MIKEL MERINO will formally complete his move to Spanish side Real Sociedad in the next couple of days – but Rafael Benitez is confident the Magpies have a ready-made replacement in the shape of Ki Sung-yeung.

Real Sociedad have signed Merino by triggering a release clause in the Spaniard’s contract that meant Newcastle were unable to keep him at St James’ Park even though Benitez did not really want him to leave.

The Northern Echo:

The midfielder only left Borussia Dortmund last summer, but grew disillusioned at his lack of first-team opportunities on Tyneside.

Benitez said: “It was a pity because obviously he wanted to play more football. He’s a young player, and he struggled to get back into the team because (Mo) Diame and (Jonjo) Shelvey were doing so well.

“That meant Merino didn’t get much game time, then we had three or four Spanish clubs who were interested in him. In the end, it was something we couldn’t control because he decided to go.”

Benitez assessed a number of potential replacements for Merino, and eventually opted to recruit Ki on a free transfer following his release from Swansea City.

He said: “He will bring experience. He has experience in the Premier League, he has quality. Mikel was a young player with great potential, but now we have a player who has been there before.”

Kenedy’s season-long loan from Chelsea will be formally confirmed shortly, and the Magpies have also been linked with Aston Villa forward Jonathan Kodjia in the last 24 hours.


Leeds United have become the latest Championship club to be linked with a move for Middlesbrough striker Britt Assombalonga.

Assombalonga is one of the players who could well leave Teesside this summer, with Tony Pulis understood to be willing to listen to offers for Boro’s record signing.

Despite making a £15m move from Nottingham Forest last summer, Assombalonga struggled to hold down a first-team place in the second half of last season, with Pulis preferring Rudy Gestede and Patrick Bamford.

The Northern Echo:

There were rumours of a training-ground bust-up during Boro’s recent training camp in Austria, and while Gestede and Bamford both started Tuesday’s pre-season win at Spennymoor, Assombalonga was named on the bench.

He came on in the second half and scored the second goal in Boro’s 2-0 win, but Pulis looks ready to cash in to help balance the books as he looks to make further additions of his own this summer.

A number of Championship clubs have inquired about his potential availability, with Leeds having become the latest club to throw their hat into the ring.

Leeds are desperate to sign a new striker this summer, but have seen moves for Abel Hernandez and Matej Vydra come to nothing. As a result, they are ready to turn their attention to Assombalonga.

Meanwhile, Boro youngster Hayden Coulson has joined Scottish Premier League St Mirren on a season-long loan.


As well as looking to strengthen his first team, Sunderland boss Jack Ross is also working with his academy scouts to bolster the club’s youth ranks.

The Northern Echo: NO CONCESSIONS: Sunderland manager Jack Ross

Defender Jack Bainbridge signed yesterday, and now the Black Cats are set to complete the capture of Canada international Liam Millar.

Millar, an 18-year-old striker, is set to swap Liverpool’s youth ranks for a place at the Academy of Light.

He scored 19 goals for Liverpool’s Under-18s and Under-19s last season, and is a full Canada international, having made his international debut against New Zealand in March.

He will initially join Sunderland’s development squad, but will justifiably feel he has a better chance of gaining first-team action on Wearside than he would have if he stayed with Liverpool.

Sunderland have lost one promising youngster from their ranks as 16-year-old Sam Greenwood has turned down the offer of a contract with the Black Cats in order to join Arsenal.

Greenwood’s departure from the North-East was confirmed yesterday, with Arsenal having beaten off competition from a number of other Premier League clubs in order to secure his signature.