Keegan set to launch Woodgate bid

Kevin Keegan is ready to test Middlesbrough’s resolve to hang on to England international Jonathan Woodgate.

Kevin Keegan is ready to test Middlesbrough’s resolve to hang on to England international Jonathan Woodgate.

The new Newcastle boss has been linked with a improbable list of potential targets since his installation last Wednesday evening, but is understood to be preparing to lure a man who already knows all about St James’ Park back to Tyneside.

Middlesbrough-born Woodgate, who celebrated his 28th birthday yesterday, agreed a £7m permanent switch to the Riverside Stadium from Real Madrid towards the end of last season after a hugely successful campaign on loan from the Bernabeu.

He signed a four-year deal after regaining his best form – and briefly, his England place – the result of a sustained run of fitness, something which had deserted him both during his previous spell at Newcastle and with Real.

However, the Magpies, whose defensive need remains as pressing as ever despite the attempts of successive managers to address the situation, are preparing to turn to him once again.

Keegan, whose scouting staff are currently battling against the clock to identify targets before the January transfer window closes, handed Woodgate his senior international debut against Bulgaria back in 1999.

He could be prepared to use striker Shola Ameobi as a makeweight in any deal to secure the defender’s return, although he knows he will face a fight to prise him from Boro boss Gareth Southgate’s grasp.

Southgate is currently attempting to strengthen his own squad – Ameobi is a player whose situation he has monitored, although Heerenveen’s Afonso Alves is a much higher-profile target.

The former England defender, who played alongside Woodgate when he made his international bow, has been told by chairman Steve Gibson that he does not need to sell any of his big-name players.

Tottenham’s dogged pursuit of winger Stewart Downing has so far been rebuffed, and there is little doubt any approach for Woodgate would have to be too good to ignore before the manager could even consider it.

However, Southgate freely admits that every player has his price, a fact which was proved when Everton came calling with a cheque for £11.25million for Ayegbeni Yakubu.

In addition, a series of niggling injuries – he underwent knee surgery during the summer and has been sidelined by a succession of muscle problems – have interrupted Woodgate’s season.

With David Wheater having emerged as a genuine Barclays Premier League player and £6million signing Robert Huth now fully fit, Boro have options at the back, but there is little doubt Newcastle owner Mike Ashley would have to dig deep to make the Teessiders even contemplate the possibility of allowing Woodgate to leave.

The former Leeds player originally arrived at St James’ in a £9m switch from Elland Road in January 2003 and looked a class act until injuries took their toll.

Then manager Sir Bobby Robson thought he had finally found the solution to the club’s problems at the back, and it was a major surprise when Real staged a £13.4m swoop to take him to Spain in October 2005.

However, the thigh problem with which he landed in Madrid limited him to just a handful of appearances for the club, and Fabio Capello’s arrival as manager ultimately paved the way for his departure.

While Keegan may have to go to the wire if he launches a bid for Woodgate, he will hope his former Boro team-mate Mark Viduka will be fit for a daunting double-header with Arsenal.

The 32-year-old striker missed Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Bolton with a calf injury sustained in training the previous day, leaving the manager with just 11 fit senior players.

Alan Smith and Nicky Butt will be available after suspension for Saturday’s FA Cup fourth round trip to the Emirates Stadium, which will be followed four days later by a return in the league.

And there is an outside chance that Joey Barton, currently on bail after being charged with assault and affray, could figure this weekend with the conditions on his release from custody meaning has to be back at the Sporting Chance clinic in Hampshire by 7pm every night.

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