Two in Two Out
After months of speculation and weeks of tense negotiations Boro fans finally got to see new faces arrive at the Riverside despite disheartening financial whispers emerging from Teeside rumour mills.
Merouane Zemmama and Maximilian Haas became Tony Mowbray’s first permanent signings as Middlesbrough manager after his promises to look at foreign and lower league players rang true.
Zemmama, a Moroccan international attacking midfielder, who was first signed by Mogga at Hibernian in 2006, definitely sounds like an exciting prospect who will add some much needed creativity to the Boro side.
One slightly worrying fact to come out of the deal however is the player’s recent recovery from a knee ligament injury that has seen him start just four games this season after ten months out injured.
Haas, a 25-year-old German centre half, is somewhat unproven having never made a competitive first team appearance for Bayern Munich since signing in 2007.
In fact Haas was the captain of Bayern’s second string, who play their football in the German third division, although he was included in Louis Van Gaal’s first team squad in 2010.
The recently closed window also saw the farewell of local boy and former club captain, David Wheater, who in all truth was destined to leave if the club didn’t reach promotion almost immediately after relegation.
The other departure was one that has been mooted almost ever since his arrival at the club in 2007 and with a salary believed to be hitting £40,000 per week, saying goodbye to Gary O’Neil was never going to be difficult.
As a result an estimated £55,000 has been shaved off the weekly wage bill, which equates to over £2.8million annually. And no doubt Haas and Zemmama will be on nothing like that.
And despite pre-window expectations of a Strachan and Southgate inspired fire sale, with players like Kris Boyd, Julio Arca, Leroy Lita and Tarmo Kink linked with exits, this never came to fruition.
In fact at one point it seemed like quite the opposite as a Southgate reunion party took hold of Rockcliffe Park as Mido, Andrew Davies and Jeremie Aliadiere all trained with the squad in January.
Aliadiere may well have been welcomed and Davies could have been a good addition but instead the former Boro players have left to pursue their careers elsewhere.
In Mido’s case a return never seemed like more than speculation, particularly after he caused nothing but trouble since his extortionate £6million arrival in 2007.
His return to Egypt with Zamalek couldn’t have been more timely than if it had happened three years ago.
Previously I’ve spoken about Boro fans needing signs of encouragement, not only to bring the fans back through the turnstiles but also to make them feel like the club was still aiming for the Premier League promised land.
Now it seems with the addition of a couple of fresh faces and the prospect of a new midfield maestro in Zemmama, fans can begin to get excited about a team which has long since been something to smile about.
Haas’ addition also brings some welcome defensive cover and competition with Seb Hines and Stephen McManus for that central defensive berth alongside Matthew Bates.
However one area that was anticipated to see some changes was in the forward line, but with Boyd rejecting moves to Turkey and Russia, Lita staying put and flop Lee Miller being shipped out to Scunthorpe on loan, not much has changed.
In spite of this, the squad will be boosted by the return of Scott McDonald from the Asia Cup and of Marvin Emnes from injury.
And as Mogga continues to put more and more faith into Boyd, having started the last three games, hopefully the big striker can start to repay the fans who pay his wages.
Yet Mogga could arguably be credited with more than two signings since his return. The re-emergence of Dutch forward, Emnes, and long-serving left back, Andrew Taylor, after successful loan spells have been particular highlights.
After being labelled as relegation candidates and with Mowbray even being talked about as under pressure only a few weeks into his tenure, the legendary former player has silenced the doubters.
A slow transition from what Strachan saw as a hard working squad, who in all honesty didn’t look like they could string two passes together earlier in the season, has seen a side emerge that are finally bringing home results and starting to play good football.
Coming into an immensely important run of fixtures that have seen Boro play league strugglers like Preston, Scunthorpe and Bristol City as well as high flying Leeds and Norwich, Mogga’s men have impressed after going six matches unbeaten.
Boro’s first game since the window came to close was also a hopeful sign of things to come, as the club continued its impressive start to 2011 with a 2-0 home win over struggling Scunthorpe.
Despite all this two foreign signings aren’t going to solve all of Boro’s problems but making the most of what was already a decent set of players, with these additions and a passionate manager with the right mentality, will hopefully go some way to doing that.
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