemeth or Joseph-Desiré Job have proved to be consistent goalscorers.

Middlesbrough have also been linked with Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Mark Viduka, Chris Sutton and John Hartson in recent weeks and are scouting in Europe.

Heskey, who worked with McClaren during his time with England, is not a prolific scorer, but he is a physical presence, something McClaren's side has lacked.

The pursuit of Heskey could be hampered by the fact that the striker - who has 18 months of his contract remaining - seems determined to stay at Anfield, and that Boro might struggle to make a one-off payment of between £5m and £7m.

Boro's recent signings have involved phased or delayed payments, and with their dispute over Liverpool's signing of Christian Ziege in August 2000 still to be resolved, the chances of a solution being reached seem remote.

The Manchester United midfielder Nicky Butt's announcement earlier this week that he wishes to leave Old Trafford may also influence McClaren'sspending plans.

The Liverpool chief executive, Rick Parry, has rejected Portsmouth's attempt to take the Czech strikerMilan Baros, who is working his way back to fitness after a broken leg, on loan. Peter Storrie, the Portsmouth chief executive, said: "I went straight to the horse's mouth [Parry] and asked if they would be interested in loaning him out. But they said no."

There have been two departures from Anfield: the French left-back Gregory Vignal has joined the Spanish side Espanyol on loan until the end of the season; and the Finland Under-21 striker Daniel Sjolund has completed a move to Sweden's Djurgarden after a successful loan deal. Sjolund was signed from West Ham United in December 2000.