With the rumours eventually becoming reality when Garry Monk was announced as Boro's new manager...
It's time to take a look at the MFC End of Season Report to see how the players from the 2016-17 Premier League season performed.
Aitor Karanka - 5 out of 10 - started the season well with a win and 2 draws in the first 3 games, including a memorable 2-1 away win against Sunderland, this was followed with only 2 points being picked up in the next 6 games as we found ourselves 17th in the table.
The next 8 games included our first home win against Bournemouth, in addition to a good away point against Man City, and an unfortunate not to take the full 3 away to Leicester, before a couple more home victories against Hull and Swansea. At this point in the season we were sitting in14th place after 17 games and as Christmas approached very few could have predicted the turn of events which would occur as the new year rolled around.
AK only secured 4 points in the next10 games which saw us drop into the relegation zone, and the writing was then really on the wall, especially after he had been unable to hold back his feelings about the fans, transfer policyplayer's attitude as the pressure mounted. My first real frustration with AK came in our 0-0 draw with Leicester at home early in the New Year, this was a team who under Ranieri couldn't findthe cylinders to fire on, and the game was really there for the taking, but as the minutes ticked on AK was reluctant to push for the win and seemed happy to take a point from the game which could easily have been 3.
This stubbornness, with an inability to remain calm under pressure, seemed to be his undoing, though I have little doubt he will go on to further successes in the world of football management.
Steve Agnew - 3 out of 10 - I know some people who are sympathetic with SA that he inherited a club in a precarious position in the league and was potentially on a hiding to nothing, but lets notforget he took on the role willingly and although he made claims of his ability to "drip feed creative ideas" into the team he was only able to give us a lowly return of 6 points during his 10games in charge, which included some disappointing results against the likes of Hull, Swansea, Burnley and Bournemouth, all the while remaining positive he could turn things around
Personally Ialso wasn't at all impressed with his dealing with Dimi who for me should have started one or both of the last 2 games of the season, nor with his decision to make Downing almost the first nameon the team sheet for the remainder of the season, when his previous performances had not merited it.
I've no doubt that SA is a good coach and a nice guy, but a manager that doth not maketh, I remember it struck me as odd during one of our home games towards the end of the season seeing Steve running round at the end of the pre-match warm-up tidying up the little plastic markers. To me this stood out that he hadn't really transitioned properly into the manager's mindset, and was still far more comfortable in his role as a team coach.
Whether Boro keep Steve on as coach is a tricky decision for me, he's been at the club on and off for many years and is held in high regard, but the question will be do the players still hold the same level of respect for him after his fairly poor managerial efforts, and will he fit in with any other coaching staff GM wants to bring into the club.
Dimi - 10 out of 10 - a fans favourite, I really felt Dimi should have been given a chance in the Premier League to prove himself, though this may be a case of my heart ruling my head.
Limitedto a solitary clean sheet appearance versus Accrington Stanley in the FA Cup, and was badly treated by not being allowed to be given a send-off by the fans by making a start against Southamptonin our last home game of the season. I wish him well after a successful 4 years at the club.
Brad Guzan - 5 out of 10 - wobbly at best, capable of making some decent saves but also prone to the odd nutmeg. In my time as a football supporter I have never before seen the home fans shout for their own keeper to be sent off during a game, and I doubt this is something I will ever see repeated. Not sorry to see BG moving onto Atlanta.
Victor Valdes - 7 out of 10 - one of the better performers this season, after a slightly iffy start and an unpopular confrontation with Clayts in an early home game, he performed some great shot stopping heroics and kept us in quite a few matches. He was still prone to the odd mistake, such as the stumble against Man Utd for their 3rd goal, and could have possibly done better with his positioning for Fellaini's first goal in the same game. A shame to see him move on but even at 35 he's still too good for the Championship.
Fabio - 6 ouf of 10 - offered pace at full back and showed a real desire and commitment that fans love to see, gave his all whenever he was picked to play and became a regular in the team. Will hopefully stay with the club as offers good cover on either flank.
George Friend - 6 out of 10 - seemed to take a while to settle in the Premier League, and when he did he was then unfortunate with a serious of injuries which limited his playing time, was fullof intention, effort and forages into the opponents half in the last few home games of the season, giving his usual trademark (ala Stuart Pearce) encouragement for the fans to get behind theteam. As much as I love big George, I haven't decided if he is a cracking Championship player who isn't quite good enough for the top flight or is the real Premier League deal, so it's a shamewe couldn't see him playing for the Boro for another season in the EPL, but I also pray that another team (such as the rumoured Burnley) doesn't come in to snap him up.
Daniel Ayala - 6 out of 10 - a little unlucky this season due to injuries, suspensions and the form of Calum Chambers which kept him out of the team, looked fairly capable when he did play in his familiar central defensive role. Hopefully he will remain at the club as he was one of the best defenders in the Championship last time around.
Bernardo Espinosa - 6 out of 10 - didn't get a look in until late in the year, and initially his distribution left a lot to be desired, thankfully this improved and he looked pretty solid, offeringgood cover options for Chambers, Gibson and Ayala. Shouldn't have difficulty in the Championship, and would be a good option if Ayala decides to move on.
Ben Gibson - 8 out of 10 - played every single minute in the Premier League this season, getting himself an England call up in the process. Looked as solid and dependable as ever and was able toplay equally well with any other central defender who was brought into the squad. Loves the club and the club loves him, would be a big loss if he moves on and if we are forced to sell we shouldn't consider letting him go for less than 40 million.
Will have a dilemma on his hands as he knows he needs to be playing PL football to retain his place in the England squad, but will alsoknow this means leaving his home town club and that it would be a very difficult task dislodging the first choice England centre backs from the team. My gut feel is if a team such as Liverpoolcome knocking he should make the move, his game will improve much quicker playing in the top flight and there is no guarantee Boro will get promoted from the Championship at the first time ofasking.
Antonio Barragan - 6 out of 10 - played the majority of games, and looked very capable at right back, but did start to look less accomplished towards the end of the season, should still be goodenough qualty for the Championship but hard to see how he has improved our right back position from Emilio Nsue.
Calum Chambers - 8 out of 10 - quality player who looked very capable at centre back, and very promising in the right back position, full of fight and determination, and gave his all for theclub in every game he played. Difficult to understand how he isn't a regular in the Arsenal team, would be a very decent signing for any PL team who could snatch him out from under ArseneWenger's nose.
Grant Leadbitter - 6 out of 10 - didn't get much of a look in until late in the year due to injury, managed a couple of goals in the space of 8 days against Man Utd in the EPL and a free-kick against Sheff Wed in the FA Cup. Was then in and out of the team for the remainder of the season, always gave his all on the pitch and as always never shirked away from a tackle. Might be observedthat he's no longer quite good enough for the EPL but I'd argue with the right forward thinking players in the midfield he could still do a solid job, expect him to step back down with ease intothe Championship like the true professional he is.
Adam Clayton - 6 out of 10 - a regular in the team all season, and amazingly for his combative nature and no nonsense tackling wasn't suspended for a single game, the image of him clinging onto his opponents shirt and being dragged 10 yards in our last home game versus Southamptom epitomised everything about Clayts game, willing to do anything it takes to stop the opponents in theirtracks.
A little bit too sideways in his distribution, but often I think this was due to having limited options to make a forward pass, already proved himself very capable in the Championship, but it would be good to see him improving in his shooting prowess next season.
Marten De Roon - 7 out of 10 - another regular in the first team after his 12 million pound move from Atalanta, full of energy and work ethic, good in the tackle, and chipped in with 5 EPL goalsand 1 in the FA Cup, making him our joint 2nd top scorer. Arguably the better of our 3 combative central midfielders this season, and unlikely to remain at Boro for our return to the Championship.If and when he does move on I'd expect us to get a similar return on the money we invested in him.
Cristhian Stuani - 6 out of 10 - Boro's other 2nd joint top scorer, including his unforgettable strike from outside the 18 yard box in our first away game of the season against Sunderland.
Playedmostly out of position for a 2nd season in a row, but blew hot and (mainly) cold for a 2nd season in a row, doesn't look to have the work ethic nor the skill required for the top level of the game. Wouldn't be unhappy to see him move on as there are more natural wide players available which we should be able to attract to the club and I don't think he is clinical enough to play in his more familiar centre forward role.
Stewart Downing - 5 out of 10 - a 2nd disappointing season in a row from Stewy since his return to his home club from West Ham, not as fast as he once was so unable to push the ball past playersand beat them in a straight sprint like he used to, and seems happy playing a sideways game 99% of the time.
Has not impressed playing in either attacking midfield or wide positions, apart from thehome game against Arsenal where he was deployed on the right side, and went on a few successful dribbles to the by-line and set up Negredo nicely for his headed goal. Seemed to appoint himself asclub spokesmen after Karanka's departure, and remained blindly optimistic that Boro would survive when performances, not least from himself, indicated otherwise. It's difficult to say as Downing is'one of our own' but I honestly think SG and GM would do Boro's Championship hopes a favour by moving him on, he has openly talked of 'passengers' at the club when from the stands it looks as ifhe is often the one coasting through games in 2nd gear. If he does say I hope he proves me wrong next season but I have plenty of reasons to doubt this will be the case.
Gaston Ramirez - 6 out of 10 - had a pretty average start to the season before exploding into the limelight with his terrific dribble, sprint and finish against Bournemouth in late October, he followed up with a headed goal against Hull in early December to grab victory.
The remainder of the season was unmemorable on the pitch where Gaston is concerned, after handing in a disruptivetransfer request in the January window, he returned from injury in Feb to regularly run around like a headless frustrated chicken who was determined to get himself sent off, which finally happenedaway to Bournemouth in what turned out to be his last game of the season, and likely for the club. Was a delight to see in the Championship the previous season, but I doubt many fans will be sadto see him leave the club, as a football supporter you want to see flair players in your team, which on a good day Gaston certainly is, but it's more important to have players who look like theywould die for the club every time they pull the Boro shirt on.
Adlene Guedioura - Bizarre signing of the season, signed in the January window but hardly featured at all, difficult to judge if he will fit into GM's plans for next season, but unless we can bring in other creative options, and assuming Ramirez leaves, he is someone we should probably hold onto.
Adam Forshaw - 6 out of 10 - didn't look too out of place in the EPL, and was slightly more forward thinking than other central midfield options, doing well to find Negredo with a defencesplitting pass for him to square to Stuani for his 2nd goal against Sunderland. Much improved from last season in the Championship it will be interesting to see if he continues to look muchimproved when he drops back down again to that level.
Alvaro Negredo - 7 out of 10 - 10 goals in all competitions for Boro's top scorer, worked hard for the team and offered some neat touches in midfield when he wasn't finding the target in the box. Got increasingly frustrated with service as the season went on, and didn't convince fully as a lone striker, often misplacing knock down headers, and rarely seen making diagonal forward runs from which he could be found with a ball over the top or between defenders.
Viktor Fischer - 5 out of 10 - struggled to find his feet in the EPL, although wasn't given too much of a run in the team to prove himself, offers much needed pace out wide, delivered a decent crossfor Bamford's goal against Southampton. Still an unknown quantity but will be interesting to see how he fares in the Championship if GM decides to keep him at the club.
Patrick Bamford - 6 out of 10 - limited to bit part appearances after signing in the January window, a real fans favourite after scoring 17 goals in 38 games for the club in the 2014-15 Championship season.
Seemed like the most delighted centre forward on the planet when he finally scored from a fine header in the last home game of the season, and he was still beaming during the post-matchinterview afterwards. Has returned early from the summer break to work on his game and the hope would be he can return to his goal scoring exploits in the Championship once more.
Rudy Gestede - 6 out of 10 - another January arrival, Gestede saw more playing time than Bamford after bagging an FA Cup goal in mid-Feb and an EPL goal against Man Utd in mid-March, and offered adifferent option upfront due to his large presence. He should have followed up his goal against United in the following fixture away to Swansea, putting his header wide of the target in the dyingminutes of the game.
Had a good couple of goal scoring seasons previously in the Championship with Blackburn but looks to need improvements to his fitness levels if he is return to those levels. Apartnership of Gestede and Bamford on form in the Championship could return a hatful of goals but it's likely GM will want to add another striker before the season kicks off so Paddy and Rudy willlikely be fighting for their starts upfront.
Adama Traore - 6 out of 10 - played a lot of games for Boro after his switch from Aston Villa, an exciting player to watch, and almost unstoppable at times with the ball at his feet, but as the season rolled on it was easy to become tired with his lack of productivity for the team. Seems unable to play with his back to goal or running onto balls over the top, instead he prefers to pick the ball up in midfield where he can run face on against the opposing fearful players. Didn't find the net all season and had very few telling contributions towards goal scoring opportunities.
Worth remembering though at only 21 years of age he is a raw talent, and with the right development could become a decent top flight player. When Cristiano Ronaldo signed for Man Utd, although he was muchmore effective than Traore he was still very far from a finished article, and his distribution was often no better than other flair players in the squad during his time there, such as Nani and Anderson.
Now I'm not saying Adama is the next Cristiano in the making, far from it, but there is potential there for sure, it comes down to whether GM thinks from initial impressions if he can help improve his game and help him become a player who can terrorise the Championship, assuming another club doesn't come biting for him in the meantime. Albert Adomah - managed 120 odd minutes in the Premier Leage before being shipped off to Aston Villa, after a successful previous Championship season Karanka's decision to let him move on so quicklyseemed rash, especially when we lacked decent wide options all season. Perhaps having worked with Traore previously AK decided the opportunity to bring him in was too good to miss and Albert becameleverage in that deal, I can't help think although Adomah probably isn't EPL standard we would have scored a few more goals this season if he'd remained at the club.
Jordan Rhodes - much like Adomah, Rhodes probably isn't good enough for the EPL, but I can't help feeling bad for the way he was treated this season, limited to a handful of appearances and leftfurther and further out in the cold as the January transfer window approached. Respect to him for staying calm, keeping his own counsel, and moving on without a fuss when the opportunity arose, hedidn't find the net too many times for Sheff Wed after his move, but personally I hope he returns to his Blackburn goal scoring days next season, as long as Sheff Wed don't pip Boro to an automaticpromotion place in the process.With the removal of a little dead weight, and the replacement of hopefully a small number of players who will inevitably move on during the transfer window, GM should have a good squad to make a run at the Championship title in the coming season. He gave a wry smile in his first interview when asked if he would fulfil Steve Gibson's ambitions to 'smash the league', and there is an awful lot of hard work for GM and the team between now and the end of the season if that is to become a reality.
Boro's 89 points for 2nd place and promotion in the 2015-16 season would only have been enough for a playoff place behind Newcastle and Brighton in the season just gone, so they will certainly need to hit the ground running under GM if the Championship is going to be smashed to pieces.In reality Boro fans will likely need to be patient with our new manager and be realistic with their expectations for the coming season, a section of Boro fans were frustrated with Karanka during his tenure and remarked he should have done better in our Championship promotion season, but he still left the club with the best record for any Boro manager who had been at the club for more than one season.AK will certainly live long in my happy memories, and it was he who helped reignite my optimism that my beloved Boro were moving in the right direction after a fairly dismal 4 year spell under Strachan and Mowbray, and as sad as I was to see AK leave the club I remain optimistic that GM is the right choice at this point in time to move us forward and guide us back into the Premier League.