Southgate's pursuit of Distin takes on flavour of urgency

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The Independent Football

Middlesbrough are facing a race against time to persuade the Manchester City defender Sylvain Distin to join them before the start of the new season.

The Teessiders have finally been given permission to talk to the 28-year-old Frenchman after a dogged pursuit which has lasted much of the summer.

However, with the manager Gareth Southgate having effectively announced his retirement when he accepted his job, he is desperate to have a replacement on board in time fortheir Premiership opener at Reading on Saturday.

Boro were not commenting on the situation yesterday, but City confirmed on Tuesday night they had accepted an offer - understood to be around £3.5m - and given the player permission to start talks.

Southgate is still hoping to sign Robert Huth on loan, but Distin, who was the subject of an earlier joint bid along with the midfielder Joey Barton, is now his main defensive target.

The former Paris St-Germain player is understood to have turned down a lucrative new deal at Eastlands, and that could leave Boro having to find significantly more than £40,000 a week to tempt him to the Riverside Stadium.

Talks are now under way, but the feeling in Manchester is that Distin's departure, although likely, is not a foregone conclusion.

Southgate has suffered a frustrating time on the transfer market since replacing Steve McClaren and - having released Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Doriva, and seen Franck Queudrue leave for Fulham - has so far added only Julio Arca to the squad. He is still waiting for a definitive answer from Blackburn on the Australian international midfielder Brett Emerton, but will hope to wrap up Distin's move as a matter of urgency.

Chris Riggott is Southgate's No 1 central defender, and while he has the hugely experienced Ugo Ehiogu, youngsters Matthew Bates, David Wheater and Andrew Davies and the versatile Emanuel Pogatetz at his disposal, he is desperate to recruit a specialist with a track record.

However, City's own problems at the back - manager Stuart Pearce has Richard Dunne injured for the weekend - mean they could be reluctant to lose Distin, certainly in the short-term.