GARETH SOUTHGATE'S agent Steven Firth yesterday angrily denied suggestions that the Middlesbrough skipper is lined up for a summer move to rivals Newcastle United.

Reports claimed that Southgate, on England duty last night for the Euro 2004 qualifier against Turkey at the Stadium of Light, was a £2m target for Magpies boss Sir Bobby Robson. But Firth insisted: "This really is utter rubbish. There's no truth in it whatsoever. It's totally unfounded.

"Newcastle have confirmed to me that there's no truth in it at all. Gareth is happy where he is, but that is not an issue.''

Southgate was Steve McClaren's first signing as Boro manager almost two years ago in a £6.5m deal with Aston Villa, and is vital to the Teessiders' plans.

The 32-year-old centre-back has been the cornerstone of Boro's defence and formed a formidable partnership with former Villa teammate Ugo Ehiogu.

Newcastle's need for another central defender is hardly acute. Robson paid Leeds £9m for England international Jonathan Woodgate in January and Ipswich £5m for Titus Bramble last summer.

Although England Under-21 international Bramble has suffered lapses in form, Robson is confident he will establish a long-term understanding with Middlesbrough-born Woodgate.

Robson also has Andy O'Brien, Steve Caldwell and Aaron Hughes at his disposal for the centre-back positions, though Nikos Dabizas looks set to move on at the end of the season.

Newcastle chairman Freddy Shepherd was yesterday quick to highlight the embarrassment of central defensive resources, and at the same time question whether there is any urgent need for Robson to strengthen his squad.

United are third in the Premiership and heading for a return to the Champions League next season after reaching the last 16 for the first time this term.

They also last week reported record half-yearly profits of £13m, chiefly thanks to their Champions League adventure.

But Shepherd hinted that his club may have to be more prudent when it comes to spending.

He said: "Bobby might ask for another player, but I don't know where he is going to put him.

"We have nine centre-backs in all, 12 midfielders and six up front.

"We've spent £190m on players in ten years and £100m on the stadium. We always find the right funds for the right project or idea at the right time. We have put the club on a sound footing.''

Brazil midfielder Kleberson, a long-standing Newcastle target, has confirmed his determination to move to a Premiership club.

"It's a dream for me to one day play in England,'' he said. "I believe I am right to take this challenge.''

Newcastle tried to clinch a deal for the £5m-rated World Cup winner in January, but couldn't agree a fee with his Brazilian club Atletico Paranaense. However, United are understood to be hopeful of resurrecting a deal this summer.

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