Another transfer window and another wave of discussion surrounding Martin Braithwaite – hard to believe he only signed at the beginning of last season.
The constant speculation and transfer chitter chatter, the perpetual debates on whether he should be included, or whether he’s being forced out, or if his attitude stinks. It’s become a saga that should hopefully reach its overdue conclusion this month, after reports of Leganes (who were in for him in August) being on the verge of striking up a loan deal surfaced last week.
Whilst it’s only a loan again, following the same path as last season when he joined Bordeaux shortly after Tony Pulis arrived, the sense this time is that he’ll definitely not be back. In all honestly I was surprised he came back in the summer, but the renewed hope and optimism has been nothing but a disappointingly false dawn.
You may feel my words sounds rather harsh, and they do, but in actual fact it’s nothing personal. I’m just bored.
Aside from the opening months of his time here, where he went on a PR drive of epic proportions reaching out to the Teesside public on Twitter looking for Parmo recommendations (no doubt told by his PR team that it was the local delicacy), he also foolishly compared himself to Juninho.
TLF is a legend, they’re pretty big boots to fill (ironically), and whilst the tweet wasn’t strictly a comparison between the Brazilian magician and him, more a nod to the No.10 shirt and what it means, it was a rather bold thing to do so early on.
Clever too, it got the right reaction from fans, who understandably felt this new guy straightaway ‘got’ his new fanbase.
Credit to him, at least he was looking to interact form the off, however as time went on this would all prove to be nothing more than a bit of lazy flannelling.
He looked impressive enough in the early days, bagging three goals in his first seven starts. Despite being side-lined after the season’s opener for around six weeks, pre-season showings and his lively display in the defeat to Wolves prior to his injury gave hope to us having a player perhaps in the mould of Paul Merson; a top level player coming down to the Championship to spearhead a promotion charge.
Continued decent displays, slowly getting up to speed with the rigours of English football, he provided a neat assist for Marcus Tavernier in the derby against Sunderland at a rocking Riverside. Whilst at times looking lightweight his technique was a cut above his teammates, quite often standing out as he pirouetted past a marker, or ghosted in and around that much talked about ‘No.10’ area.
But when Garry Monk was shown the door, Braithwaite would soon get itchy feet.
Whilst he bagged a goal in Pulis’ first game (well, technically Craig Liddle took charge) as well as grabbing one in the FA Cup 3rd round tie against the Black Cats, by this time talk arose of unrest.
A clash of football ideologies took place.
Like all of us, I guess he hadn’t banked on Monk, an attack-minded coach sympathetic to a flair player such as Braithwaite, getting the boot when he did. So when Pulis comes to town, he’ll have felt immediately that he’d be up against it.
On the outside looking in, it’s easy to assume he downed tools, or showed signs of displeasure, whatever it was there was clearly something amiss.
And so it proved, after many murmurings of discontent he was moved on to Bordeaux for the rest of the season, with the World Cup no doubt in the forefront of his mind. Understandable I guess, but who’s to say he couldn’t have impressed in a Boro shirt under Pulis?
Then again, as it transpired, he didn’t want to.
“I would be more of a defender than the offensive type of attacker, which I think I am. Nobody would have profited if I had stayed” he said when quizzed about why he moved on in the January window.
It ties in with what Pulis had mentioned around that time rather a lot, since repeating it earlier this season. He spoke a lot of players wanting to “get off again” relatively soon after arriving, failing to understand why some couldn’t settle long-term on Teesside.
As these things tend to do, it caused a division of opinion among fans. Those of a Pulis persuasion, backing the manager and claiming the player looked to get off as soon as the going got tough. And of course, there were those who saw this as early proof that Pulis was looking to weed out any positive thinking players in favour signing defensive minded, ‘solid’ players.
The emergence (once more) of Adama Traore tempered the suggestion the Welshman had a dislike for any player willing to think forward first, but it also suggested the difference between a player who wanted to learn, adapt and fight (Traore), and one who wasn’t willing to do any of those things (you know who).
As Boro’s season ended on a low note with play-off semi-final defeat, talk centred on a lack of creativity other than Traore and how it was exposed against Aston Villa. With that in mind, the need for it was evident in the summer.
In steps Martin Braithwaite.
Yes, he was back. Whilst the assumption would be that he’d return to Ligue 1 permanently, he eventually stuck around, seemingly burying the hatchet (if required) with Pulis and appearing to knuckle down. Perhaps he’d had a rethink; maybe he was willing to set aside his original feelings on Pulis’ style and try to fit in? After all, the Traore experiment proved the former Stoke boss was willing to indulge attacking flair when it was for the benefit of the team, so why not now with the Dane if he was happy to toe the line?
After a mediocre World Cup on a personal level, he didn’t really have clubs banging the door down. A sobering reality possibly forced his hand. Either way, he was back, and those fans that had fallen out of love with him were asked to take him back, and like his debut season he started well.
Grabbing a vital late goal, the first in the comeback against Millwall, he immediately set about restoring the love.
Talk of “team spirit” and of loving the “feeling” from notching in front of Riverside crowd appeared on social media, he was back again on the PR trail (although intriguingly he failed to add Boro back on to his ‘bio’ – a tell-tale sign possibly?)
Following impressive goal scoring performances against Sheffield United and Bristol City, I tweeted about a potential “Braithwaite 2.0”, a second coming if you will. Naïve perhaps considering what had come before, but he’d been welcomed back, he was playing, scoring and Pulis seemed happy enough.
But it wasn’t to last.
Despite a tweet put out looking to “assure Boro fans that I am fully focused on giving everything to our team, as I have all season…I look forward to making this season a winning one”, his early season form dipped.
Following the conclusion of the loan window in September, where an 11th hour bid from Leganes collapsed due to Boro not being happy with the terms, he failed to complete a full game for thereon in.
Much talk around his impressive form in the opening weeks suggested he was playing for a move, and I argued if he was then it was a ‘win/win’ as we’d get the best from him until he left. Except that wasn’t the case, his form tailed off before he the Spanish outfit came in for him, at this point he’d been clearly getting ready to dig his heels in, ready for another push to leave.
Fleeting showings in the league where he’s failed to appear since the beginning of December, his only other appearance came in the embarrassing home defeat to Burton in the quarter final of the League Cup.
And that seems to be the last time we’ll see him in a Boro shirt. Fitting I suppose.
Pulis was asked following the 1-1 draw at Derby about Braithwaite’s future and impending move, finally, to Leganes.
“Braithwaite is talking to Leganes. It's a club that was interested in him in the summer, obviously we didn't want him to go in the summer but he's over there talking to them now and we think that'll happen, so we'll move on.”
Hardly the talk of a manager feeling too attached to an individual, someone who he’s readily admitted to not having a “lot of time with”.
And when pressed on the move, he said - “He wanted to go in the summer, we didn't want him to go, but he's now got his move I think.”
“His move”, telling words really.
Now we can all say this just the one side of the story, but it’s been a consistent version of events from Pulis, whom when questioned on Braithwaite has generally hinted that the player has wanted away. And although he acknowledged him to be a “good lad” on a number of occasions, it’s always then been followed with a very ominous ‘but’.
In stark contrast, Braithwaite’s been a model of inconsistency on and off the field, with a mixed bag of performances and an even more confused view on his future.
From staying to going, to staying again to wanting out once more, it’s always felt that whilst he may have meant well in the beginning, the hype of the big money transfer and the “smash the league” comments from Steve Gibson being music to his ears, his expectations of perhaps being the main man in a team built around him haven’t quite come to fruition.
Whether that was promised and he now feels he hasn’t got what he signed up for, who knows? However, what has become apparent, or at least feels so, is the lack of willingness on his part to ‘muck in’, adapt and become a Boro favourite like he aspired to through hard work and dedication.
Unlike the Brazilian he referred to in his early days, he’s very rarely looked like he has the fight to go with his undoubted quality. He’s got talent, we’ve seen it in albeit infrequent spells, but has he got the heart?
My guess is he’s never had Boro in his, and for that reason I’m happy he’s on his way.
Best of luck, Martin, just perhaps don’t go comparing yourself to Manuel Bermejo de Castro* too quickly.