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BORO boss Aitor Karanke looks set to launch a bid for Lazio’s Dutch under-21 defender Wesley Hoedt before the start of the new season.
Classy central defender Hoedt, now age 22, has also attracted attention from Southampton but it is Boro’s interest that is rising steadily up the FW Index (3.2 – at the time of writing).
The Teessiders are plotting their first Premier League campaign in seven years but face a selection dilemma at the heart of their back line with Spaniard Daniel Ayala set to miss the early stages of the season with an ongoing ankle issues.
The Riverside club arrived back in the top flight after holding out for a 1-1 draw on the final day of last season to pip rivals Brighton & Hove Albion to the second automatic promotion spot – in what was dubbed the £170 million match.
Chairman Steve Gibson is record as saying that he will back manager Karanke in the market – the likes of Victor Valdes and Alvaro Negredo have already joined up to their countryman’s squad.
Gibson has sanctioned an offer for Hull City’s Harry Maguire, 23, but a £5m offer was rejected by the North East rivals today, while Neven Subotic’s proposed move from Borussia Dortmund was scuppered by rib injury that could rule Serbia international out until the end of year.
That could leave the door open for Hoedt to fill the gap – the former AZ Alkmaar man is rated at around the same price as Maguire but comes with experience of playing in Italy’s Serie A and in European competition.
The Dutchman move to the Stadio Olimpico last year on a free transfer and played 25 of 38 league games in an impressive first season in Italy as Lazio finished eighth in the final standings.
The Italian press, including Rome outlet La Lazio Siamo Noi, yesterday reported Middlesborough’s approach for the Dutch youngster – and giving a revealing insight into the chaotic inner workings of Le Aquile (the Eagles).
Head coach Stefano Pioli was sacked in April and replaced by Argentine Marcelo Bielsa’s – whose falling out with the club was well documented. The former Chile manager resigned just two days into his stay in Rome last month – reportedly with an eye on the Argentina national team role that eventually went to Sao Paulo coach Edgardo Bauza.
La Lazio Siamo Noi suggested that during those 48 hours in charge, Bielsa had produced a ‘black list’ of ditched players, which is said to have included the name of Hoedt. However, Lazio’s caretaker manager, Simone Inzaghi, has since called the 6’ 3” defender ‘unsellable’.
In a fragmented campaign, former coach Pioli switched his centre-halves around regularly: playing Milan Bisevac in 11 fixtures, Santiago Gentiletti (19) and Dutch international Stefan de Vrij (two) – with Hoedt going on record during the close season as saying his ‘dream is to be paired with de Vrij’ at the heart of the blue and white’s defence this season.
Hastening Pioli’s departure was Lazio’s exit at the Europa League Round of 16 stage at the hands of Sparta Prague in March (4-1 on aggregate), a tie Hoedt – who has three years left on his current deal – played both legs of.
Back on Teesside, Karanke could yet keep faith with his promotion-winning players. Experienced defender Alex Baptiste looks a probable starter in the back four, while England youngsters Ben Gibson and Dael Fry have both impressed during pre-season wins over York City, Doncaster Rovers and Aston Villa.
Boro play Real Sociedad in their final warm-up game at the Riverside on Saturday before kicking off their domestic campaign at home to Stoke City on 13 August.