Karanka’s first game in charge: Where are they now?
We take a look back at Aitor Karanka's first Boro team, and where they are now!
GK: Jason Steele
Was Boro’s undisputed number 1 upon Karanka’s arrival, but he was sent off just before half-time and he only played one more game before he left for Blackburn in the summer of 2014. Initially on loan, Steele impressed enough at Blackburn to earn a permanent move to Ewood Park where he is now number 1. Has played over 70 league games for the club and has been the favoured ‘keeper under Gary Bowyer, Paul Lambert and now Owen Coyle.
RB: Frazer Richardson
One the club’ summer signings that year, Richardson failed to impress Karanka and he was soon behind Kenneth Omeruo and defensive midfielder Jozsef Varga in the right-back pecking order. Moved on loan to Ipswich in the winter transfer window before leaving permanently in the summer to join Rotherham. However, he failed to make a significant impact in two seasons at the club and he now finds himself in League Two with Doncaster Rovers.
CB: Jonathan Woodgate
One of the most naturally gifted players to come from Teesside, Woodgate’s career was plagued by injury and he didn’t play much under Karanka, although the Spaniard was always quick to praise him in press conferences. He initially left the club after his contract expired in the summer of 2015, but he was given a one-year deal to help Boro out with their defensive problems. Became a cult hero on Teesside before eventually retiring in 2016. Reports emerged earlier this season that he is now a scout for Liverpool.
CB: Daniel Ayala
One of just four players from Aitor Karanka’s first match day squad to still be with the club. Ayala has gone from an unreliable centre-back to one of the best defenders in the Championship last season. He made an error in the game which led to Steele being sent off but he became one of Boro’s most important players as they secured a return to the Premier League. He signed a new deal with the club in the summer amid interest from Newcastle but his season in the Premier League has been stop start due to a recurring ankle problem.
LB: George Friend
One of the bargains of the last 10 years, Gorgeous George has also become one of the most popular players on Teesside. His consistently impressive displays have made him one of the core players in Aitor Karanka’s squad. Although he initially struggled to impress in the Premier League, he now looks the part before his most recent injury stopped his momentum. It’s hard to imagine a Boro team without George in it, and fans will hope that he is on Teesside for the long haul.
DM: Richie Smallwood
A popular figure on Teesside due to his work rate and determination to succeed with his hometown club. Karanka was a big fan of the now 25-year-old but let him leave the club in 2014 due to his limited opportunities in the first team. He initially joined League One Rotherham on loan and helped them secure promotion to the Championship, before joining them on a permanent basis in the summer. Has played 87 times for the Millers - becoming a fan favourite in the process - before joining Scunthorpe on loan in a shock move. Has been reported that he will be recalled by new Rotherham boss Kenny Jackett in January.
DM: Grant Leadbitter
Described as Aitor Karanka’s representative on the pitch. The manager and skipper have a great relationship and that has made the Sunderland-born midfielder key to Boro’s recent success. Has more than earned his opportunity to play in the Premier League and with the captain now back to full fitness, he is expected to feature in the starting XI in the next few weeks. Since his move to the club in 2012, Leadbitter has played nearly 190 games at the Riverside, scoring 26 goals.
RW: Albert Adomah
Moved to the club in 2013 in a £1m move, Adomah was one of a few Tony Mowbray signings that cost a seven-figure fee. His performances on the pitch and personality off it saw him become a very popular figure on Teesside, until a very public falling out with the manager. He was key to Boro’s success over the next two seasons and chipped in with some crucial goals while he was on Teesside. Things, though, turned sour after the club were promoted to the Premier League after his brother revealed on Instagram that he had turned down a new contract with the club. Because of that, he moved on and signed for Aston Villa before the transfer deadline.
AM: Marvin Emnes
One of Mowbray’s favourites during his time in the hot seat, Emnes was never the same player after the club refused to sell him to Swansea City in 2012. His lack of work rate was something that was never going to endear him to Karanka and in the January transfer window, he was shipped out on loan to now Premier League Swansea. He scored once in just nine appearances upon his return to the Liberty and earned a permanent move to Wales in the summer. However, in the next two seasons, he played just 24 times - only 19 of which came in the Premier League - and scored just three goals. This summer he was sent out on loan to Championship side Blackburn Rovers where is in better form, scoring 3 goals in 12 appearances.
LW: Muzzy Carayol
It took a while, but flying winger Muzzy Carayol finally left Middlesbrough on a permanent deal in the summer of 2016 on a free transfer to Nottingham Forest. Injuries blighted his time on Teesside and Karanka was far from impressed with his attitude in training and on the pitch. During his time with the club, Carayol spent time on loan with Brighton, Huddersfield and Leeds but failed to impress with any of them. He criticised the town after his move to Forest and he won’t be remembered fondly by the majority of Boro fans.
ST: Kei Kamara
Another player that didn’t leave the club on the best of terms. The Sierra Leone international was initially a popular figure on Teesside, although it was more because of his social media activity than his performances on the pitch. Signed for £900,000, Kamara left the club after just one season when the two parties agreed to cancel his contract and move on. He returned to America after his Boro release and he has been a hit with Columbus Crew and New England Revolution. He scored just 4 goals in 25 games at the Riverside.
GK: Jayson Leutwiler
Not a lot was known about the Swiss shot stopper when he joined the club on a free transfer in 2012 and spent two seasons with the club before his release. He was very much deputy to Jason Steele under Tony Mowbray and only played in Karanka’s first game because of the ‘keeper’s red card against Leeds. He moved to Shrewsbury Town in 2014 and established himself as the club’s number 1, playing nearly 100 times for the club. He also made his full international debut this year after coming on for Canada in November.
DF: Rhys Williams
Possibly one of the most unfortunate Boro players in recent years, Williams had the talent and natural ability to go very far in the game, but injuries have ruined his career. At the peak of his form on Teesside, he was linked with moves to the Premier League with Bolton and Liverpool, but he left the club in the summer after his contract expired and moved back to Australia with Perth Glory. It will hopefully be a chance for the 28-year-old to rebuild his career and earn a recall to the national side.
MF: Jacob Butterfield
The attacking midfielder was a player that excited fans in his short stay with the club but he never seemed to fit in Aitor Karanka’s favoured 4-2-3-1 system. He played 3 times in 32 games in his only season at the club before he moved to Huddersfield in 2014, a move that saw Adam Clayton move in the opposite direction. He was a big success in Yorkshire and his form there earned him a £5m move Derby last summer, but he still finds himself in the Championship.
ST: Lukas Jutkiewicz
The Southampton-born striker was a target for Tony Mowbray for some time before eventually joining in January 2012. He signed on an emergency loan deal so he could play against Burnley but completed a permanent transfer just days later. The reported £1.5m fee spent on ‘The Juke’ was the most that Mogga would spend as manager but his time on Teesside wasn’t a success. Although he endeared himself to fans with a goal against Sunderland in the FA Cup, he scored just 15 goals in 71 games. He joined Bolton on loan with 2014 and scored 7 goals in 20 appearances, earning himself a move to newly-promoted Burnley that summer. His time with the Clarets was blighted by poor form and injury and he’s now on loan in the Championship with Birmingham City.
MF: Dean Whitehead
Despite a difficult start to life at the Riverside, Whitehead became a fans’ favourite at Boro and is still lauded as a cult hero, despite leaving the club over a year ago. Whitehead can still be spotted watching the Boro when he’s not in action with Huddersfield and he still talks positively about the club on Twitter. His high point at the club was undoubtedly putting in a sterling display at right-back against Manchester City.
DF: Ben Gibson
While hometown defender Gibson is now a mainstay in the Boro side, he was still learning about his game when Karanka first took over as Boro boss. He has been crucial under Karanka and under the guidance of the former Real Madrid defender, he has become one of England’s best defensive prospects. He has taken to the Premier League like a duck to water and looks to be getting better with every passing game. Said to be on the cusp on the national team, he’s certainly come a long way in such a short period, and he has even captained the team in the absence of Grant Leadbitter and George Friend.
ST: Curtis Main
Once a highly-rated prospect, the signing for the former Darlington striker seemed to be a gamble worth taking for Tony Mowbray in 2011. Main became a popular player with Boro fans for his work rate and determination but he never scored the goals that were expected of him. In 2014, he moved to League One Doncaster Rovers as part of the deal that saw James Husband move to Teesside. He scored 6 goals in 52 games for Boro and has since gone on to play for Rovers, Oldham (loan) and is now with Portsmouth.