KENNETH OMERUO thinks Middlesbrough can still seal a return to the Premier League during his time at the Riverside after completing a loan move from Chelsea until the end of the season.
After productive talks over the weekend, Omeruo trained with the Boro squad for the first time yesterday morning and he will go straight in to Aitor Karanka’s thinking for this Saturday’s trip to Blackpool.
The 20-year-old, who already boasts 14 caps for Nigeria despite never featuring for Chelsea, comes highly recommended by Jose Mourinho and will be looking to play regularly in the Middlesbrough backline.
He is capable of playing both on the right or in the middle, so Karanka will spend the rest of the week contemplating where to play Omeruo at Bloomfield Road.
Wherever he lines up, the composed defender is keen to get going and he has not ruled out a surge towards the Championship’s top six in the second half of the season.
“This loan move is important because I have a good chance of playing regular football,” he said. “I would also be in a good situation to help the club fight for promotion – nothing is impossible in football.”
Omeruo helped Nigeria to finish runners-up to Switzerland at the Under-17s World Cup in 2009. It was during that tournament when scouts from across Europe took notice of the teenager.
After eventually talking up an offer from Anderlecht he returned back to Nigeria to play for Sunshine Stars just two months later.
Just when he feared his chance of European football had gone, Standard Liege returned with a new offer and he accepted – but it was the emergence of Chelsea before the Under-20 World Cup in 2011 that really got him excited.
Omeruo told FourFourTwo: “I first found out during the preparations for the World Cup and I got a confirmation call after the tournament. At first I didn’t believe it because I wasn’t expecting that at the time.
“I had only played for Standard reserves at that time but I left when my pre-contract was finished. They were surprised. It was great.
“It was really big news back home. People were happy that another Nigerian was at Chelsea again. My family were really happy and supportive. It feels great to get to the stage you’ve been dreaming of.”
Such is the high regard for him at Stamford Bridge, Omeruo will be returning to West London in the summer after the World Cup.
Despite his tender age, he has already won the Africa Cup of Nations with his country and played against the likes of Didier Drogba, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani during internationals that have also included outings at the Confederations Cup.
His determination to play at this summer’s World Cup was one of the reasons why he has dropped down to the Championship, citing a preference to play first team football in the build up to the Brazil showpiece.
And he is keen to build on last season’s loan at ADO Den Haag in Holland.
He said: “Playing in Holland wasn’t difficult at all because they play the kind of football I like. They play good football, everyone could play, they can keep the ball. It was really good.”
He now hopes Karanka’s preferred style of play suits him too. Omeruo is unlikely to be the last of the Spaniard’s signings this month as he looks to close the gap further to the play-off places.
There has also been interest expressed in a number of other Chelsea youngsters and Karanka has identified greater experience as something his squad requires after witnessing the impact 37-year-old Shay Given has had since arriving on loan from Aston Villa.
Given will return to action at Blackpool this weekend and he will almost certainly have Omeruo ahead of him in defence.
Karanka said: “Kenneth is a strong defender and I think we need to improve in this area. I know him. Jose has told me about him and I think he’s going to be very good for us to add to the squad.”
Talks have been ongoing since the weekend at Middlesbrough aimed at bringing more players to the Riverside before the Blackpool trip.
Chelsea's Nahaniel Chalobah is another to be on the radar, while Southampton's Billy Sharp and Blackburn's Ruben Rochina are two more names to have have been mooted.
But Middlesbrough's connections also reach extend to the continent now, with £4m-rated Belgian striker Jelle Vossen known to be high in the club's thinking.