Middlesbrough have edged closer to the permanent capture of Jonathan Woodgate after formalising a deal with Real Madrid to sign the England defender.
The Spanish club confirmed this evening that they have reached an agreement with Boro for the 27-year-old to make his loan move to the Riverside Stadium permanent at the end of the season.
However, the Teessiders, who negotiated a first-option clause on Woodgate when they brought him back to his his home town last summer, still need to persuade him his future lies with them.
A statement this afternoon on Real's official website, www.realmadrid.com, read: 'Real Madrid CF and Middlesbrough have reached an agreement for the permanent transfer of Jonathan Woodgate.
'Real Madrid wish Jonathan Woodgate great success both personally and professionally in this new stage of his career.'
Boro were thought to be surprised at the finality of Real's statement, and although manager Gareth Southgate has made no secret of his desire to make Woodgate's stay permanent, no deal has been completed.
The Teessiders gave a cautious welcome to today's news, expressing their delight with the former Leeds and Newcastle defender's form and reaffirming their hopes of tying him up on a long-term contract.
Media and communications manager Dave Allan said: 'We have been absolutely delighted with the way Jonathan has played for us this season. He seems happy to be back home.
'We are certainly happy with him - very happy - and we hope the feeling is shared equally between us and Jonathan.'
Woodgate was on England duty following his return to the national squad when the news broke, although he missed training as he recovered from Saturday's hard-fought 1-1 draw with Arsenal.
He announced his intention to prove himself to Real boss Fabio Capello on his arrival at Middlesbrough and with a year left on his contract at the Bernabeu Stadium, insisted he could still have a future in Spain.
Having regained his fitness after an injury-plagued two years in Madrid following his £13.4million move from Newcastle - he managed only 12 appearances for the Spanish giants.
He has missed only seven of Boro's 30 matches to date this season through minor knocks and rests, and is arguably back to his very best form.
That is the reward for a gruelling fitness schedule and Southgate's careful treatment of the player, and the Teessiders are reaping the benefits.
Woodgate has formed an excellent central-defensive partnership with Emanuel Pogatetz, and that has been a major feature of an unbeaten run which now stretches to eight games in all competitions.
Southgate said on Friday: 'He has been outstanding for us, not only on the field, but his character around the dressing room and around the training ground has added tremendously to us.
'He has played a big part for us and we want that to continue.
'When you have had the setbacks he has had, it makes you more determined to succeed.
'His reading of the game is outstanding, and even though he did not get much league football in Madrid, he was training with some of the best players in the world, and you can only learn by playing against those types of players.'
However, Woodgate's form has been such that news of the agreement between Real and Boro is certain to alert other potential suitors and it would be no surprise if he had several options to consider at the end of the campaign.