GARRY MONK claims making an immediate return to the Premier League is Middlesbrough’s only ambition next season, and is determined to do all he can to ensure Ben Gibson is part of the club’s squad despite mounting interest in the centre-half.

Monk presided over his first press conference as Middlesbrough manager yesterday, and admitted chairman Steve Gibson had challenged him to guide the club back to the top-flight at the first time of asking.

The former Swansea and Leeds boss is yet to meet up with his players, but has begun to assess his options as he looks to overhaul the squad that was unable to survive in the top-flight last season.

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Victor Valdes, Brad Guzan, Calum Chambers and Alvaro Negredo have all left since the end of last term, and further departures are anticipated before the start of the new Championship campaign in early August.

However, while Liverpool have become the latest club to express an interest in Gibson, Monk is determined to hold on to the defender, who could make his senior international debut when England take on France in a friendly In Paris tonight.

Gibson has refused to commit his long-term future to the Riverside, but his uncle, Steve, is keen to hold on to him, and Monk admits it will be important to retain the core of the current squad.

“One thing I know from experience is that it’s important to keep your best players,” said Monk, who signed a three-year contract when he agreed to take over on Teesside. “Ben is one of our most important players, and it’s important that he stays and we keep him.

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“Ben is obviously a big focal point for this club, and for the team. I’ve watched him over the last couple of seasons, and I’m well aware of him and what he can bring to the football team and this club.

“It will be when I manage to meet the players, and sit with them and go through everything (that those things are discussed), but of course Ben is an integral part of this club, and an integral part of what’s happening here.

“It’s important you keep your best players, and important you’re able to keep a core together and give yourself the best possible opportunity of realising the club’s ambition, which is to go back to the Premier League.”

Steve Gibson promised to “smash the Championship” when he spoke publicly after relegation was confirmed, and Monk is expected to have more than £20m at his disposal as he looks to make additions to his squad.

That figure would increase further if players were to leave, and while Ben Gibson is seen as a hugely-important symbolic figure as well as a proven talent in the Championship, the likes of Marten de Roon and Gaston Ramirez might well be regarded as easier to move on.

There is already a need for a new goalkeeper and centre-forward to plug gaps that have appeared since the end of last term, and while he claims it is too early to talk about specific targets, Monk admits there is a need to reinvigorate things with outside additions.

“Of course it needs freshening up a bit, and I think the club are very clear on what they want to do and how they are going to go about it,” he said. “It aligns with how I think.

“Like any season at any club, there will be comings and goings. It’s about the right goings and the right comings, that’s how it is.

“I think we’re going to work well at the club in terms of identifying the right players. We’ve already got to work on that, but it’s a process and it takes time. I have a very good idea of what I feel the group needs, and the club have a very good idea of how to work like that. Over the coming weeks, I’m sure you’ll see the movements and how it’s going to work with the club here.”

Last season, Monk led Leeds to a seventh-place finish in the Championship, but he opted to move on after Andrea Radrizzani completed his takeover at Elland Road.

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Narrowly missing out on the play-offs was regarded as a decent achievement given Leeds’ seemingly-endless off-field issues, but the bar will be set significantly higher once Monk returns to the touchline with Boro.

“The ambition and objective is getting up at the first attempt,” he said. “I’ve signed for three years, but I’d like to think we can get up at the first attempt and build from there.

“But I have experience of this league and know how difficult it is. We saw last year how competitive it is. We know that of the three teams that came down last year, only one (Newcastle) managed to make it back up. We know the size of the challenge, but we are aiming to bounce back at the first attempt.”

Monk will confirm the make-up of his backroom team in the next few days, with former Southampton striker James Beattie expected to take up a senior coaching position and goalkeeping coach Daryl Flahavan also expected to move to the North-East.

It remains to be seen whether there is a role for Steve Agnew, who was overlooked for the manager’s job after taking charge of the final 11 games of last season.

“We will work with Garry over the coming days to try to piece together the support staff,” said Boro managing director Neil Bausor. “Steve Agnew has been fantastic, and a great servant to this football club for a number of years.

“We hold Steve in the utmost respect for everything he’s done for us, and we’ll be talking to Steve over the coming days about what his future is.”