Middlesbrough look like they are going down. Here is the second instalment of my look into what exactly has gone wrong at the Riverside.
In my previous article I covered how poorly our squad had been constructed (or more fittingly de-constructed) this year. I said it would take multiple articles to cover all bases, and true to my word, I am going to cover another massive issue at the club. This time, however, it’s a controversial opinion, so you might need to take a seat and grab a drink for this one.
The problem I’m talking about here is none other than Middlesbrough owner and chairman Steve Gibson.
Now I know that upon reading that line most Boro fans will have grabbed their pitchforks and torches, but try to hear me out.
Steve Gibson is, undoubtedly, a hero. His achievements whilst in charge of the club are well documented, and his name is never mentioned in the media without it being followed by praise from pundits, managers and reporters.
Much of that praise is well earned. In a world where some clubs turnover their managers every other month, Steve Gibson offers managers a chance to make their mark on a team. He brings stability. Equally, his passion for his home town club means Boro fans can rest easy at night without worrying if their beloved team are being exploited for financial gain.
In recent years, however, that is where the praise should stop.
Punching above their weight
I come from a generation of Boro fans who are only now getting used to the fact that we’ve always been punching above our weight. I was born in ’96, when Boro moved to the Riverside.
All I knew growing up was the relative stability of the Premier League. A team with talent such as Mark Viduka, Gaizka Mendieta, and Bolo Zenden. Unbelievable European nights, and Carling Cup victory.
Phrases such as “the spirit of 86” don’t mean much to me; I wasn’t there. I don’t know how it felt when the club was taken over by Steve Gibson.
All I know is that, since 2006, when Steve McLaren left the club on the high of a European final, Middlesbrough Football Club has been fundamentally poorly run.
In my opinion, the club are allowed to get away with it due to Gibson’s achievements back in the ’80s.
The cracks began to show with the appointment of Gareth Southgate as manager. A rookie with absolutely no experience in management was told to reconstruct an ageing, expensive team, with little to no money to spend (apart from the catastrophic Afonso Alves deal). Then, when it looked certain that Southgate was taking us down, Gibson failed to pull the trigger until part way through the following season in the Championship.
What if Gibson had appointed an experienced manager to take over where McLaren left off? Boro could well be sitting in a similar position as Tottenham.
Southgate’s replacement was Gordon Strachan. Money was thrown at the Scot in what proved to be a disastrous period for the club. Average players were tied down on long contracts which crippled the club’s finances. When Strachan left, to his credit without compensation, the main victim of this mismanagement was the next manager, club hero Tony Mowbray.
Mowbray was given nothing to work with. It was the time of bargain bin free transfers and mid-table Championship mediocrity. I am of the view that if Mowbray had been supported financially, he would still be in charge of the club today. Unfortunately, Gibson did not decide to invest heavily in the club again until he placed Mowbray’s replacement, Aitor Karanka, in the hot seat.
Having forced Mowbray to work on a shoe string, huge transfer budgets were provided to yet another rookie manager, Aitor Karanka. Personally, I would like to know why Mowbray was not given the same financial backing, but I fear I’ll never get that answer.
Instead, Karanka was given a team that was so good, it would have been more difficult not to get it promoted. Jordan Rhodes, Stewart Downing and Gaston Ramirez being but a few of the big names in the team.
As it was, Karanka showed his inexperience by scraping into the Premier League playing some of the most turgid, slow, and predictable football in England. That same football is what Middlesbrough fans have been forced to experience for the entirety of this Premier League season; a season that will be forever defined as the one where Gibson repeated his mistakes time and time again.
He left it too long to sack Karanka. The most patient chairman in football he might be, but sometimes that patience has cost the club dearly. In the case of both Southgate and Karanka, Gibson is almost directly responsible for our relegation by not acting decisively and swiftly.
A lack of ambition
When Karanka did finally go, he appointed another rookie with no experience in Steve Agnew. This decision is, in my view, criminal. It lacks ambition. It shows an acceptance of Championship status. And, frankly, it makes me question Gibson’s desire to battle it out in the Premier League. Fans were told we would “have a go” this season. That Boro weren’t here to make up the numbers.
Instead, we’ve had an absolute disaster. Boro are, in no uncertain terms, the worst football team in England to watch this season. We are considered a joke across the board. The majority of the fan base is simply waiting for next year, with almost no belief that we can get a result from any game we play.
I would like to look at next year with optimism. A chance to rebuild the team, to re-inject confidence into the fans. But I cannot look beyond the prospect of Gibson leaving Steve Agnew in charge, of not investing in the team properly, and of repeating the same mistakes that resulted in our last stay in the Championship being a 7 year slog.
It’s going to take a long time for me to look at Boro’s future with positivity. This season has stamped out the excitement and joy of football.
I want to believe that Gibson will make the right decision in appointing an experienced manager, that he will be clever in the transfer window, and that Boro can start to build an actual footballing philosophy and DNA about the club.
But that remains to be seen.
If you have enjoyed reading this article, please view our other recent post about Middlesbrough owner Steve Gibson: Is it right to criticise Steve Gibson