HAVING watched Kenneth Omeruo grace the World Cup stage with Nigeria, Middlesbrough defender Ben Gibson has set his sights of a more prominent international role in England’s Under-21 set-up – but only after he helps Middlesbrough challenge for promotion.
Gibson enjoyed a breakthrough season at the Riverside last term, starting 27 games in all competitions with 21 of those starts coming in Aitor Karanka’s 32 games in charge.
The centre-back formed an impressive partnership with on loan Chelsea man Omeruo and his performances were rewarded with a place in Gareth Southgate’s Under-21 squad for the Toulon Tournament in May.
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With the European Under-21 Championships taking place in the Czech Republic next summer, the Nunthorpe-born defender hopes a good season with the Teessiders will put him in the frame, but for now he is focused on establishing himself as one of Karanka’s first choice centre-halves.
“Last season was my best yet,” said Gibson. “I was told at the start of last season that I’d be looked at and if I impressed I would be given an opportunity.
“I managed to do that and I set targets with my dad. I said if I could start 15 games that would be fantastic. I started 27 in the end so it was a great season and I’m looking to build on that now.
“I guess this year’s target is to start as many games as possible and to remain in the under-21 set-up, but this is my bread and butter and I need to do it here and help us get back in the Premier League - that’s my aim for now.
“It was brilliant to be back involved (with England). It is a fantastic honour to represent your country. To do it again and at a higher level was a fantastic experience.
“Euro 2015 would be an unbelievable tournament to be part of, but it’s a long way off and I’m just thinking about the start of the season and making sure I start that first game for Boro.”
Karanka had to deal with injuries to Jonathan Woodgate, Seb Hines and Daniel Ayala at different stages last season, but their misfortune presented Gibson with an opportunity to cement his place in the side.
He said: “I’d like to think I’ve put myself in the frame to start the season in the team.
“I started a lot games because of injuries, but that’s where the gaffer’s been fantastic. If you’ve played and done well he will stick by you and that’s great for us to know.”
Karanka put his faith in Gibson and Omeruo towards the end of last season and the young pair responded by keeping four clean sheets when they played together.
The Teessiders hope they can seal a deal to bring the Nigeria international back to the Riverside, but his impressive displays in Brazil have led to interest from elsewhere.
Gibson is keen to be reunited with the 20-year-old next season and revealed seeing the defender play at the World Cup has spurred him on to gain more international recognition of his own.
“Kenneth and I had a good record together,” Gibson explained. “I’ve been texting him telling him to come back and he wants to come back, but it might be out of his hands.
“Seeing Kenneth at the World Cup was great and if you ask any player they would believe they could do that and play at the very top.
“I’ve got to look at it point by point and cross each little thing off my checklist. The first thing would be starting the season at Middlesbrough. Playing for England as a full international would be way up that list, but it is something that you dream of doing.”
While Karanka is hopeful of re-signing Omeruo, the Boro head coach is also considering a loan move for Chelsea’s young midfielder Patrick Bamford.
The Spaniard is still in the market for players with a right-back and another striker the priority, but an attacking midfielder is also on his list.
The Teessiders are trying to sign Huddersfield’s Adam Clayton, but Karanka has identified Bamford, who has impressed on loan spells at MK Dons and Derby in the last two seasons, as another option.