Southgate warns clubs against Downing delay

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Middlesbrough manager Gareth Southgate has warned Stewart Downing's suitors that they may face stiff competition if they wait until January to try to sign him. Southgate confirmed yesterday that the 24-year-old England international – who has been linked with Aston Villa, Tottenham and Everton amongst others this summer – has been told he can step up his recovery after foot surgery. However, he will miss the start of the season and is unlikely to play until much later this year.

Downing has a gentlemen's agreement with Boro chairman Steve Gibson that he can leave his hometown club for the right price – thought to be in the region of £12m – after he rejected Spurs' latest bid in January. His injury, suffered in May, looked to have ended hopes of a big-money move, but Southgate yesterday said he did not know what the future holds for the star graduate of the club's academy.

He said: "He won't be fit for the start of the season, but it depends whether clubs want to take him now. Come January, there might be four or five other clubs involved. That's for other clubs to decide. We will just focus on getting him fit as quickly as we can... he is progressing very well."

* Southampton have parted company with manager Mark Wotte following the takeover by Markus Liebherr.