Talking Point: Finding A Voice

Now five months into his tenure, Simon Fallaha puts forward the suggestion that if Garry Monk is to make his mark, or find a voice, at Boro, he should not discard the past altogether but instead learn from it, building on the right positives

Bryan Robson, Steve McClaren and Aitor Karanka are the three longest-serving, and also, interestingly, my three favourite Boro managers since 1994.

Why is this? Opinions have never seemed so divisive as they have during their tenures. Be it the football, the recruitment, the press conferences, the image, the man management (or lack of it). It is swings and roundabouts, and it is also true that they were given a lot of money to spend, as our current boss Garry Monk has been.

But, in each case, I don’t think anyone can doubt the mark all three have made on the modern Boro story. Like Gareth “Arsenal-lite” Southgate, Gordon “Jockification” Strachan and Tony “One Of Our Own” Mowbray, they had a distinct voice. Unlike those three, they had the greatest means to implement it. And in doing so, they became masters of what I’d like to call the “Big Moment”.

Where do you want me to start? Uwe Fuchs. Promotion. The Riverside Stadium opening. Juninho. Emerson. Fabrizio Ravanelli. Home grown and adopted Teessiders making a mockery of the Manchester United defence. The old Wembley, twice. Paul Merson. Marco Branca. Promotion, again. Hamilton Ricard. Victory at Old Trafford, three times over. Benito Carbone. The Southgatian punch. Juninho, again. Bolo Zenden. Cardiff. Our first foray into Europe. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Mark Viduka and Aiyegbeni Yakubu’s goals. Beating the Premier League’s top three at home in the same season. The Road to Eindhoven, though not the denouement.

And, under Karanka alone? The Anfield penalty marathon. Looking Manchester City in the eye in that memorable victory at the Etihad. Grant Leadbitter’s celebrations. Tomlinho. Patrick Bamford’s breathless opportunism. La Bamba. Tomas Mejias, blunderer turned Old Trafford hero. Brentford at home in the play-offs. The new Wembley, though, again, not the denouement. A heart-warming Ali Brownlee tribute. David Nugent against Hull. Jordan Rhodes at Bolton. Brighton, both home and away. Pitch invasions and promotion. Gaston before Gasgone. Adama Traore terrifying Arsenal. Marten De Roon at City. Alvaro Negredo at the King Power, though, yet again, not the denouement.

There’s a trend emerging here, for better or worse. In isolation, these moments would make a wonderful story, critic-defying triumphs against the odds, pessimism to optimism, the ridiculous to the sublime.

But it is not wise to treat them in isolation. They should be seen as part of a bigger picture. One should not overlook that these very same big moments betrayed all three managers in the end, and Boro themselves.

It is seductive to lose oneself in the romanticism of it all, to simply embrace the moment while one can, and to tell the party-pooping naysayers to stop raining on the parade. To simply worship the heroes and smile about the memories. To appreciate who, what, when and where… without asking why.

There’s the rub. Boro’s “best” managers post-Lennie Lawrence, and indeed many of the fans during that time – me included, I’m not ashamed to admit – could all be accused of living for the moment and not contemplating the consequences. Being content with the occasional moment in the limelight, because, after all, we’re only Boro, and shouldn’t expect anything more. Being strictly sentimental when reflection is also called for.

As literary critic Alan Jacobs once implied, reflection strengthens true emotions while exposing feelings that are shallow and disingenuous, whereas a purely sentimental approach avoids reality and tries to keep people from asking questions. Questions that, when at least attempted to be answered, could provide more of an idea about why Boro continuously fail to make the most of the greatest opportunities that present themselves. And give more of an insight, perhaps, into how the same Boro that were dismantled by Aston Villa could dismantle Chelsea the following week, or the same Boro that ran on empty at home to Watford could fearlessly take on Arsenal soon afterwards.

Or how, to use a more recent example, Karanka and his collective alarmingly metamorphosed from being efficient, effective and in control to panicky, fearful and doubtful. A miniature self-destruction engineered by nerves, mind games and a cup defeat, after which which the manager and his team never regained their aura of invincibility. What once seemed wonderful turned toxic, narratives of “incompetent” coaching and “victimised” players staining the public face of the club in such a way that we are still reeling from it even now.

What to make of Garry Monk’s Boro? Or Boro as a whole?

Last year, we came “home”, to the Premier League, after a long hiatus. Today, one could be forgiven for thinking that Boro are homeless, unsure of whether they should be bouncing back immediately or treating this as a season of transition with a possible promotion charge.

So far, Monk has given us what I can call, at best, a handful of “little big moments”, aspects which, if reflected and built upon, could guide his Boro towards finding a voice for themselves. Traore bouncing off from what wasn’t really a naughty step to terrorise Bolton, coming from behind to win twice in the same game, a new goal hero in Britt Assombalonga, and Bamford’s playmaking and goalscoring attributes, at least until he lost favour and form. There has even been, to a point, Rudy Gestede’s redemption. Once seen as superfluous, he is now much missed in attack.

These “little big moments” arose from the creative and industrious sparks that our midfield and supply line has so conspicuously been lacking in for years. Two years ago I made the point that it is midfield, not strike force, that defines a club’s season, and I stand by that. Without the right support, strikers cannot thrive fully. Without the right protection, a defence cannot fully function. A combination of character, leadership, organisation and skill, not just organisation and skill.

“Character is just as important as skill.” When he said those words, Roy Keane was referring to Arsenal and what made the difference between Arsene Wenger’s champions of the past and stable nearly men of the present. And it was what made the difference for Robson’s, McClaren’s and Karanka’s Boro, in a big way.

Grant Leadbitter was Karanka’s Nigel Pearson, or Gareth Southgate, in that he was so much more than a player. He was, and still is, a leader, offering presence and character that still can’t be found anywhere else in the squad. Boro are not the same without him. Arguments that he will not last forever, he is now in his thirties, his engine is not what it was and Boro shouldn’t still be so reliant on him are all valid, as is the belief that transition is necessary in football and that bringing in the likes of Adam Forshaw, Marten De Roon and Jonny Howson was crucial for freshness and continuity.

Towards the end of Karanka’s reign, however, it was hard to ignore the suspicion that the manager was not so much naturally transitioning as attempting to maintain total control. Karanka was renowned for wanting his own way, something far more likely with an eager, willing newcomer than an independently-minded thinker. And the more prominent that mindset becomes, the soul continues to drain from the team until they are a shadow of what they once were, let alone what they could be.

Nowadays the absence of Bamford and Traore, neither of them Monk’s signings, has raised eyebrows. Regardless of unreliability, one knows what these players can offer to the team, and one would be disappointed if Monk was not to make use of their qualities accordingly at the expense of proving that his signings are the right ones. In other words, he should follow what Karanka did at the beginning and not at the end – build on the right strengths, making the most of the resources left to him.

Giving Monk the keys to the transfer treasure chest so soon has done him and Boro no favours, presenting the image of someone too keen to undo the sterility of the defensively-minded, deeply divisive regime that played its part in splitting the club. Often, those keen to highlight the negative aspects of a previous regime – I won’t go into all that here – tend to forget why we believed in it to begin with.

For eighteen months Karanka’s Boro were, for the most part, an imperious collective – and why? I take you back further, to Jack Charlton’s Champions of 1973-74 and Bruce Rioch’s Promotion Heroes of 1986-87 – the only teams to concede fewer goals than Karanka’s Boro circa 2015-16 since the war – and ask you to note that while, to the paying customer, goals are football’s oxygen and all that, having a rock solid defence gives you confidence, a feeling of relaxation. For if you take the lead, the game is almost certainly yours. When the right foundations are there, everything else will follow, and not just on the pitch.

However. The next step, which Karanka and even Robson proved incapable of taking, was evolving, not retreating. A year into Karanka’s reign and I couldn’t believe how confidently we passed the ball and how sublime some of our team play was, even if it was constrained by a safety blanket. Robson’s Boro were laughed at and ridiculed in 1996-97, and not unreasonably so, but we will never forget daring to, and living the, dream. Both managers, however, retreated when faced with pressure, playing it safer. In each case the mercurial and spontaneous were gradually eschewed for the workmanlike and dependable. Were Stuani and Nugent, or Deane and Ricard, as eye-catching as Tomlin and Bamford, or Juninho and Ravanelli?

It was a retreat. And while the results may have improved, the football didn’t. Passivity, and protection, had replaced activity and initiative. If a manager and a club harbour ambition, this is fatal.

Especially when spending a lot of money on players and aspiring to fit in with the top clubs in a division, something that Monk’s Boro have set out to do. We came to associate Karanka with fear of failure, but there’s also such a thing as fear of success. It’s also known as the “I want to be sure I’m ready for it” mentality, something that stops a club from getting what they really desire. Thus they stand still in time while everyone else goes for it. Like, say, Bournemouth. They weren’t expected to, and, at least financially, had no right to reach the Premier League, but went for it anyway and are finding their way. They’re a club Monk could learn from.

Now, one may conclude that freedom of expression for our attacking players is the answer, full stop. I’ve heard the “We have some good players, just let them play” argument before, and am aware that if too many individuals subvert their skills for the sake of a collective it is doomed to fail. But if a manager wants to find a voice, to make his mark, freedom alone is not the answer – a lasting impression is not solely created by players, but also by the restrictions imposed by the man in charge. Each restriction or order imposes upon the team makes it more distinct. Freedom on its own means chaos, which ultimately means boldly going nowhere.

That’s where I unfortunately feel Monk’s Boro are right now, and will continue to be unless we find a voice. It might be time for Monk to show his authority, to stir the players up a bit and make them take notice. It may well have reached the point where the players have “become complacent and started taking advantage. They might have done nothing wrong, just become a bit blasé about the results or their performances… It is then you have to crack the whip.”

So spoke Jock Stein to Jack Charlton in 1973 – and we know exactly how well the following season turned out for Boro.

95 thoughts on “Talking Point: Finding A Voice

  1. Recruitment is a massive factor, no question. And not just with players but also the coaching staff, so it stretches as far as the hierarchy and who they listen to, or don’t, for advice.
    Still, it is a collective achievement and I will always believe credit should be given where it is due and built upon. Be it manager, player or chairman. Too often a player or manager from the Riverside era is torn into for what he wasn’t instead of remembered for what he was.

  2. Simon, I know you like to pad your thoughts out with quotes, so here’s one that pretty much sums up your point.
    “In the public’s mind, players win matches, and managers lose them”. Bryan Robson.
    Whenever teams do badly it’s always the manager who’s service is dispensed with. This view has been reinforced lately with the sacking of Tony Pulis and Ronald Koeman. And right back as far to Alf Ramsey.
    As true today as it ever was

  3. Yeah, I believe McClaren said the same thing.
    Also, Jared Browne told me: “I find it very hard to warm to (Mourinho). He has a way of ensuring the spotlight is always on him. Managers are not that crucial.”
    Then there was Sam Longson, at least on screen in The Damned United. “The reality of footballing life is this: the Chairman is the boss, then come the directors, then the secretary, then the fans, then the players, and finally, last of all, bottom of the heap, the lowest of the low, comes the one who in the end we can all do without – the *expletive* manager!”
    The joy of quotes.

  4. Wilf Mannion said that when he played for England the players just assembled at the venue having been given a 3rd Class rail voucher, did a bit of jogging, then were more or less told to just go out and play. If one was selected to play for England, it was assumed one wouldn’t need coaching, so Walter Winterbottom was just a manager who didn’t even pick the team. That was done by a board of selectors of club chairmen. Club football training consisted of running a few laps round the pitch.
    Danny Blanchflower, in 2009 voted Tottenham’s greatest ever player, once questioned the club’s training methods, saying it was so boring and asked if the players could practice with a football. He was told that it would be counterproductive, the theory being that if they only saw a football on match days it would make them hungrier to perform. He was once quoted as saying “The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning. It is nothing of the sort. It is about glory, doing things in style and with a flourish, it is about entertaining”.
    By today’s standards both Mannion’s and Blanchflower’s experiences sound haphazard. Players today eat more healthily, do weight training, and are fitter but I tell you what, in my opinion football was a darned sight more “entertaining” then than it is today.

  5. One wonders how George Best would have been treated with today’s coaching ,” Come on George chase that man back and don’t be dribbling with the ball, the defenders need your help,”

  6. Funnily enough I agree with you about the managers who changed our club for the better but, but, but,
    I thought he was smarmy amd always looking to get away either to Leeds or Newcastle and we didn’t count
    I know he won us our only major trophy but I didn’t like him
    I met him socially at a dinner Long after he had left Boro and was at Derby.
    He was really nice and spoke well of his time at Boro
    Robson rejuvenated tje club with the training ground. SG had the vision for the stadium but it was Robson who made the dream of Rockliffe turn into reality.
    I don’t think I’ll ever see us play in Europe again but I’m hoping!

  7. I agree about McLaren being smarmy. He didn’t interact with the players either, a bit like Karanka. However McLaren was probably the best coach that Boro have ever had, with Karanka a close second, but unfortunately they were both poor managers.

  8. Good piece Si, one thought about us at the moment is the old saying ‘the one thing about not knowing where you are going is that you are sure to get there’ Or words to that effect.

    1. One thing I am really pleased about is that Pardew has gone to WBA
      it means he is not available amd no chance of him being at the Boro
      Another smarmy manager who thinks he’s better than he actually is.

      1. I don’t think there would have been any chance of Pardew taking the manager’s job at Boro whilst we remain a Championship team. I think he did a good job at Newcastle and also got Palace to an FA Cup Final. Sorry to disagree with you Bob, but I think he’s a good English manager.

  9. There’s no earthly way of knowing
    Which direction we are going
    There’s no knowing where we’re rowing,
    Or which way the Boro’s flowing.
    Is it raining? Is it snowing?
    Is the hurricane a-blowing?
    Not a speck of light is showing,
    So the danger must be growing.
    Are the fires of hell a-glowing?
    Is the grizzly reaper mowing?
    Yes! The danger must be growing!
    As Monk’s Boro keep on blowing
    And they’re certainly not showing
    Any signs that they are slowing…
    (With apologies to Roald Dahl.)

    1. It’s nearly Xmas the cattle lowing
      And to the Riverside we’re still going
      Watching passing football to and froing
      Heavy hearts and lots of moaning
      To the Premiership we’re not going
      No seeds of hope to watch us growing
      All in all a pretty poor showing

      1. We still have a chance of Premiership,
        Don’t you ever think, has sailed the ship
        The Red Army will fight ’till the end,
        And so Up they will us send
        For those who believe a reward will come,
        That will be a surprice to some
        We trust in The club,
        That is for talent a hub,
        So we are going up,
        Beside we might win a Cup
        Up the Boro!

        1. Jarkko
          Your ability to write in another language whilst using Jose skill to pen poetry amazes me
          Lots of people whose native language is English cannot utilise words or idioms the way you do.
          Also your support for the Boro In good or bad times is unwavering a lesson to us all

  10. The MFC website picks 4 candidates each month for its “Goal of the Month” competition but now includes goals from our underage teams. Is this now a reflection on the paucity of goals scored by the first team squad?

  11. Is there any person as a manager who would be popular with modern supporters?
    Big Jack apart we seem to find a fault in every manager. Perhaps they should go after three years or so before the relatioship gets bad. Most of managers get sacked one day, so they fail in one way or another.
    Mcclaren wasn’t one of my favourites either, but he was the most successful ever. And he did not left for another club but for England – who could blame him there.
    I hope we give a manager more than three or four months to show his true colours. They should be treated as humans and as in every work it takes some months or a year to succeed. If you have money to spend, it means a lot of changes. And that means we need patience.
    I hope GM will succceed at Boro. We as fans will deserve that. And also Steve Gibson. Up the Boro!,

  12. An interesting and thoughtful piece Simon, thank you.
    Boro’s lack of voice is a lack of expression on the field, if we have a voice, it seems to be chaotic and couldn’t care less. I know people say we played well for some of Saturday’s game but the method of expression (play) threw the game away if the reports are accurate.
    AK had a voice, or expression, but he moulded and trained the team to almost Pavlovian levels of response.
    Deep psychological arguments are not my thing but at some point, someone, somewhere in the club has to work out how to get the best out of the talent we have and then add in that plus that makes the team greater than the sum of the parts. Man management?
    I would contend that we do not have a manager who is able to do that. The creation of opportunities seems to be minimal and thus the chances to convert them to to goals. The latter being a reducing percentage of the first. How many chances equal a goal? Probably one but you can’t score every time.
    We need a team first, we have the players so now someone needs to make them into a team.

    1. Brilliant thought provoking article Simon as ever, we need more of them!
      I think Jarsue sums up exactly where we are at the moment with GM “we have the players so now someone needs to make them into a team”.
      I remember writing (enthusing !) earlier in the season about the squad of players we have and that even our second 11 would on paper be a decent side in this division. It was around the time when we realistically and patiently expected August to be an unsettled bedding in period with September starting to show how things were starting to click and October would be when we would start to look like one of the best teams in this division and start to motor on.
      Well here we are at the end of November and I could just as easily now write: “December will be an unsettled bedding in period with January starting to show things starting to click and February is when we will start to look like one of the best teams in this division and start to motor on”. Where that to be the case it might, just might resurrect and save our season. The problem I have is that I see zero signs of progress unless we play next season’s League 1 contenders every week.
      As Greavsie oft said to the Saint “Its a funny old game” and knowing the curse that is “Typical Boro” we could now go on to win 6 on the trot. If we did that would be fantastic but my confidence in the Manager still wouldn’t waiver. At this point in time I had expected to see a plan taking shape with organisation on and off the pitch. What my perception is now (rightly or wrongly) is a confused, unstructured, dysfunctional array created by someone who threw the instruction manual out with the empty boxes and cartons that his new toys came in back in August and won’t admit it insisting that he knows what he’s doing.
      Despite, or in spite of all that we find ourselves on the periphery of the Play Offs, heaven only knows how but I guess its down to what a lot of us said early days that its one of the poorest Championship’s in years. So do we sack Monk and gamble on a new Manager bounce or continue with him assuming that he does indeed have a cunning plan? Of course there are some on here (especially Rowan Atkinson if he were a Boro fan) who may point out to me “Redcar Red, you wouldn’t recognise a subtle plan if it painted itself purple and danced naked on a harpsichord singing ‘subtle plans are here again’.”
      I am desperately waiting with baited breath to finally see our Monk reveal his plan, purple or otherwise and preferably robed. The only problem as I see it is that he better find an emergency engineer quickly to put all those parts together for him or else spends the next 48 hours rummaging around in the Rockliffe bins for those instruction manuals.

  13. Thanks, Bob. I have read practically all Gazette and Echo articles about Boro since 1980’s to today. So I should have learnt.
    And learning more all the time. This week’s pearls:
    – smarmy
    – gardening leave – “playing golf”
    We have seen worse times than this. Now I can see more Boro matches on TV, internet or live in a season than I used to see in a decade.
    Just enjoying the time. And Boro. Up the Boro!

      1. First week of March. Leeds and Barnsley at home and Brum away between the two home matches.
        I couldn’t leave it later as Boro might have won the league by the beginning of April. You never know..
        Up the Boro!

  14. Dormo, MFC will still pay salary for SA. But can he play for free at the Rockcliffe? Do the club also provide the club(s) for him, too?
    If he hits the ball over the fence to the practising ground, can he go and collect the ball? He must have the balls to go and meet his ex players, me thinks.
    Up the Boro!

    1. Not so much playing golf at Rockclife, but travelling up and down to various golf clubs in Yorkshire and beyond. A group of friends might choose, for example, to go to Fulford near York, one week, or into the West Riding, and have a little competition between themselves. Sometimes maybe a little more local. You don’t need to be members of that club but simply pay “green fees” to play a round at that golf club. Maybe a nice meal and a couple of drinks afterwards. Could be a worse life (though maybe not today – sleet and windy conditions).

      1. Was joking! The club puts one on gardening leave to play golf, then I was wondering if the club provides the course to do so. And perhaps the club giving clubs to play. And all in Rockcliffe!
        See you in March, mate. Up the Boro!

  15. Who has been the greatest manager in the history of British football? There would certainly be many nominations from Manchester United fans for Sir Matt Busby or Sir Alex Ferguson, Liverpool fans could argue that either Bill Shankley or Bob Paisley were deserving of that award, Celtic and Scottish fans would probably vote for Jock Stein, England and Ipswich supporters might say Sir Alf Ramsey, for after all little Ipswich Town won the Second Division Championship in 1961/62 and became the first, and to date, the only promoted team to then win the First Division Championship the following season, not withstanding the little matter of Ramsey managing England to its one and only World Cup Win in 1966. We might even vote for one of our own, the one and only Brian Clough who not only took unfationable Derby County to the First Division Championship in 1971/72, but repeated the feat with equally unfationable Nottingham Forest six years later, not to mention twice managing them to two European Cup wins.
    Well, noting Arsenal beating Huddersfield Town last night, I am tempted to put forward another name for consideration from the distant past, a man who managed both clubs. His name is Herbert Chapman, maybe not a household name to many of you, but a Yorkshireman from Kiveton Park. He first managed Northampton Town to the Southern League title before the First World War and was then soon snapped up to manage Leeds City, who as we all know by now, are the only club to be expelled from the Football League. Chapman was actually banned because of the club’s illegal payments scandal, but was exonerated on appeal.
    He eventually became manager of Huddersfield Town, and in successive seasons won the FA Cup in 1922 and followed that up with the First Division Championship title in the next two seasons. Remember Huddersfield were at that time along with Wigan, the two most formidable Rugby League clubs in the Country, and indeed Huddersfield in 1895 had been the city where Rugby League was born. So football being the minority sport in the city, Chapman’s feat was quite extraordinary considering Huddersfield Town had only been promoted in 1920.
    But that was only the start of Chapman’s achievements, because one of England’s greatest club at the time, Arsenal were keen to have him as its manager and that occurred in 1925. However, even without Chapman, Huddersfield won the league again for the third successive season with Arsenal runners up, and in fact Chapman’s legacy continued as Huddersfield were themselves runners up in the next two seasons also. Chapman’s impact at Arsenal didn’t take place immediately, although they were beaten FA Cup finalists in 1927 to a controversial goal by Cardiff City, which incidentally is the only time the FA Cup has been won by a non-English club. However, after winning the FA Cup again under Chapman in 1930, Arsenal then became League Champions four times in five seasons. Unfortunately Chapman only saw two of those four titles as he died prematurely with pneumonia in 1934 at the age of 55.
    Just as his legacy at Huddersfield lived on after he left, so did his legacy at Arsenal after his death. I therefore think that a good case could be made for Herbert Chapman, certainly the greatest British football manager in the pre-war era, to be considered as the greatest ever.

  16. Ken
    Isnt there a bust of Herbert Chapman at Arsenal?
    As with fooyballers, it is difficult to compare across the generations. In Herbert Chapman’s days footballers were very much slaves, post Jimmy Hill they have much more power.
    I tend to think that good players and managers would succeed in any era.
    If Mannion started out now he would be playing in the modern way and still be a star.
    What players cant get away with is not working for the team, we have seen the effect a player not being switched on can have on the outcome of a game even at our level.
    That is just the nature of the modern game.
    Talking of being switched on, I hope there are some light bulb moments at Rockcliffe this week and that doesn’t just mean the footballers.
    There is time left to push up the table but we need to stitch some good patches together in a match to get a 90+ minute performance starting at Bristol City.
    If we are still struggling after Christmas then even if we bring in players during the January window it takes time to blend them in to the side.
    We need any additions to come in to a winning squad and having to fight their way in to the squad.
    There again, will Steve Gibson dip his hand in to the transfer chest? Will he not want to throw good money after bad?
    I would be inclined to say get on with what you have but you do wonder how other clubs on limited budgets bring in players who can affect a game in a positive way.
    Roll on Saturday

    1. I can think of better uses for any cash SG may have left over rather than wasting more millions on somebody else’s “maybe’s but not quite’s but still might some day soon”. The squad as it is more than good enough but not if you have your plug leads in the wrong firing sequence from the distributor. The use of the words “distributor” and “firing” doesn’t reflect my sub concious, or does it? Besides nobody under 50 would have a clue what a distributor is nowadays.
      Mind you if he does want to splash some cash I’d suggest Nugent, Albert and even Reach would be a good start. Perhaps more important is getting some out of the door and therein lies the worry. Unfortunately if GM and I drew up two lists I’d bet the “keeps” and the “sells” would be the same names but on the exact opposite lists.

  17. I see GM has blamed a lack of focus and application for our recent implosion. That would appear to blame the individual rather than the collective or perhaps he did mean the collective?
    I agree about “focus” entirely but the problem goes back much further. I’m not sure the players know what they are supposed to be focussing on other than play really well. Structure and organisation provides something to focus upon, without it you become a Pub team with a bunch of lads loosely organised into “positions” giving it a go. A dearth of tactical nous on and off the pitch was far more to blame than focus and application. Countering opponents moves, strengths and weaknesses along with your own is of greater importance than telling players they should concentrate (or focus) more.
    Application I assume must be how hard they work running around getting themselves out of breath. Have to say he gets a really easy ride in these press conferences, still I guess if your job and mortgage is pending upon not getting barred then what else is there to do. Just hope he applies himself and focusses really hard before during and after Bristol if thats all the underwhelming problem is.

    1. Leadbitter seems to be the key here. His presence and influence on the pitch in organising the team is invaluable.Unfortunately his age is now against him.
      It seems obvious to me that a younger version needs to be sourced in January,

  18. Simon, interesting article as always. On your point about Bournemouth “going for it” and currently succeeding due to a carefree positive attitude, I don’t see it that way. I don’t think they really did “go for it”. They were promoted and initially established in the PL largely on the back of a fit, hardworking squad of low-cost lower league purchases, freebies and a bit of local talent. However, their biggest outlays of 3m on Callum Wilson and 500k on Matt Ritchie were arguably the trump cards that got them up. Brilliant scouting and recruitment yes, but a lot of those signings could have gone the other way (as ours tend to do), that they didn’t comes with the large slice of luck that low-cost signings always do. In their first PL season they spent 40m, so did start to “go for it” but those signings almost all failed and they very nearly went straight back down. Consequently they’ve spent 100m over 3 years in the PL but are currently on a very precarious slippery slope, not quite steady but definitely partial to a fall. That they haven’t pushed on and are now trailing Watford and Burnley is maybe because they’re no longer sure of their identity. After spending 100m they can’t claim to be little Bournemouth anymore but being a big player doesn’t really suit them either.

  19. Judging by what we’ve witnessed so far at home. I’d tend to agree with RR that I’m not sure the players know what it is that they’re supposed to be focussing on. They no longer seem to grasp the concept of playing a “pressing” game like they used to. The initiative seems to be happily handed to the opposition. Just what are they being coached to do?
    Agree with GHW that we need a new young Leadbitter to bring about some nous, drive and determination in the ranks. Although our other skipper, Gibbo, does a bit of shouting, it’s more to do with holding the defensive line. He is lacking in the creative area, so we need to address this.
    Until GM and his staff grasp this, I fear we’re in for mediocre fayre.

    1. When you have new players and a new young manager it is invaluable to have a “Coach” (insert your bee line jokes here) on the pitch. Anyone can shout, it’s game management we need.

      1. SPartak
        Where have you been?
        Incarcerated in the dungeons of the coliseum ?
        Or plumbing the depths of Atlantis ?
        Cattermole !
        Now there’s a player that a lot of players and coaches regretted leaving the Boro
        And a true leader on the pitch !

  20. On the extreme, any back four which allows a goal in , should all be dropped the next time,untill they learn
    Sounds crazy.
    In the past defenders had to defend,that was their job,and I mean kick,scratch,head,tackle,you name it,
    Today’s game basically all that have to do is clear the ball, because as we are told ,you defend from the front, everyone as a back four player,who by the way now are allowed to pass to each other at ease.have an easier time?
    Back in the day,forward had,their job,midfield had their,job,defenders had a much harder time defending
    ,many of the modern day back fours ,would have real hard time sticking around at that time.
    I understand the game has changed, but players should still held accountable, it’s their job,
    All footballers want to play,not train,so that’s the one thing a manager has going for him.
    On the other side when dropped they still get paid.
    When we are dropped from a job,you keep messing ,you are on the dole.

    1. Nonsense!!!
      Old time thinkng. Many players are now backed by savvy agents whose mission is to maximise revenue for themselves and by default the player they represent. Player not playing loses value – period.

  21. GT
    Part of the problem with defenders that the days of Dickie Rooks clearing everything out, a full back giving a hearty welcome to winger are no longer possible.
    In the same way just being an attacker and not worrying about other duties is impossible.
    That doesn’t mean we should accept our team acting with the intensity of Sergeant Wilson from Dads Army.

  22. I take a sabattical & the blog disappears into a bubble of self opinionated nonsense drifting back to the 1950’s. Dear,dear! Come on people, bin the zimmer frames, throw out the statins, this is 2017 here. Defenders don’t just defend, they are multi-tasking, total football demi-gods, worshipped by the unwashed and paid a kings ransom for the privilige. If they or their boss don’t come upto standand then they’re out the door on their well aid backsides eg I’m on permanent gardening leave Steve Agnew and I’m so great I can’t get a job Aitor Karanka.
    Of course, if they come to the Boro normal rules of achievement don’t apply.

  23. Spartak,
    It’s not conducive to debate to dismiss someone else’s view as “Nonsense!!!”. With three exclamation marks.
    Particularly when the essential point being made is the perfectly reasonable one that, in the age of the multi-functional player, the basics of playing in a particular position can sometimes be neglected. For example, in spite of their undoubted attacking talents, I think most Boro supporters would like to see Friend and Christie do the basics of their job of defending with much greater concentration and determination than they do at present.
    Incidentally the sentence, “I take a sabbatical and the blog disappears into a bubble of self-opinionating nonsense” is not only an uncalled for general insult, but far more self-opinionated than anything written on here in a very long time.
    You’re better than this. Certainly the blog deserves better.

    1. So, you have missed me, Len 🙂 If I were you, and I’m not, I wouldn’t take such overly concentrated notice of my use of the word ‘nonsense’. It’s use is merely to reflect my own stirring of the blood and acknowledges I’m still alive and kicking. It also has an added effect of generating same life approving replies as yours.
      Happy days!!!
      Wonder what happens if we lose against Bristol City? Strangely I expect us to win- but I could be wrong 🙂

  24. Welcome back Spartak
    The team has to perform as a team including the coaching sides. The whole has to be greater than the sum of the parts.
    In our case it is a black hole where the parts disappear.

  25. Good point-of-view, billog. Although when I implied Bournemouth had “gone for it”, I was contrasting their style of play against Clement’s Derby and Karanka’s Boro – compared with the tactical “master plans” (your mileage may vary!) of the Real Madrid alumni, Howe’s Bournemouth appeared to play with more freedom, less of a safety switch. Their goal feasts in 2014-15 spoke for themselves.
    Then it was announced at Christmas 2015 that the Cherries had broken FFP upon securing promotion – implying that they weren’t really ready, at least financially, but had gone for it anyway.
    I do agree with your last sentence, though – “…they’re no longer sure of their identity. After spending £100m they can’t claim to be little Bournemouth anymore but being a big player doesn’t really suit them either.”

    1. Simon, you’re dead right about the freedom that they played with in 2014 and I think that was down to the low expectations of a club that had only recently been an average League 1 side, as opposed to the added pressure on recent PL clubs like ourselves and Derby. Low expectations of the owners and fans removed the pressure from a manager who had returned from a distinctly average spell with Burnley so didn’t bring huge expectations himself, and from the players who were punching well above their weight . . similar to Sheff Utd this season in many ways.
      A lot of PL clubs are now experiencing an identity crisis that comes with plying their trade in the “best league in the world”, alongside the superstar millionaire players and their uber famous managers. They’re in the exclusive club where the top six are loving every minute but everyone else is smiling, pretending to have a good time while looking over their shoulders at the EFL exit door. A bit like when you’re at a posh wedding in a Country Hall with all its lavish trimmings, it’s OK for a while but really you’re longing to get back to your local.

  26. Great read Simon as always. And very different from theother headliners. This mixture makes for a great informative blog. Varied posts, differering opinions……super!!

  27. Thank you Pedro!
    Now, building on something Bob mentioned about not liking McClaren, here’s Werner Heisenberg from February 2016.
    “I don’t agree with (the) vilification of Steve Mclaren.
    “Was he lucky? …If so I enjoyed his good fortune in getting us qualified for Europe twice in a row, winning our first ever cup and getting us to a European final.
    “To paraphrase Napoleon Bonaparte, I would rather have one lucky manager than ten good ones. Even his signings were pretty fortunate weren’t they?
    “What would have happened if the FA had not got into a mess during the build up to our final in Eindhoven? (No one) can say (but) I think we were well on the way to building a sustainable team with a mixture of academy graduates and experienced professionals. There was a succession plan… That was all torpedoed when England came and left MFC’s plans in tatters.
    “If you would like to argue (that) his team was expensively assembled, yes, it was, but unlike Bryan Robson’s expensively assembled rabbles it actually functioned, and it was more than the sum of its parts.
    “If he was ambitious, good… Perhaps he just didn’t have the PR skills (or the mendacity) to hide his ambition, or to wrap himself in those fairytale phrases we like to hear. Look at the way Juninho couldn’t wait to get to get on the first plane to Madrid following relegation.”
    Now, contrast that with this…
    “‘We love to embrace the lifestyle, the same things the people from here do. We like to go to Whitby and eat fish and chips, to Leeds or Newcastle or Edinburgh.’
    “Karanka has a photograph of his two children on his desk, in his office in the heart of the Rockliffe training centre. His English, despite his apologies, is very good. He is a good- humoured individual who smiles a lot.”
    That was Martin Hardy of The Sunday Times in late 2014.
    It may well be as simple as McClaren not knowing how to play the game.

  28. McClaren’s team reminded me of Sir Matt Busby’s second great team of Best, Law and Charlton et al. Both successful (relatively speaking of course considering Boro had won nowt of merit and Europe was unthinkable) but over the hill squads well past their best by the time they departed their posts. Both clubs descended into the second tier as a direct consequence.
    In McClaren’s case he was spoilt by SG and had a plethora of experienced (former) top class players seeing out their playing days on big fat salaries and many others who were just on fat salaries. It was unsustainable and the reason why we had to have a fire sale when relegation came along and the club (SG) was left with debts of £100m or so around his neck. In truth even today we have never fully recovered and in part is the reason why we have been buying the complete opposite (Fletcher and Traore for example) so that we can resell and recoup our outlay at worse and make a profit at best.
    As “unsuitable” as many of 2016’s summer signings were when offloaded they did at least cover costs by and large and self fund this summer’s war chest. It was flawed and badly flawed at that by Premiership footballing terms as we know but it didn’t leave SG and NB frightened of answering the front door bell when we dropped back down. Orta paid the price for those shortcomings but we have continued in the same vein which is why our squad is good on paper yet seemingly still lacking and the proof if any where needed is why Downing and Grant for example are when fit now two of the first names on the team sheet.
    What we will never know is if McClaren had stayed would he like the younger Sir Matt have been able to rebuild another side. What we do know is successive Managers and the Club itself have never been able to get remotely close to those halcyon days because of the true cost of getting to Eindhoven. That brings us back to the here and now, GM is the best resourced manager since McClaren which is why serious questions are now being asked on here and elsewhere. We know that when the money finally dries up what happens and the clock is ticking.

    1. I’ll second that RR
      Not wishing to push the panic button yet I think we are all a bit pensive about the future
      It has not happened the way we thought it would

      1. Typical Boro will see a resounding victory tomorrow evening so the Monkees can have their “I told you so moment”!
        Puts on crash helmet and briskly walks away from device whistling whilst looking for nibbles 😉

    2. Yes, I think we got good money for the palyers who left last summer. Out net spent is no higher than some other C’ship clubs.
      Cannot remember but was Downing the only one offered free transfer last summer? McClaren’s team was dismantled with free transfers.
      But it was the same after Strachan, wasn’t it?
      Now something was finally learned. Up the Boro!

      1. RR, my terrible English again. I read you were looking something else than to eat.
        In our language we use only “P” not “B”. B is just there in one word (for banana). So I mixed BB or PP (misread your email again)!
        Up the Boro!

  29. Redcar Red
    The last 18 months of McClarens reign showed that it was coming to and end. We all celebrated getting back in to Europe via the league but the second half of that season saw us garner just over a point a game.
    The league form continued during the Eindhoven season, we got to the FA Cup semi and the glory of Eindhoven. In the league we potterd just above the relegation zone.
    Tuesdays at Blackburn in February was not at the forefront of the squads mind. The two glorious come backs masked the fact we had been largely out played by Basle and Steau.
    I wouldn’t swap the excitement for anything but season ticket gate showed the under lying league problems.
    The squad were old and expensive with no retail value.
    McClaren was going, luckily the FA gave us some money as well as taking him off our hands.

  30. Great posts, RR and Ian, btw. Can’t add much more except that the aftermath of McClaren’s reign reminded me of the beginning of Ghostbusters II.
    “After all we did for this city.”
    “Yeah, we conjured up a hundred-foot marshmallow man, blew the top three floors off an uptown high-rise, ended up getting sued by every state, county and city agency in New York.”
    “Yeah… But what a ride.”
    In other words, all that excitement came at a cost. Part of that, in McClaren’s case, being the £3.5 million he paid for Michael Ricketts.

    1. The £3.5 million for Michael Ricketts has got me thinking. During the next International break we could draw up a list of our biggest wastes of money to fill in the lull in proceedings, assuming of course that we are actually proceeding and shudder the thought not receding into League 1.

  31. Some more food for thought…
    If ever you needed examples of a manager making his mark and a memorable team – Big Jack and his Champions were those.
    As Colin Young said (read his biography of Big Jack if you haven’t already!) we are still talking about Hickton, Armstrong, Boam, Maddren, Mills, Foggon, Souness et al with “a fondness that even the cup winning side of the modern era (can’t) match”, and Jack “built a generation of Middlesbrough supporters”.
    People also thought he was “crackers” when he introduced the white band – now you can argue that no Boro kit is the same without it! His reason? “I knew my football and the value of being able to spot a teammate under pressure.”
    Also, when he met the players for the first time at Marton Hotel and Country Club, he laid it out on the line quickly: “There are some good players, some poor players and some lazy players.” As Ray Robertson put it, the players got the message and were determined not to be thought of as lazy.
    Jack was a character – like, arguably, many of the players in his Boro and Ireland teams. And while skilful players keep coming along, generation after generation, the right character is so much harder to find.
    Perhaps character is even *more* important than skill. Which may well be why we’ve continued to rely on Grant Leadbitter for leadership for longer than we should have.

    1. I don’t know if you have kept in touch with local news Si but the Marton Country Clib closed its doors for the last time a few months ago.
      An auction this week of all the fixtures and fittings were sold including the dance floor which went for £500! I remember that dance floor having gone to a MFC dinner dance with Mrs OFB and somehow ended up doing the hokey kokey with Savid Armstrong (purely platonic you understand). The evening buffet was very upmarket (not) and we queued in line for our saveloys and pease pudding. I also remember standing in line next to Terry Cooper who pointed out a particular large saveloy (a salami style sausage) and remarked that it reminded him of Jim Platt. Make of that what you will….
      So the Marton Country Club is no more amd is getting knocked down to be replaced by houses or flats or even a hotel!
      But the place will Long remain in the memory of all those who attended the functions held there

      1. Fond memory of my sister’s wedding reception there, the day we ran riot against Sheffield Wednesday. Missed that match, but at least me and my kid brother had the privilege to get a photo taken with the team who were having their pre match lunch there. I still have that picture as one of my most treasured possessions. Big Jack himself had his picture taken with my sister and her new husband.

  32. Ken – Didn’t Forest under Clough also win the 1st Division title the season after they were promoted? Maybe my memory is playing tricks.
    Boro could have won it the season after they were promoted if Big Jack had bought Paul Mariner…. if only!
    Is the Bristol City match on Sky then? Given its a teatime kick off.

  33. In 76 I worked for an offshore engineering company and the directors and big jack used to go shooting together
    Jack wanted a new tv stand and some additional spectator barriers
    We carried out the work and I made sure the design of the nearest barrier to me was large enough to accommodate seating for my two lads which we used for many years until they put seats in the chicken run

  34. Simon
    Was home on leave and watched that Spuds game. When Ricketts put the equaliser in I remember clear as day doing a celebratory jig eioing around the living room. As I recall Mrs FAA didn’t even look up from her book.
    Any chance of a repeat seems an awfully long way off.
    Very interesting article by the way👍🏻

  35. I will be travelling during the weekend. So may I make my guess about the Saturday’s result now?
    I will go for a 0-2 win. Or as a man from the shed would have said: Robin 0 Batman 2.
    Britt will get the first after about 15 min and Gibbo on 80th minute. The wheels are not coming off the Batmobile just yet.
    If Derby got the points from Riverside last week, we are due some points from Brissol, too. The last player to score for Boro against City was Ismael Miller – just after the war or something. We are due some points now.
    Up the Boro!

  36. Simon
    Great blog
    But lots of points with massive ? Marks
    Lets try AK ( avoiding trips down memory lane)
    Without any English ( black mark to the club, should have fixed the problem)
    Introduced organisation
    Dumped worthless players
    Brought in players/ sold for profit those who failed to make it
    Forced the team to play to his rules
    Made his rules very plain
    Do not concede goals. The reason? Without backbone you will not win if you fall behind. And the team he inherited had no trace of a spine.
    The tales of utter worthlessness followed by heroic deeds are not typical boro, they are footballers “out of control”
    AK’s offence was to take exception to such behaviour, hence the habit of winning the home games.
    With the benefit of hindsight I now believe the Wembley playoff defeat was a bunch of players saying ” thanks but no thanks” going into the prem. Was not for them.
    ” outside their comfort zone”
    The following season was very difficult for the poor dears, they did their best to head it off, but being at home to their greatest rabbits was a bridge too far.
    The players got rid of AK .
    They are now working on the crowd, followed by GM.

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