GARETH SOUTHGATE reiterated a two-year stance that Middlesbrough’s Stewart Downing is not for sale - on the day which could kick-start a period of huge spending in the transfer market.

Liverpool have completed £20.3m acquisition of Robbie Keane from Tottenham and Andrew Johnson’s £12m switch from Everton to Fulham is expected to pave the way for the player merry-goround to head into overdrive.

Aston Villa, Liverpool and Tottenham are three of many clubs known to be interested in Downing, with Sunderland the latest to be mentioned over the weekend.

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But Southgate is not willing to listen to offers for the £18mrated winger and the Boro chief maintains that all the signs from Downing point to a desire to stay at the Riverside Stadium.

“There’s inevitably huge speculation at this time of year,” said Southgate, who persuaded the player to sign a new five-year contract in January.

“We know how fortunate we are to have Stewart Downing as part of this club.

“Last season, when Stewart and David Wheater signed contracts, they were the most important signings for us. We are not looking to move Stewart on. As a manager you get used to dealing with speculation.

“We have not had any calls about Stewart Downing and nor would we welcome any.

He is very settled. He is an ambitious player and the set up here is geared towards making sure he feels he can fulfil his ambitions with us.

He is positive about everything.

We are determined to keep hold of him.”

Downing scored ten times for Middlesbrough last season and he hopes to be involved at Carlisle tonight after missing out on the two Algarve Cup matches in Portugal last week with a thigh problem.

Southgate intends to send strong teams out at both Brunton Park and Hibernian on Saturday, in the hope of extending the time his senior players spend on the pitch during pre-season.

In the two outings in Portugal, Southgate opted to build up fitness by naming four different teams in the four separate 45-minute stints, but that is about to change.

It remains to be seen whether there will be any more new recruits before the opener with Tottenham on August 16, although Reading’s James Harper remains on his radar.

A deal for £5m-rated Harper, however, depends on the transfer of Lee Cattermole going through.

The 21-year-old was at Wigan last night trying to thrash out a £3.5m move to the JJB Stadium.

And Southgate, refusing to name Harper as a specific target, admits he needs to bring in Premier League experience to bring out the best of the youth in his squad.

“We are continually looking to improve the team and the squad. That is o n g o i n g , ”

S o u t h - g a t e t o l d A l i Brownlee’s new phone-in show on BBC Tees last night.

“The players we moved on went at the right time. We are light in terms of senior players.

“We might be able to deal with that in the next few weeks.

“You need experience to guide those young lads through.

“There is a spell when things aren’t going so well to guide them through.

“It’s great to say they are gaining valuable experience, but you don’t want them to have to deal with situations like that.”