THE MIDDLESBROUGH future of Bolo Zenden has again been thrown into doubt after the Dutch midfielder admitted talks over a new deal will not begin until he is a free agent.

The Holland international signed a one-year deal at the start of the current campaign, and has again hinted his stay on Teesside will depend on Boro guaranteeing him European football next season.

Zenden was the hero of the Riverside against Fulham on Tuesday night when his controversial 90th minute penalty rescued a point from one of Boro's worst performances of the current campaign.

The spot-kick was awarded after Cottagers' goalkeeper Edwin Van der Sar had brought down Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink outside the penalty area, but FA Cup Final referee Rob Styles ruled the foul had taken place inside the box.

Zenden calmly converted to keep Boro's hopes of top seven finish and a UEFA Cup place alive, and his manager Steve McClaren is desperate to keep hold of the player whose versatility and goals have proved vital to the Teessiders' season.

But the 28-year-old former Chelsea player is in no rush to tie himself down to Boro, and admitted there has been no progress made on a new deal.

"We have not sat down yet to discuss a new contract," said Zenden, whose goal against Fulham was his eighth of the season.

"My father (Pierre) acts as my agent and we will talk about it when the season ends when I am a free agent. Nothing has changed in the last few weeks.

"All I can say is, I have enjoyed myself at Boro and we shall see what happens.

"It would be very difficult for all of us to accept missing out on European football because we believe we are good enough and we did the club proud this season.

"We badly want it again because we have tasted it and now we want more of it. You cannot go backwards in football, only forwards."

McClaren, who has himself begun negotiations over a new deal with his current contract expiring at the end of next season, is struggling to cope with the ever-increasing injury-list.

The Teessiders have been losing players on a weekly basis since the start of the year and were forced to field three 18-year-olds and Andrew Davies - recalled from his loan spell at Queens Park Rangers - on the bench on Tuesday night.

The problem threatens to derail Boro's hopes of another European campaign next season, and may threaten McClaren's hopes of keeping his current star names and attracting new ones to the Riverside.

Zenden said: "In the first half of this season we were fantastic and we played some really great football, but we have not been so good for a few months now.

"We are fighting and everyone is trying their best, as they did against Fulham, but it is just not there at the moment.

"We cannot seem to find our best form and it is difficult because we are trying so hard.

"I cannot keep talking about injuries because everyone knows about our injury situation, but this was a typical week for us in that Ugo Ehiogu announces he is fit only for Chris Riggott to go down in training.

"This is how it has been for us all season. We seem to be constantly taking one step forward and then one step back with the injuries.

"We have been ridiculously unlucky and it has not been small injuries. We have lost players for months on end like Gaizka Mendieta, Ugo, Mark Viduka, George Boateng. Big players, who we have missed."

Zenden himself has just returned after an ankle injury and admitted he pushed himself ahead of schedule to help out his team-mates.

McClaren's side have five games left to overhaul seventh-placed Tottenham for the final UEFA Cup spot, and Zenden will be doing all he can to ensure they do it.

He said: "I played against Fulham but I have an ankle injury and in a perfect world I would have had at least another week to get it properly mended, but we cannot afford that.

"We are going all out for a European place and now is not the time to sit on the sidelines and wait patiently for injuries to heal up.

"We have to all get in there and show how much we want it.

"The manager is as frustrated as the players because we know how well we have played for two-thirds of this season. We have to battle for every single point because we know we can still do it."

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