Middlesbrough may have 10 matches remaining of this season but attention has already turned to next term.
The Teessiders are eight points away from the play-off spots but barring a minor miracle it seems highly unlikely that Neil Warnock’s side will be able to overtake the sides above them to pip someone to a top six finish.
Warnock will not give up the fight just yet, but I’m sure he’d admit that many of his decisions now will be with a view to preparing the club for next season.
There’s plenty of decisions that need to be made regarding the future of his players, but one man certainly faces a pivotal few weeks.
The 28-year-old was lacking in match fitness and faced a battle to rebuild his reputation and that’s where Warnock comes in after handing his former Bluebirds’ star a chance to get his career back on track.
It’s been a slow process for Mendez-Laing who has featured just six times for Middlesbrough since arriving in February, with only one of those appearances coming in the starting line-up.
But what we’re starting to see is a player who is showing glimpses of what he has to offer.
Despite making cameo appearances in Middlesbrough’s last two matches against Stoke City and Swansea City, the winger has racked up a goal and an assist in just 21 minutes of action during those two games.
Mendez-Laing faces an uncertain future with his short-term deal at the club due to expire at the end of the season.
That means that the focus for the winger is firmly on putting in the required performances to convince Warnock and the Middlesbrough hierarchy that he deserves a long-term contract with the club.
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Warnock is clearly a big fan of the powerful winger and if he continues to impress then it’s likely that he will be offered a new deal, but given the competitive nature of Championship football it would be naive to think that other clubs won’t be sniffing around.
But given the show of faith given to him by the 72-year-old earlier this year you’d like to think that Mendez-Laing would be committed to staying at the Riverside Stadium as he looks to get his career back on track.
Whether that will happen or not remains to be seen, but one thing we know about Neil Warnock is that his relationship with his players is arguably his biggest quality and so there’s every chance that the experienced manager will move heaven and earth to ensure that the player sticks around at the club for the long-term.
Signing a player of Mendez-Laing’s quality on a free transfer is a real coup and it’d be a huge blow to lose the player for nothing this summer – particularly given that he’s in his prime years at the age of 28.
If one man knows how to get the best out of him it’s Neil Warnock and supporters will surely be hoping that the relationship between to two will be enough to see him stick around.