AITOR KARANKA thinks Kenneth Omeruo can be a Premier League star of the future, but the Middlesbrough boss is determined to have the Chelsea youngster back at the Riverside next season regardless of the division.
Omeruo will replace the suspended Daniel Ayala at the heart of the Boro defence when Millwall arrive in the North-East tomorrow after completing his own one-match ban.
The Nigerian defender has been a composed figure in the Middlesbrough backline since winning his first team place and that has not gone unnoticed at Stamford Bridge.
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Omeruo is due to return to Chelsea at the end of his loan spell next month and Karanka is already thinking about asking his close friend Jose Mourinho if he can have him back on Teesside for a further year.
“Kenneth is back for us on Saturday and he is an important player,” said Karanka. “We are without Dani and Ben Gibson, so it will be good to have him back. The most important thing is that he came to play, that was good for him, good for Chelsea and for us because we got a good player.
“Kenneth is happy to be playing here, Chelsea are happy because he is playing and I am happy because he is playing well. I would like to have him here with me next season.”
Mourinho also rates Omeruo highly and the chances of him returning to Middlesbrough could be affected by his performances in the World Cup this summer. He is expected to be part of the Super Eagles squad which goes to Brazil and that will alert numerous other clubs to his quality.
The 20-year-old spent the back end of last season on loan at Den Haag, having previous had a spell on trial with Belgium clubs, but he is yet to figure for Chelsea.
But in his 11 appearances for Middlesbrough, Omeruo has helped to keep six clean sheets and he has looked a long-term success story.
Karanka said: “He is a player who can play in the Premier League. The important thing is that he keeps improving and to prove he can play. He has a lot of experience already.
“He was playing in Belgium, has played in Holland he has played for Nigeria and he will be going to the World Cup. That is good for the manager to know, for his team-mates to know and he has a very good future.”
Of the three red cards picked up by Middlesbrough in the last two games, Omeruo’s double caution was the one which frustrated Karanka the most.
The Middlesbrough manager felt it was an unfair dismissal, but he thinks that for his team to have had nine players sent off this season suggests there has been something wrong with the team’s discipline.
He said: “It’s a problem that we have picked up too many cards. Most of them have been mistakes. We need to learn. The last three sending-offs, only one of those was unfair.
“But Gibson and Dani’s sending off were mistakes. Two mistakes and they need to learn. They all do. I have spoken to the players, I am the coach and I need to tell them my feelings. I have told them I am not happy with the second yellow cards.”
Karanka was keeping his selection plans close to his chest ahead of the Millwall game as he attempts to secure a fifth consecutive win, which could close the six point gap to the play-offs with three games remaining.
Left-back George Friend is available from groin trouble after training yesterday, so Middlesbrough could revert to the more orthodox back four rather than the wing-back system.