Boro strikers backed to shine next season
The Middlesbrough coach Colin Cooper is promising there is much more to come from the club's four mainline strikers next season.
Manager Gareth Southgate had to hurriedly assemble a new-look strike-force after losing first Mark Viduka and then Yakubu last summer. He invested heavily in Mido and Jérémie Aliadière and managed to land the Turkey international Tuncay Sanli on a free transfer before the closure of the August window, and has since broken the club's transfer record to sign the £12.7m Brazilian Afonso Alves.
All four have shown flashes of the talent that persuaded Boro to recruit them, but both Southgate and Cooper believe the fans have so far seen only a fraction of what they can do. Cooper said: "The likes of Tuncay and Aliadière have done a terrific job for the team this season. Hopefully with those two and Afonso – and hopefully we will get big Mido back over the summer – we will go into the new season with four strikers who want to prove themselves in this league.
"This is the first full season for Aliadière in the league and he and Tuncay have obviously played the most this season. They have both earned a lot of pats on the back from me.
"We know in Afonso we have a genuine goalscorer, and I would like to think with Mido, he would like to come back and show the people of Teesside what he has not been able to yet."
Of the four, 25-year-old Aliadière was best able to hit the ground running having had experience, if a limited amount, of Premier League football before his £2m move from Arsenal. His pace and work-rate have been impressive, although goals have been hard to come by – only four this season.
Former Fenerbahce player Tuncay took time to adapt to life in England, but is currently two behind leading scorer Stewart Downing on six, while Mido started brightly with goals in each of his first two games following his £6m transfer from Tottenham, but has been hampered by a troublesome groin injury since. But it is perhaps upon 27-year-old Alves that Boro are pinning their hopes.
The South American, who scored 34 goals in 31 appearances for Heerenveen during his first season in the Netherlands, has also had to ease himself into the Premier League. After eight appearances – five from the bench – without a goal he scored a fine double in the 2-2 draw with Manchester United on 6 April to serve notice of his potency.
He has drawn two blanks since, but Cooper is confident he will make his mark next season. He said: "I think the fans will see him take more and more opportunities the more acclimatised he becomes and the sharper and fitter he becomes.
"And if we get him to the end of the season and next season get him a really good pre-season under his belt, I think we will see a lot more of him. We watch him every day in training and we know he is a top-class finisher."
Meanwhile, Gaizka Mendieta may have played his last game for the club. The 34-year-old, who once cost Lazio £28.9m, seems likely to leave at the end of the season.