With Middlesbrough’s time in the Premier League almost at an end, it is the ideal opportunity for the club to get itself a new identity.
Over the past few weeks I have spent a lot of time writing about what has gone wrong at Middlesbrough this season. I realised, however, whilst angrily hammering out more exasperated tweets about how terrible everything has been, that everybody can see that for themselves.
We as fans know what has been going wrong, we see it week in week out, so adding more negativity to the social media sphere isn’t going to be beneficial to anybody.
Instead, this week, I’ve decided to try and put a more positive spin on things by looking to the future.
That future will almost certainly be a season in the Championship, but I don’t believe that it should be such a terrible thing in the long run.
The club should be using this opportunity as a fresh start to reshape the way other people look at Middlesbrough Football Club from the outside. Right now, if you asked a neutral fan what they thought of Middlesbrough’s identity, they would probably tell you that they’re a defensive team that is hard to break down, but ultimately play very unambitious, boring football.
Bournemouth, an excellent example
To me it is vital that Boro change this over the summer. For me, there is no greater example to look towards than the work Eddie Howe has done at Bournemouth. Their team’s identity is that they possess a core of British players who always look to play on the front foot and attack with pace. Whilst, yes, they may concede goals, they are almost guaranteed to have a go down the other end.
It has been a given for years now that if Boro concede the first goal, they generally lack the fight to get back into the game. Even when they go a goal up, the natural response of the team is to drop deep, sit in tight, and try to hold on to the lead.
By following Bournemouth’s example, Boro should seek to maintain a core of British talent, and instil in them a fearless attitude that it is okay to attack other teams and that it is okay to concede goals.
Personally, I would much rather see my team win 3-2 than lose 1-0 and say “well, it was tight and on another day, it might have been different”.
Build a team around Youth
Additionally, I believe part of Boro’s identity should be – as it used to be under Steve McLaren – that the once prolific academy is brought back to the fore when it comes to producing players.
I would much prefer that our bench be made up of bright, hungry, local talent, rather than the likes of journeyman players such as Adlene Guedioura or Rudy Gestede.
Other than Ben Gibson – who it is worth pointing out is arguably our best player – it has been a long whilst since an academy product made a first team position his own. I do not believe this is due to them lacking in quality, but more in Aitor Karanka’s unwillingness to give the youth a chance.
I think a lot of Boro fans would take comfort if next year in the Championship, instead of shelling out more inflated transfer fees on very average squad players, we try to build a future around our own players.
There is no reason why Connor Ripley, who has had a superb season at Oldham this year, should not be number one between the sticks.
Equally, Callum Cooke has been impressing at Crewe in an attacking midfield role, a role which Boro currently sorely lack numbers.
Other talents such as Harry Chapman have been spoken about a lot also, who is returning from injury at an excellent Sheffield United team right now.
Overall, it just seems to me that the club needs to decide on a blueprint for how we want to play football. It needs to be positive, it needs to excite the fans, and it needs to see our best and brightest given the opportunity to perform.