I’ll admit it – I’ve often, in the past, joined the collective groan when Middlesbrough have been linked with a less than glamorous player. When one has arrived who may not have set the pulses racing I’ve been guilty of casting judgement way too easily, unfair really, but understandable perhaps?
I had my suspicions when the Scottish invasion of Gordon Strachan’s reign threatened to turn us into a Celtic-lite outfit, with the added sprinkle of other SPL delights too. Other than Barry Robson and Scott McDonald, mild success stories in what was an arrival of general dross, it didn’t quite work out for the wonderfully named Willo Flood and co.
Chris Killen and Lee Miller – remember them? No, me neither.
It’s with the examples above that I probably had the worst time with failing to whip myself into an almighty transfer frenzy – let’s face it, a squad packed with the likes of Mark Yeates (trying not to shudder too much), Danny Coyne and Justin Hoyte was hardly awe-inspiring. Plus, who could forget smashing loan deals for Sean St Ledger and Isaiah Osbourne?
Duds – promising a lot but delivering little
It got better with the arrival of returning hero, turned managerial zero (harsh maybe), Tony Mowbray. Then again, it couldn’t have got any worse than the downright mediocrity that went before it. Still, Mogga did have a few duds in him.
Frazer Richardson, Jayson Leuitwiler, Maxi Haas (the Bayern Munich connection originally encouraged me, only to be disappointed hugely) and Curtis Main spring to mind. There were some naff loan deals too – Alex Nimely, Sammy Ameobi, Ishmael Miller the culprits, promising lots but delivering little. Even the exotic signings of Marouane Zemmama and Emmanuel Ledesma failed to hit the high notes, despite many signs that they had the required talent to be successes.
Of course, I now have the benefit of the above players being a thing of the past thankfully. I can judge fairly, even though at the time I may have not.
Mogga did, despite some of the transfer failings of his time, have an eye for a player. After all he brought in Albert Adomah, Grant Leadbitter and set the ball rolling for Dani Ayala’s permanent transfer. But it’s one Mowbray signing in particular whose helped change my perception of the more lesser known, unglamorous transfer.
First impressions aren’t always accurate
He’s often dubbed ‘Gorgeous George’, and when he arrived he probably stole the hearts of the female section of fans (as well some men) for his looks more than anything else as his reputation as a footballer was modest to say the least. Humble beginnings at local club Exeter, squad status at Wolves as well as various loan spells in League 1 hardly screamed ‘potential first-team stalwart’. Even a relatively successful two seasons at Doncaster Rovers, then of the Championship, failed to convince me and no doubt many others that he was going to become a Boro hero.
The transfer fee, a reported £100,000, told most fans it was as low key a signing as you were likely to see. But those who follow Boro will tell you that, despite first impressions, Friend has gone on to be a huge success. He’s been one of the Club’s standout performers in recent campaigns (injury and inexperience in the top flight perhaps being a blot on his copybook last season). With that then, is it naïve, foolish and possibly unfair to judge and disregard a player before he’s even signed? I’d say so.
Like I’ve referred to above, I’ve been guilty of judging a player before they’ve joined, in some cases time has proved me and many others right, yet it’s also backfired spectacularly as well.
Friend is a case in point – I should’ve known George would be a success all along. A mate of mine is a big Rovers fan, he’d told me we’d got a quality player, but I of course scoffed at such a suggestion at the time. But he’s just one of a fair few who have proved that it’s not all about price tags and famous names.
Virtual unknowns have become heroes
Franck Queudrue (another marauding left back), Hamilton Ricard, Curtis Fleming, Bernie Slaven, Doriva, Mikkel Beck, Mark Schwarzer even – none were particularly well known, but went on to become popular players with varying degrees of success. Looking back, none of those can be deemed as a failure.
Hamilton Ricard, to this day, is still Boro’s all-time top Premier League goalscorer on 31 goals. He’s up there standing proudly, if a little ungainly, above the likes of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Yakubu, Mark Viduka and Fabrizio Ravanelli. Who’d have pictured that when he rocked up during Bryan Robson’s striker influx late on in the promotion push back in 1998?
Bernie Slaven needs no introduction, any self-respecting Teessider will be well aware of his contribution in the red of Boro. One of the clubs leading goalscorers in the modern era, the Scottish striker, later capped by Ireland, signed for a bargain £25,000. Even in the 80’s the fee was a modest one, the player joining from Albion Rovers after writing to all 92 league clubs looking for a trial. To this day no player has matched or beaten is tally of 146 for the club since he left Teesside in 1993.
Mark Schwarzer signed from Bradford City after a short stint with The Bantams; his previous clubs included Kaiserslauten and Dynamo Dresden of Germany, as well as the Marconi Stallions in his native Australia. Schwarzer’s time in German football was hardly fruitful, featuring sparingly for both clubs, and after less than 20 appearances for City he joined Boro for £1.3m – decent money, but still an unknown quantity. However, over a decade later he found himself comfortably inside the top 10 of Middlesbrough’s all time appearance makers, with over 440 games to his name. Not to mention his crucial role in Boro’s first and only major trophy triumph, as well the subsequent European campaigns, culminating in the UEFA Cup final in 2006. Not bad for a player who before arriving in England had only featured regularly when plying his trade Down Under.
He also made racked up over 100 caps for The Socceroos.
I could highlight the successes of the other players I’d listed, but I think you get my point.
Allow time for impressions to be made
In today’s ruthless, unforgiving world of social media you can only imagine the sort of reaction those signings would’ve got at the time they joined.
I’ll be honest, my knowledge of one of our latest recruits, Martin Braithwaite, was a little sketchy, well until I ventured onto Google and YouTube. I saw a lot of references to his pace on the FIFA games series by fans and what rating he goes on to achieve with prolonged game play, yet unless they were avid followers of France’s Ligue 1 then I doubt they had much first-hand experience of him in the real world. But, given his cult status on FIFA and his sizeable fee, he’s been lauded as a great purchase by many a fan. Trouble is, like any player, we’ve no idea how good he’ll be for Boro until he’s had some time at the club to make an impression.
It’s unfair to judge a player before he’s pulled the clubs shirt on and made enough appearances to warrant some kind of informed assessment. Just because he’s got a reputation and cost a huge fee doesn’t mean he’s going to perform better, or outlast someone with perhaps more modest stats. The same is to be said about those who arrive with small fees and/or who are relative unknowns.
The same principal applies to players we’re linked with too.
To my mind it’s even more foolish to cast ill-informed opinions on those who the club might not even be interested in, despite reports, judging the manager and chairman for an apparent lack of knowledge/ambition. It’s that sort of reaction that has me dismayed as I scroll through comments on Twitter and Facebook, with many a supporter purporting to be experts. Some of the remarks are embarrassing really – Ryan Shotton being the latest target of the moan and groan brigade because he happens to be linked with us after Harry Redknapp’s recent remarks.
Look past reputation and price tags
Having been a doubter in the past, expressing my thoughts without actually having any kind of real indication of the players talents, I understand why it’s easy to fall into the trap. But considering the amount of surprising successes we’ve had it amazes me how more people can’t look beyond reputation and price tags. Opinions respectfully made are fine, but a dismissive and downright hostile approach is not.
You may be wondering why I’ve chosen to raise such a subject in light of Middlesbrough’s recent transfer activity. Garry Monk has overseen a rather impressive recruitment drive; however there are some who still wish to write off Cyrus Christie, Darren Randolph and co. I’ve seen some rather unfair comments on both of those, as well club record signing Britt Assombalonga – laughable really.
With all that in mind then I ask only this;
Whether you’re clued up or not, none of us know just how good or bad these players will be for us until they’ve had a fair crack at the whip. All we know is that these guys have chosen to sign for OUR club, so let’s support and back them like they’re one of us, because that’s what they are. Don’t write them off before they’ve had a chance to kick a ball. You never know, they just might surprise you.
P.S. Don’t assume that every single player we’re linked with is on the verge of signing, surely we’ve all learnt that by now?!