The Outgoing Column

With Boro down and pretty much out, players’ futures are being discussed in some earnest. We already know about a few players who will definitely not be here next season. They are:

Brad Guzan
My work colleague said if there’s one thing American soccer players can do well then it’s keep goal. Clearly that’s true in Brad Friedel’s case, mostly the same for Tim Howard and Kasey Keller was around for a long time, but my buddy had obviously never watched Guzan, who continued the proud tradition of Boro GK’s who are named Brad being awful. He’s going to Atlanta United in the MLS and I can’t see many Teessiders shedding a tear, indeed I would imagine a lobby emerging for the merits of using Dimi in our pointless last final two matches. Victor Valdes will almost certainly leave, with Pep Guardiola making a case for linking back up with his old Barca mate at City, but nothing on that yet.

Calum Chambers
The on-loan defender emerged as a competent force during his year here, a return to his Southampton form after mixed fortunes with Arsenal. He’s made it clear he’s on the books for a limited time only and is determined to break into Wenger’s line, now expanded to three (to accommodate him?). I’m a bit sad about this one; his partnership with Ben Gibson was good and it looks as though both will do one.

Alvaro Negredo
Another loanee whose time at the Riverside is about to end, and with his wages hitting six figures per week it’s impossible to picture him being re-signed for a year of running riot at Championship defences, an environment in which you’d expect him to thrive. I’ve mixed feelings. At his best the Beast was virtually unplayable, but when the cameras were away or the opposition not very glamorous he tended to vanish. Considering his salary that’s a bit unforgivable.

In the meantime, as the identity over Boro’s new manager remains a big question mark, let’s look at some of the leading candidates, which will likely end in a couple of days when the club makes an announcement. Or I get fed up. Or both.

Manager 1 – Steve McClaren

mcclarensThe most successful Boro manager during the post-liquidation period, McClaren over five years won the League Cup, made the UEFA Cup final and achieved some fine league finishes. A period of uninterrupted and not very often jeapordised Premiership football turned out to be no mean feat, but few people would welcome him back.

Experience – in management since 2001 and one of England’s most highly rated coaches beforehand, McClaren has had a hit and miss career. His time at the Riverside was a success with caveats. England was a disaster, Twente very good, Wolfsburg awful, Derby okay but Newcastle a free spending mess.

MFC connection – five years in charge and a well known admirer of Steve Gibson, almost as though he’s touting for employment.

Why we want him – vastly experienced, knows the club and showed at his first spell with Derby that he can handle the Championship.

Why he can eff off – negative and sometimes incomprehensible tactics, only really achieved anything at Boro after spending millions, which he might not get the chance to repeat this time around, made eyes at ‘bigger clubs’ while managing us, clearly in it for Steve McClaren and nothing more, carpet fixation, an unnecessary step backwards.

Rating: 4/10 – one who for Boro is where he belongs, firmly in the past.

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Bugger Part 2

So I worked like a dog today, and found time to complete and send off my last FMTTM article of the season. It was a happy read, as well you might imagine. I don’t like to spoil pieces of work for which you have to pay, but here’s a summary:

  • Cunts
  • Wank
  • Bastard
  • Knickers
  • Jizzbuckets
  • Frottage

Mostly, it was difficult to find anything to say that hasn’t been said elsewhere, and for some time too. We’ve known we are going to be relegated for a number of weeks, and that in itself is a shame. To part ways with a manager who’s failed is one thing. Some might disagree with the decision. I didn’t, but action was required and the club took it. But to go from there to hand the reins to a novice, someone who in his previous brief stint showed no signs of arresting a decline, is quite unforgivable. I don’t know what the point was. Sure, Aggie’s a nice guy, but there are few ‘nice guys’ in football management who are successful. Karanka doesn’t seem so clement, at least not professionally, and he took us up. Sralex… Mourinho… Even Uncle Arsene Wenger, twatbaskets to a man but they can get the best from their teams and that’s one decisive thing SA failed to do.

Now, I’m sure the last thing Mr Gibson wanted was for Boro to go down. He worked hard to get them up, so to even imagine he would work for relegation is madness. You can see why people would think this, however. This season was one we tried to do on the cheap. Not comparatively, of course. The figures will show a lot was spent on the team, but years ago when Boro was seen as a profligate set-up the economics weren’t the same as they are now and here we clearly needed to invest more heavily. We didn’t, and down we went. Why? My suspicion is that the financial goalposts have moved and the Board no longer has the clout to invest the substantial amount that’s required. In that sense we’ve slipped back to our natural position, as a decent sized club that’s perhaps too big for the second tier and not quite hefty enough for the first. How else do you explain appointing Agnew? It was the cut-price option, and we paid for it.

I’m interested in seeing what happens now. If we retain Ag-ony then the die is cast. Boro becomes a parochial club, stuffed with the Chairman’s mates who will never stand up to him. Can you picture Agnew criticising Gibson in public for not signing the players he wants? Of course not. It wouldn’t happen. We’d make do with Downing (a spent force seeing out his waning years here) on the pitch and Woodgate (big block of wood) on the coaching staff and see what happens. I suppose that’s why we’ve had no announcement from the Board expressing its feelings and future ambitions for the club. Everyone’s waiting to see how the season pans out, if there’s a shaft of hope in our closing performances before meeting the Teesside nation to confirm the worst/best.

I’ll say here and now that I didn’t think Aitor was a perfect person, and I think he got a lot of his match tactics wrong (the lack of adventure was horribly frustrating at times), but he’s assiduous and knew what the side needed. His rhetoric became more doom-laden and took on a bitter tone after the January transfer window, when he obviously hadn’t had his shopping list met in full and understood where things were heading. Blame him if you like, much like the Gazette are doing, but don’t hold him entirely to account. There was more rottenness at the Riverside than the manager.

So who would you like to see come in? A tried and tested veteran, like Nigel Pearson, with whom we have some affinity but who we’ve also seen fail elsewhere? Or perhaps Ryan Giggs, the playing legend who’s largely untested as a manager but represents the route preferred by our Chairman? Giggs’s arrival would almost certainly mean an injection of cash whereas Pearson could suggest a more economical route. I hope it’s not Agnew. I hope that, but the silence from the powers of corridor at the club is disturbing.

More, I’m sure, to follow on this.

Bugger

bugger

Plenty to say following last night’s defeat to Chelsea, which finally put us out of our misery and relegated Boro. Not least the rather hapless latest bout of tinkering by Steve Agnew – replacing Negredo with Gestede, honestly – and the taunting of clueless Premier League fans will not be missed. But that will have to wait. I’m going to leave you for tonight with a man who’s catchphrase sums up our season and go and write my FMTTM article. Later.

… That Kills You

I’m writing this in the countdown to our crunch match at Stamford Bridge. I would like to say it’s making me nervous, but any campaign that lives or dies based on getting a result against Chelsea (and then only a temporary reprieve) collapsed long ago. I am not expecting much. The media are focusing on our illustrious opposition, as well it might. We already feel like a footnote to the season, a cautionary tale for pub quizzes focusing questions on terrible promoted sides that try and prevail through defending alone.

In the meantime, I have my last article of the season for Fly me to the Moon – no, not the column by the squaddie, yes I know you like him; sorry, not the bloke who talks about the past, though he’s good too – to consider. Hardly any point in starting it now – do I go for the faux optimism that might come with a positive result or a tone of furious wrath resulting from anything else? So that’s a job for either later or more likely tomorrow. It’s nice to see Traore making the starting eleven at the expense of Stuani, who isn’t even in the squad – another dummy thrown from the pram or has Agnew responded to not knowing how to use him by, er, not using him? Did Stu stand in solidarity with his countryman, Ramirez, as part of a united Uruguayan front? Bamford’s on the bench as Gestede and Negredo both start, which at least suggests a side designed to go for it, though what ‘it’ is remains unclear, a perfect summation of Steve A’s overall approach if you ask me. No Kante for Chelsea. The Player of the Season has a thigh injury, one from which he’ll presumably recover when he comes across classier opposition.

So I’ll see you on the other side. My prediction? Pain.

It’s the Hope…

I meant to write this after Swansea-Everton last night. Instead I discovered Game of Thrones Series 6 is on Sky and binged it. Also wine. My mouth feels like sandpaper and this morning it’s the usual cocktail of strong coffee and full-fat Pepsi, coupled with a pack of Skittles that I’ve found. FML. I mean that. Many plans for the weekend and now it’s nearly over. I might try and catch the Premier League games this afternoon. Both intriguing ties. Liverpool have been a mixed bag against teams that don’t have big names, so Southampton could be a challenge for them. And then it’s Arsenal v Manchester United. Remember when this used to be the game? Remember this? The personal battles between Keane and Vieira were always a big highlight for me. The tie has diminished greatly since those heady days. Even the Mourinho-Wenger club of mutual antagonism no longer carries much cachet. The former’s lustre isn’t what it was. AW shouldn’t even be there anymore, I’d argue.

wengermou

You’ll recall that yesterday’s matches held some key ramifications for Boro. Hull had a routine game at the KCON against Sunderland, or so it seemed as the Tigers fluffed their lines and Sunlun suddenly grew a pair, playing with an easy slickness that must be doubly frustrating for supporters because they were always capable of this. Swansea then entertained Everton and won 1-0, which puts them above Hull and extends the points required to at least seven where we’re concerned. In a sense it’s an ‘as you were’ type situation. We still need to go to Stamford Bridge and pull off an unlikely victory, though in a weekend of unusual results that now seems slightly more do-able. If we somehow manage that then we’re three behind Hull and Swansea are a further point ahead. Simple. Bloody hell.

Some interesting stuff from the Gazette recently, where they are beginning to talk about Steve Agnew as though he’s already been handed the manager’s job permanently… from a certain perspective. In this interview he’s asked all the usual questions, and gives the pat string of answers that means he’s saying nothing at all while talking incessantly. His managerial idol is Sir Alex Ferguson – revelation! 0-4 to Bournemouth was the only disappointing result – not Hull then? Not that pulsating 0-0 against Burnley? Not losing at home to an Arsenal team that was on its arse? I suppose you could argue that Boro have improved a little on the pitch. There is more attacking intent. We’re starting to score goals, and SA has been unlucky with injuries at the back and this has undermined everything, but I fear he’s the answer to a question no one wants to ask. He isn’t my idea of a solution. Considering the talk of him waiting in the wings for so long, his constant titting around with the side and indeed the performances he’s coaxed out of them have just prolonged our downward trajectory. Put it another way, if Steve Gibson phoned me and said Agnew and Nigel Pearson were stood behind him and I had to choose which one, I’d go for Big Nige every time. And I don’t think he’d even be my ultimate pick, but to my mind he’d be better than Aggie.

The whole thing smacks of the Riverside around a decade ago, when Boro were trying to cut their cloth and picked Gareth Southgate as a cheap option who would oversee a period of selling off the big stars. We know the consequences of that, and I have a horrible feeling we’re taking the same route again. Of course, beat Chelsea and I’ll admit I’m wrong. Pull off a great escape and his position becomes a lot more tenable, yet I fear we’re down already, have been for some time, and we’re just waiting for it to be made official. A great man once said there’s always hope, and I would counter by stating it’s the hope that kills you in the end.

And in a difficult season for north-east football on the whole, confirmation yesterday that Hartlepool were relegated from the Football League. They beat promoted Doncaster 2-1 but could do nothing about Newport winning, which left them in 23rd place and down. A real sickener for former Boro defender Matthew Bates, who was recently installed as player-manager following the disastrous reign of Dave Jones. Sad times everyone, especially for this celebrity supporter who has never seen Pools play outside the league.

Relegation before Chelsea?

Evening. Apologies for the lack of a post yesterday (still no idea why I’m apologising – who to?), which was down to extreme tiredness after the toughest of weeks in work, and it was only a four day week! I’m not going into the reasons why it has been so difficult and frustrating, suffice it to say the slight snowy lay on my pate is developing into a full blizzard, and I’m looking into the possibility of jobs elsewhere. I remember a tedious, mind-numbingly slow job of work I did in the last decade and wishing I was involved in something more challenging and where I would never get bored. Now, I miss that dull, meandering, in-tray dependent existence.

And so onto a weekend that should decide our fate, indeed for many of us it will come as a reprieve, a bit like owning an ancient dog that’s back legs no longer work and the glassy eyed veterinarian advises you it’s best to put the old boy out of his misery. Hull, six points clear, have Sunderland at home, and if they win that one with their impressive record at the the KCOM under Silva, then we must go to Stamford Bridge and achieve the somewhat unlikely feat of defeating Chelsea just in order to maintain the gap. To add a bit of fun, our game isn’t on until Monday evening, forcing fans to travel to London on a work night (but who cares, right?) for the pleasure. Realistically, something we know has been over for some time now ought to be decided and made official, and though it would be immensely gratifying to do a number on the league leaders and their manager, the Italian Eric Monkman, I don’t think there’s much else but pride on the line anymore.

giggsr

Managerial link time! Odds are shortening on Ryan Giggs being named as our next boss, but I can’t remember who reported that and am unsure what I think of it. It’s certainly the sort of link that reflects consistency in Steve Gibson’s appointments – practically unknown as a head coach and from Manchester United. In recent years, I remember Giggs best as the former star player who sat alongside Louis Van Gaal in United’s dugout, looking a bit non-plussed presumably at his mentor’s strange lack of a neck, and of course as a winger he was pretty much unimpeachable, for many, many years. In his personal life he has had his uncomfortable moments, but he must have learned some things from his Assistant Managership, and to some extent there’s something intriguing about a new gaffer who comes without the baggage of the previous failures experienced with the likes of Pearson, Pardew, etc.

Finally, I was entertained by the story of Christian Ziege regretting the circumstances of his controversial move from Middlesbrough to Liverpool. I typed thousands of words on this subject during my BoroNET days, suffice it to say the bloke acted like an outright twatbag and deserves every misfortune he’s suffered since then. He was the Ramirez of his day. Next!

Charged!

I’ve just finished watching the Monaco-Juventus match on Bee Tee. A fine win for the Old Lady, putting a rare right to my prediction that if there was one team Monaco would struggle to breach then it’s the giants of Turin. I’ve always had a soft spot for Italian football, and after once taking charge of Juve back in Football Manager 2007 when they had been stripped of their Serie A status, I quite like the team also. Chiellini – what a God of a defender, now so revered that he can take Falcao out and earn nothing worse than a yellow card. And then there’s Buffon, claiming all the likability that the last great Italian goalkeeper, Walter Zenga, lacked, to such an extent that you’d like them to do just it for him and his endlessly smiling little face. I wonder if AK watches Juventus in action and thinks there’s nothing he could do to toughen them up defensively. They’re the finished article, aren’t they, improving each year and in doing so belying the general decline of football in Italy. Dani Alves is so consummate a player, both defensively and in attack (he created both of Higuain’s goals), I’m starting to think there’s nothing he couldn’t have an answer to… Such as, how do fucking slugs keep getting into my kitchen? I mean obviously there’s an aperture of some sort, but Dani Alves would find it, and he’d even discover what they think is in it for them, beyond a quick death because I can’t abide the sinewy little so and so’s.

mfcmcfcpen

Not a lot to report from the Riverside, apart from the revelation that Boro are being charged by the FA for their reaction to Kevin Friend’s penalty decision in favour of Manchester City. Let’s break this one down. Middlesbrough, rated as hopeless in recent weeks, find themselves a goal up and holding at arm’s length the deadliest attack in English football. They do it for 66 minutes through a combination of stout defending, great teamwork and for once keeping the opposition honest by mounting some serious attacking moves. On the line is nothing less than the slim prospect that Boro can win this one, close the gap on Hull to four points and retain a fighting chance of attaining safety. This is the last realistic chance. And then City’s nippy greyhound of a winger, having wafted into our area, loses the ball and leans into Boro’s nearest encroaching player. He goes down, an easy dive, or generously a fall as he’s lost his balance. But instead, it’s a penalty, a bizarre decision, the sort of decision in fact that would have most fans wonder if Mark Halsey was indeed right when he claimed officials are leaned upon to favour the bigger teams. In other words, you fight and fight and fight, show your mettle, and it doesn’t really matter because even the referee is against your attempt to stay up. Little wonder the players lost it a little, and even less of a surprise that their reaction was uncommented upon by pundits, who for some reason focused on the penalty shout.

What’s the lesson? I think it’s twofold. One, don’t even breathe on the opposition forward from that illustrious outfit because if he falls over then you’re likely to be booked and concede a penalty. Two, spend millions on your squad and become a big club, and then you too will be shown favour when your flaccid top four challenge is showing signs of sputtering out against that honest little fish that’s striving to stay in the same pond as you. It’s that simple. Who doesn’t love football at moments like these?