It’s unusual to start a blog when the season is three quarters done, and yet it’s also totally appropriate given the recent situation regarding our manager, Aitor Karanka.
As we now know, Boro will take to the field this afternoon against Charlton Athletic led not by Aitor but instead our Assistant Head Coach, Steve Agnew. Karanka is – where? In the stadium? At home? Back in Spain, perhaps, or possibly watching the game with his old friend and mentor Jose Mourinho, the pair ruminating on how impossibly wide the gulf is between where they stood back in August and now.
In any event, Aggers taking charge today – as he did during yesterday’s training session – is all we actually know. The club has remained predictably tight lipped about what else has gone on, though everyone understands the tipping point was Friday’s crisis meeting between the manager and his players, one that ended with the former storming out, apparently declaring he didn’t want to coach them any longer. The tensions have been building for some time, it seems. Aitor hasn’t taken training since the defeat at Rotherham; his press conference on Thursday illuminated further his concerns on the ‘desire’ of certain players to achieve this season’s aim of promotion.
I can’t think of a single occasion when the breakdown between manager and players has led to a successful reconciliation. Of course it’s possible that this is exactly what will happen, that people will look a bit harder at themselves and realise there’s the potential for everyone to pull together as one, but in my experience that isn’t how it works and the overwhelmingly likely outcome is the end of the Aitor Aegis and closing 2015/16 with someone else in charge. Which feels like a damn shame, when you think of what the bloke has achieved so far and that the current Boro side is now almost entirely his team, one built in the image he wishes to project.
Who’s to blame appears to come down to your own perception of the head coach. Neil Maddison’s comments on Karanka’s shortcomings as a man manager were really interesting. It’s clear that Aitor is no Jurgen Klopp. Not for him the hugs, the sense of fellowship and camaraderie – where he’s concerned players have always been staff who require managing, with little of the ‘human touch’ involved, and that’s fine generally, though not for everyone and not necessarily with this squad considering the variety of personalities. You think of the flashpoint involving Albert Adomah, and earlier the clash with Craig Hignett that drove the latter out of the club. You consider his willingness to criticise players in public, notably Stewart Downing, which over time has emerged as a managerial no-no after the example of Sir Alex Ferguson doing all his dressing downs behind closed doors and remaining tight lipped for the media. He’s even happy to have a go at the fans, as his comments after the loss to Blackburn testify.
Against that is his record as the man in charge, the upturn in our fortunes since his start in November 2013. We’ve been transformed from a side at the wrong end of the Championship to a genuine promotion contender and that’s largely down to his work, especially his efforts to establish a stingy defence that remains the bedrock of our success. That’s no mean feat. As always with Boro, you have to factor in the Chairman’s investment, which is reaching 1990s style heights with the expensive captures of Downing and Jordan Rhodes leading the re-opened chequebook policy. But still you look at that defence, which still relies on cheap, free and on-loan signings, and you can tell that our upturn has only partially depended on money.
Personally, I really like the guy. I haVE no hesitation in simply going with the #InKarankaWeTrust tag on Twitter because that’s how I feel. However you choose to look at it Aitor’s been good for us. We’ve had seven years in the second tier and it now feels as though we can dream of going up again, and he’s made that happen. Sure we’ve wobbled after Christmas, but everyone else has undergone or is currently experiencing periods of doubt. Rotherham aside, we look like a team that’s emerging from our own dark night of the soul to push once again. It’s all to play for. Boro are second, with two matches in hand on Burnley, so while the situation remains tense we’re in charge of our own destiny on the pitch.
It could very well end in happy tears, but under whom remains a very serious question. The first clue will emerge today when Agnew names his side to take on the Addicks. A line-up and formation that’s close to the Karanka philosophy will suggest that Aggers sees himself as simply holding the reins. Anything different, intimating a fundamental shift in policy, and we may very well have seen the last of a very fine, if humanly flawed young manager.
In the meantime, I’m looking forward to rebuilding this blog again and hope to see some of you return as readers… please?