AITOR KARANKA has revealed Jason Steele and Tomas Mejias Osorio will compete to be Middlesbrough’s number one when Shay Given returns to Aston Villa, but insists the latter will not be given special treatment because of his Spanish roots.
Given’s spell at the Riverside will end on February 28, despite making a big impression since he arrived on loan last November.
Boro have kept nine clean sheets in 14 games with Given in goal and while he has made a number of crucial saves, the Republic of Ireland man has also played a major part in the improvements in the back line recently.
His last game in a Middlesbrough shirt will be next Saturday’s televised game against Leeds United at the Riverside, but Karanka is yet to decide who will take over the gloves when the Teessiders visit Sheffield Wednesday a week later.
Steele’s fitness will play a big part in that decision – the goalkeeper is nearing a return to action after recovering from an ankle injury - but whether he will be fit to go back into the first-team by March 1 remains to be seen.
The Newton Aycliffe stopper hasn’t played since Karanka’s first game in charge when he was sent off in a 2-1 defeat at Leeds United and the Spaniard is keeping his cards close to his chest over who will take over from Given, although he intends to give all three of his keepers a chance to impress.
Steele established himself as Boro’s number one under Tony Mowbray, but Karanka has since signed Mejias, who he already knew from his time at Real Madrid.
The 25-year-old Madrid-born keeper has spent his entire career at the Bernabeu, playing more than 140 games for the club’s B and C team and featuring once for the first-team.
Karanka is keen to give his fellow countryman time to settle in his new surroundings, but the Boro head coach insists Mejias will have to work hard to earn the number one spot.
“The first thing for Tomas is to adapt and settle in here, because it is his first move away from Real Madrid,” Karanka said. “I know him from my time there and I have a lot of confidence in him but he needs to challenge with the other keepers.
“People will think that because I know him it will be easy for him to get in the team once Shay goes back to Aston Villa, but that is not true. He needs to fight for his position on the training ground and he has the same opportunity as the other keepers.
“I hope he can be a number one for us one day because I have known him a long time. He is a very good keeper, but he needs to train and win the position. He has a very good future. He is the opposite of Shay.
“He is an unbelievable keeper with experience and Tomas is a young player and he needs to gain more experience and more confidence. He isn’t playing at this moment, but he needs to train and fight for the position.
“Jason is better. He is getting stronger each day and he will play with the Under-21s soon to get his confidence and match fitness. It is good for me to have all the squad training with me and that includes Jason.”
Mejias is Karanka’s first overseas signing and given his extensive links in Spanish football, the Boro boss revealed he hopes to bring in more players from Spain in the future.
He said: “I hope we can have more links with Real Madrid because they always have very good players. I have a good relationship with the people there and it’s just one option for the future.
“I also have relationship with Chelsea and with a lot of other clubs. That is good for me and can only be good for the squad to bring in good young players.”
Middlesbrough head to Watford tomorrow looking to get back to winning ways after three consecutive goalless draws and Karanka is hopeful Mustapha Carayol will be fit.
The winger tormented Blackburn on the left last weekend but despite being forced off with a slight muscle strain, the Spaniard revealed he will give the 23-year-old every chance of being fit for tomorrow’s trip to Vicarage Road.
“Muzzy trained yesterday for the first time this week and I think he will be fit to play but we need to see tomorrow (Friday).
“It would be a big blow not to have him because over the past few weeks he has played very well.
“I think he is now a stronger player. He was already a good player but now he can fight for 90 minutes and that makes him an amazing player. To be that he needed to be stronger than he was and for this I am happy.
“He needs to keep working in the same way because all the players are working very well and to be in the first 11 is not easy. It is hard to get a place when the team has improved.”