Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka is certainly building a squad more than capable of staying in the Premier League, but his goalkeeping options may be starting to give him a headache.
Following the capture of Bareclona legend Victor Valdes, USA goalkeeper Brad Guzan has now been linked with a move to Boro on a free transfer, as Aston Villa look to slash their wage bill following relegation to the Championship.
Several years ago, the North East of England would have seemed one of the unlikeliest destinations for Valdes, Barcelona’s fifth most-capped player, who played alongside footballing superstars such as Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta.
A superstar in his own right, Valdes won a total of 21 major trophies with the Catalan club, including six La Liga titles and three Champions League trophies. He also picked up the Zamora Trophy a record five times, which he shares with the late Antoni Ramallets, also of Barcelona fame. His national team honours include the 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championship.
Since Valdes left Barcelona in 2014, he’s struggled for minutes. After training with Manchester United to help him recover from a knee injury, he signed an 18-month contract with the Red Devils in January 2015.
Clearly regarded as a backup to Spanish compatriot David De Gea by then manager Louis Van Gaal, Valdes only made two appearances for United, before being loaned out to partner club Standard Liege in Belgium, for whom he went on to make eight appearances and capture the Belgian Cup.
Boro fans would have been stunned when the news surfaced that Valdes was preparing to undergo a medical at the Riverside Stadium earlier this month.
Karanka has built something special at Boro. Despite losing to Norwich in the 2015 Championship play-off final, he certainly made up for it last season, sealing automatic promotion back to the Promised Land on the final day of the campaign.
First and foremost, Boro need to consolidate in the Premiership, so high-profile signings such as Valdes are sure to boost team morale. It’s already been reported that Boro defender Ben Gibson has been bombarding the Spaniard with questions about his illustrious career, but Gibson claims he’d never bring up his success without being asked.
Although it would be hard to justify dropping current number one Dimitrios Konstantopoulos, especially after last season’s club record-breaking campaign of nine consecutive league clean sheets, very few can deny the experience Valdes will bring. Konstantopoulos’ contributions won’t go unnoticed by Boro fans, but I’m sure they’ll be longing to see more of Valdes than the odd midweek appearance against lower league opposition in the League Cup.
Fellow Spanish keeper Tomas Mejias doesn’t appear to be going anywhere, having only signed a new contract back in February. The former Real Madrid man is best known for his heroic penalty shoot-out performance against Manchester United in last season’s League Cup, saving from both Wayne Rooney and Ashley Young.
At 37 years of age, the oldest of the four keepers highlighted, Konstantopoulos may be beginning to look over his shoulder. This leaves Karanka with some serious thinking to do.
Nonetheless, it’s an exciting time to be a Boro fan. As former Manchester City striker Alvaro Negredo just sealed his loan deal, he and the prolific Jordan Rhodes could conjure up an intimidating partnership.
With all of their new signings and the array of talent they already possess, you wouldn’t put it past Boro to muster up a top-half finish.