JASON STEELE is convinced the arrival of Grant Leadbitter is an indication to the rest of the Championship that Middlesbrough mean business next season.
Leadbitter is the first of many expected arrivals at the Riverside Stadium this summer, with manager Tony Mowbray intent on refreshing a squad which narrowly missed out on a play-off place last season.
It could be that Mowbray will have lost ten players from last season's squad by the time they return to pre-season training, given that is the number of players whose contracts expire on July 1.
But regardless of the extent of those on the departures list, the Middlesbrough boss is keen to make sure Leadbitter is just the start of a summer of rebuilding.
Walsall's Emmanuel Ledesma, Bristol Rovers' Mustapha Carayol and Barnsley's Jacob Butterfield are known to be among those in the manager's sights.
And yesterday Sheffield United's Stephen Quinn - who is thought to have interested Mowbray 12 months ago - became the latest player to have been linked with a move to the Riverside.
Steele, who himself is expecting a new goalkeeper to arrive to challenge him for his first team place, is keeping an eye on things while he enjoys his summer break.
But he said: "I presume the manager will be looking because we have a lot of players out of contract. I don't know how many new players will be coming in, that's up to the manager.
"What I do know is that the player the manager has already signed - Grant Leadbitter - is a terrific signing for us. Grant Leadbitter is a real statement of intent by us.
"We all know about him around here for what he used to be like for Sunderland and I've come up against him at Ipswich, where he has also done really well.
"He is one of the best midfielders in the Championship for me and he will compliment the midfielders we already have here."
Leadbitter, 26, is Sunderland born and looking forward to his return to the North-East, where he graduated through the Black Cats' academy system.
He should add the tenacity which the team has lost following Barry Robson's decision to join the Vancouver Whitecaps at the end of his contract at the Riverside.
But Mowbray, also willing to listen to offers for a number of his players this summer, knows he needs to add further competition throughout his squad - particularly in defence and midfield.
He is, though, believed to be closer to agreeing a long term deal with defender Seb Hines.
Hines, who has a further 12 months left on his existing deal, has interested Premier League clubs and shone at the heart of the defence since his return to the first team picture in January.
And, as revealed in an interview with The Northern Echo in May, he has been discussing new terms for a number of months and Middlesbrough are hopeful he will pen new terms soon.