NEIL WARNOCK will make discussions over the future of Ben Gibson a key priority after agreeing to stay on as Middlesbrough manager.

Warnock’s decision to extend his stay on Teesside to the end of next season will be confirmed at either the end of this week or the start of next, with the 71-year-old currently spending time with his family after agreeing the terms of a one-year deal with Boro chairman Steve Gibson last Thursday.

Warnock met Gibson at his home, and the pair discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the current squad as well as the areas that need strengthening this summer.

Having guided Boro to safety after replacing Jonathan Woodgate last month, Warnock has spoken of wanting to make “four or five signings” to strengthen the spine of his team, with central defence a key area of concern.

Signing Ben Gibson just two years after he was sold to Burnley for £15m will not be easy, but there is a desire to explore the possibility of engineering a deal with the hierarchy at Turf Moor.

Gibson has not been involved with Burnley’s first-team squad since falling out with Clarets boss Sean Dyche when a proposed move to Watford collapsed during the January transfer window.

Having been frozen out of the picture under Dyche, Gibson spent a month-or-so before lockdown training with the Boro squad at Rockliffe Park, and attended a number of the club’s post-lockdown matches at the Riverside wearing official club training kit.

He retains a strong emotional bond to his hometown club, not to mention the familial links that continue to link him to the Boro boardroom, but the finances of a possible return are extremely difficult.

While Burnley accept they will have to take a hit on their £15m outlay if they opt to sell Gibson this summer, they will not want to accept too much lower a fee. With Boro having to operate within the parameters laid down by the EFL’s Financial Fair Play regulations, they would be unable to go anywhere close to matching the sum they received for the 27-year-old two years ago, and would also struggle to match Gibson’s current wages at Burnley, which are understood to be around £40,000-a-week.

Burnley are understood to be paying for Gibson in installments, so there is the possibility of using their outstanding balance to help facilitate a deal. The Clarets have also previously bid for Dael Fry, so some form of swap deal is an alternative option.

At this stage, however, Boro’s best chance of re-signing their former centre-half is likely to be a season-long loan.

Given the complete breakdown in relationships, Burnley officials would be willing to consider a loan arrangement, although they are likely to spend the first half of the transfer window sounding out potential options for a sale.

Watford are unlikely to rekindle their January interest in the wake of their relegation to the Championship, but Gibson has been linked with a possible move to a couple of MLS sides in the United States.

The Teessider’s main priority will be to secure first-team football next season as his only senior involvement in the last 12 months came in an EFL Cup defeat to Sunderland last August.

His career is stagnating, and therefore the prospect of a return to regular action in the Championship under Warnock could well appeal.