Middlesbrough have been dealt a devastating blow by the news that their Spanish midfielder Gaizka Mendieta is out for the rest of the season with a knee ligament injury.
The 30-year-old former Valencia and Lazio player is expected to undergo surgery to repair his anterior cruciate ligament next month after damaging it in a challenge with Portsmouth's Patrik Berger on Sunday.
Mendieta will miss tonight's tie with Coventry City as the Teessiders launch their defence of the Carling Cup, which he helped them to win last season. He will also miss the Uefa Cup ties with Lazio, Villarreal and Partizan Belgrade and the remainder of the campaign as he embarks upon a lengthy period of rehabilitation.
"Gaizka has to have an operation on his anterior cruciate which will put him out for the rest of the season," his manager, Steve McClaren, said. "It's an absolute major blow, not just to him, but to this football club. We just found out that news this morning and I think the whole place is shocked with the news.
"It seemed an innocuous challenge or fall or twist, but these things happen and, unfortunately, it's happened to somebody who loves playing football and we'll miss him for the rest of the season.
"He's a massive influence to the way we play. He's a footballer, a creator, somebody who, if teams are showing us respect and are putting 11 players behind the ball, can unlock the door and play that final ball and that bit of cleverness to break through. I'm more disappointed for him, really, at the present moment because he's just come back from injury and he was playing well.
"He's just someone who just loves getting out on the training field and loves playing football, and to deprive somebody of that for the next however long that will be is very sad. Nobody in football likes to hear about anybody being injured and being injured for a long while."
Mendieta has made a major impression at the Riverside, playing a pivotal role in last season's Carling Cup win - the club's first major trophy in 128 years - after completing a free transfer from Lazio, who had paid £28.9m to buy him from Valencia.
"I've not spoken to him yet because we've just had the results, but I know this will be a major blow to him," he said.
"He's been a breath of fresh air to this football club and somebody that straight away has taken to the Premier League, we've taken to him, he's become very popular in the dressing room and very popular on the field with the fans. He's a huge loss to this football club."
In the short term, McClaren will turn to the likes of Szilard Nemeth, who replaced the Spaniard on Sunday, youngster James Morrison and Ray Parlour to fill the wide right berth. However, he knows he may have to dip into the transfer market when the window re-opens in January in the search for a longer-term replacement despite the recent emergence of some of the club's most promising youngsters.
"We've already identified one or two areas in which we need strengthening," he said. "Yes, the young players have come in and done well, but ultimately you do win on experience."
McClaren is likely to rest some of his senior players for tonight's game.
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