Deadline Day Transfer Watch....
DEADLINE DAY.... and time to clear through the early morning debris of disinformation, rumour and speculation. The papers are all full of it. "Everyman and hsi dog" know Boro need a specialist right sided midfielder, a striker that offers something different and who is not going to the African Nations Cup in January and cover for Andrew Taylor at left back.
Looks like it could be a long day sat watching and waiting for a mention on the Sky Sports yellow banner at five to midnight (or five past one as it was last year). I'll update this as the day proceeds and try to stand up the stories and rubbish the rumours - starting with the latest on Ameobi, O'Neil and Pistone...
Read on for all the news as it breaks....
8am, breakfast with the tabloids:
First SHOLA AMEOBI. Anice 2+2 bit of speculation that makes some sense. It started as a rumour in the press room at the derby match on Sunday then this morning bubbled over onto BBC Tees. You can see why. He is well down the pecking order at Newcastle, will be within Boro's price range, and usually does quite well against us plus - and don't rule this out as a big factor - he won't need to move house. He can wave at Mark Viduka as they pass each other on the A19.
We ring our counterparts at the Newcastle paper and are told it is a non-starter. He is not for sale, which again makes sense. Given the fitness records of Owen and Viduka plus continued speculation over Martins he could be be needed.
Next GARY O'NEIL .... it looks like there is something in this. The Portsmouth player has been linked with Boro several times over the Summer, sometimes as part of a package for Yakubu and we know that under McClaren he was at least watched. He fits the bill: young, energetic, versatile and can play on the right or in the middle and given the mass recruitment policy at Pompey his place is not certain despite signing a new five year deal last year.
Rumours are that he spent last night on Teesside and was spotted at Judges, the new speculation hot-spot aftr the Tontine fell out of favour. The lad at the Portsmouth paper initially said it was unlikely as he was one of Harry's favourites but then rang back to say that having made a few calls they had reconsidered and thought maybe it was a goer. Redknapp has been making noises about recouping some of the money he has splashed out of late (the official reason he is ready to cash in his chips with Nugent) so may consider a decent offer.
Boro are non-committal but don't rule it out and so we have to decide whether to go big with the story. We will: we have him in 'a race against time' to thrash out a deal.
Then ALESSANDRO PISTONE. When I first heard this one on Wednesday I sprayed tea over the monitor. No way! But it is "a funny old game". The former Newcastle left-back was released by Everton last year after 103 games over seven years but he failed to regain a squad place following a cruciate injury. Hmmm. But he has played in the Premiership and is available so may come cheap. The thinking may be that as a veteran that everyone else has written off he could be this year's Abel Xavier.
We asked the club yesterday and they admitted that he had trained with the club over the past few days with both sides weighing up the possibility of signing. Boro would need to be convinced he was fit enough for the gig. That one would not need to be pushed through today though as unregistered (or unemployed) players can sign anytime.
The move for SHAWKY looks letsto go through today after a red bits of red tape were untangled. According to the Egyptian press a sticking point over a sell on clause has been resolved, a £400,000 fee agreed and the midfielder has passed a medical. There is a routine Boro pre-match press conference at Hurworth at one o'clock so hopefully that will be confirmed then.
GEORGIOUS SAMARAS has had talks with Boro - Malcolm Crosby confirmed that after the Northampton game - although you suspect he is also talking to other clubs too and so the path to completing the deal is far from smooth.
There are still a lot of gaps to be bridged, not least the one between Boro's valuation and the £6m pricetag that City are asking but as he is not wanted at Eastlands it seems likely that Sven will buckle on that as the deadline looms. It could come down to who blinks first but the stand-off is risky as Boro are actively looking elsewhere for alternatives while other clubs know he is available and could move in as the clock runs down.
I am wary. Samaras has hardly set the world on fire and although he looked lively against Boro last season so did most of the Premiership's other lumbering non-scoring strikers. Plus we must be aware of the possible diplomatic cold war between Greece and Turkey that could break out by proxy in the changies. If he signs for Christ sake don't book any friendlies in Cyprus.
There are other names in the mixer too. Gareth and Lamby will be going through a pile of CV, watching endless clips on YouseTube, using the Championship Manager database to narrow down the options and the fax machine will be melting down as agents get desperate. Jon Macken has been mentioned. And Paul Dickov won't go away either. Watch this space....
I've just got back from the England/McClaren press conference at Yarm (I'll tell you about it later) to find:
SHAWKY - signed for £650,000. The club have confirmed the deal with full details to be unveiled at their press conference due to start at 1.30pm.
O'NEIL - fee agreed (believed to be in the region of £4.5). Personal terms agreed. He is undergoing a medical as we speak and should be wrapped up. The registration would need to be with the FA before 5pm for him to play tomorrow (so we were right with "race against time").
Adam Steel arrives back from Hurworth with the details of the Shawky details, the latest on O'Neil and quotes from Gareth Southgate saying that's yer lot. The boss doesn't expect to bring any more new faces. Quizzed on Samaras he says they had preliminary talks bought couldn't agree a valuation with City and so that one dropped off the radar while there was an inquiry for Ameobi but it never went any further.
By my reckoning Boro need extra up front and they know that but O'Neil leaves Boro well manned in midfield. The new boy on the right would allow Tuncay to be rebranded as the striker we thought we were getting before he was cast instead as a stop gap wide right middle field with a habit of cutting in. He certainly has the skills to play off Mido in a very fluid front pairing, either alongside him or behind, running forward down either channel.
Crouch for Boro???? No way. But it is on Sky Sports News so it must be true. It was a text that sparked the speculation and a text that stopped it. Someone text in to say he was in talks with Villa and Boro but the veracity of the story is soon dismantled as the million-pound-per-foot England striker quickly also texts in to say that far from being spotted in Judges with Lamby and the Gate he is actually sat on his sofa watching the show.
OH NO! O'NEIL HAS FAILED HIS MEDICAL!!!
AND IT IS ON THE SKY SPORTS YELLOW ROLLING BANNER. You don't get more official than that. David Craig is stood outside Hurworth with hot news from a 'top drawer' agent who has given Sky some excellent tip offs over the years and he insists that the Portsmouth midfielder has failed his medical leaving everything up in the air.
It is suggested that Boro may now go back to Pompey and try to negotiate a much reduced fee possibly one with a far smaller up front payment with the rest based on appearances. They had better get on with it because the countdown clock is showing 3 hours, 54 minutes until the window slams shut. If they can't then let's hope there is a Plan B...
It is not just Boro pulling their hair out either. The O'Neil deal is part of a transfer train wreck as Pompey's move for Diop has also hit the buffers, Fulham's move for Murphy and Seol has crunched into that and Reading's move for Rosenior and shunted into the debris too. It shows how complex the entire system is and how club's are hostage to not just their own fortune but also to others'.
PHEW! All aboard, it looks like the deal is back on tracks. Diop to Pompey is definitely back on word from the super-agent suggests that the O'Neil to Boro is back on too with a new structured deal based on appearances, although worryingly it hasn't gone on the yellow banner yet.
O'Neil He had an ankle operation in the Summer so let's hope the problem with the medical is just just something trivial like left over scar tissue showing up on the MRI scan and it can be resolved. That said, if there is a question-mark over his fitness Boro must be wary. They can't afford to get fixated on completing the deal so ignore any alarm bells, no matter how many congenital whingers scream "typical Boro." A picture of Robert Huth - who was crocked when Boro signed him in a £6m miss-the-deadline deal and has barely featured in the year since - should strike a note of caution so sharp that the Hurworth windows shatter.
Back to poor David Craig outside Hurworth telling us there is no confirmation of the O'Neil move. "Keith Lamb is in there, Gareth Southgate is in there and Johnny Mack - Gary O'Neil's agent is in there. They are burning the midnight oil." So it sounds like all parties are hard at work. They will all be putting in a lot of hours today, including Craig who was at Tall Trees setting up for the the McClaren England press conference well before noon.
Pompey chief exec rings up Sky Sports to confirm the Diop deal and says the O'Neil deal is very close. "There are one or two small medical issues but we are all very hopeful that it can resolved very soon". Open another can, settle down, dig in for another of Boro's traditional nail-biting game of chicken with the looming midnight deadline.
The snag and its expected swift resolution with both clubs working hard to make it happen is the lead item on SSN hourly bulletin but with just 60 minutes to go it is getting tense. Or is it just me getting jittery?
BREAKING NEWS - O'NEIL SIGNS! Poor, cold and bedraggled but very persistent David Craig deservedly gets it exclusively straight from the horses' mouth as he throws himself in front of Gareth Southgate's car in the drive leaving Hurworth to stick a mic through the drivers' door window and get the low-down. Yes there was a medical hitch but it is sorted to everyone's satisfaction says a happy boss - "I'm chuffed" - before confirming there was no mystery striker hidden in the boot before whizzing off to fill up and grab a sandwich at a nearby service station. "We've finished it half-an-hour earlier than last year so we are getting a bit better at it ," he laughs before setting the Garmin satnav for the nearest purveyor of BLT and Ginsters.
SSN get Gary O'Neil on the phone. "It was a very thorough medical," he says, which is reassuring, then the usual stuff: "Want to be playing.... big step forward coming to Middlesbrough... Gareth Southgate has been fantastic... new challenge .... raring to go."
Excellent, gripping edge of seat television as a dramatic storyline unfolds via a scare or two before a happy ending. You can say what you want about Rupert's Evil Empire but a dedicated sports news channel really comes into its own on deadline night.