Boro Season Preview - Proven Quality & a Summer of Rebuilding
7 years trying to get back into the Premier League were effectively wasted as Middlesbrough limped back into the Championship with barely a whisper.
Even the brightest of rose-tinted glasses couldn’t gloss over the disappointment of last season. It was woeful. From the recruitment, to management staff, to the playing staff: there were serious issues across the whole club last season.
With relegation confirmed, Steve Gibson talked in an interview about these problems. He emphasised the need to make significant changes to ensure the club were in the best possible position to “smash the league” and return to the top flight at the first time of asking.
The summer was about rebuilding the club from top to bottom. New manager, new staff, new players and reinstated sense of confidence.
A Summer Of Rebuilding
After the season finale at Anfield, fans were eagerly anticipating the announcement of a new manager. I’ll be honest, I was very worried about some of the names linked with the position. The usual suspects of Nigel Pearson and Schteve McLaren emerged as frontrunners. Uninspiring to say the least. Any of these so-called experienced managers would have been a backwards step, so it was vital that Gibson carried on his tradition of giving new, up and coming managers a chance.
With this in mind, Garry Monk ticks the boxes. Initially he wasn’t in the picture as it was presumed that he’d sign a new contract at Leeds United. He was arguably their best manager in the Cellinio era, so it seemed a forgone conclusion he’d be given another season to build upon the progress he’d made. That didn’t happen and from that moment it seemed Garry Monk would be the obvious choice.
Since his arrival at the club, this rebuilding Steve Gibson talked about has happened at a rapid pace. The remaining members of Karanka’s continental coaching staff swiftly departed and were replaced by Monk’s own team. Recruitment guru Victor Orta left the club and took up a new role at Leeds United, were his policy of signing unknown players has already been installed. The likes of Victor Valdes, Negredo, Espinosa and Barragan were moved on as Monk got to work on clearing out Karanka’s crop of Premier League failures.
Whilst it was obvious some fire-power and creativity was required to be purchased in the summer transfer window, Middlesbrough still had a strong squad. The core group of players who gained promotion to the Premier League were still at the club and could prove to be crucial this season.
Ben Gibson, Daniel Ayala, George Friend and Dimi, all be it he won’t appear much this season, still remain from back line who had the best defensive record in the country two seasons ago. Adam Clayton, Grant Leadbitter and Adam Forshaw know the league inside out, whilst Patrick Bamford picked up the players of the season award when he was on loan from Chelsea.
There was a core group of players to build on that could challenge from the title with a few additions. Garry Monk’s transfer policy has been focused around buying players who’re familiar with the division and will hit the ground running. Howson was the stand-out player when Norwich beat Middlesbrough at Wembley, Christie was a regular for Derby and Britt Assombalonga knows where the net is. The only relatively unknown addition is Martin Braithwaite, who arrived from French football. He’s shown glimpses of quality so far in pre-season and is a lively addition to a forward line which is now full of pace and power.
Pre-season hasn't been spectacular. But that’s good. The most important achievement this summer has been appointing the right manager and building a squad capable of returning to the Premier League. The squad is full of talent, with some players yet to reach their potential. Adama Traore is a prime example. If he can find his form, he’ll tear the league apart. But it’s a big if. If everything clicks like it can do, Middlesbrough will be promoted. But the Championship is hard and with even more ‘big’ clubs in this season, it’s going to a long season.
Key Player: Patrick Bamford
When he was last at Middlesbrough, he scored for fun and picked up the player of the season award. It’s been a difficult few years for Patrick since then, but the talent is their. This is his make or break season, but he’s eager to live up to his potential. He scores and creates.
Best Signing: Britt Assombalonga
Ask any Middlesbrough fan and they’ll tell you they’ve been crying out for a striker like Britt for years. Pace and power is not something the Riverside as seen leading the line since Yakubu, and even he wasn’t the quickest. He’s a goalscorer. The final ingredient to a solid foundation.
Highlight of pre-season: Appointing Garry Monk
It was obvious Steve Agnew could not continue as manager and Gibson swooped swiftly to appoint the best available option.
Finishing Position: 2nd
Michael Oakes @radioakes