Bilbao Did Gibbo Pull This One Off?

by Dave Hearn

Wow, we actually went and did it! It’s fair to say I’m pretty chuffed right now, sitting here with a chai tea on the go and a rather resplendent cardigan(navy blue Marks & Sparks, as it happens), idly day-dreaming about what the appointment of Aitor Karanka might lead to for us Boro fans. I fancied something like this, I really did, but I never thought that the chairman would go out and make it happen. And that we’ve been able to attract a coach of the stature of Karanka to the club, and to the area, speaks volumes about the ambition and the passion that our chairman still has for Middlesbrough Football Club. He deserves immense credit for pulling this one off, of that there can be no doubt. If this doesn’t reignite the enthusiasm for the club amongst the Teesside public then what will?

That this appointment feels like something of a throwback to the halcyon days of Ravanelli, Juninho and Boksic, oh and throw in a Hasselbaink and a Viduka as well eh, let’s go mad, it’s late, well that isn’t the main reason I’m feeling so excited. What excites me most about this appointment is the prospect of a coach such as Karanka being afforded the opportunity to implement his own footballing philosophy on all aspects of the club, from the youth teams and up into the first-team environment. It’d be nice to think he’ll be looking to have his teams, regardless of age-group, playing a style of football that is consistent across all levels. I was always of the opinion that this was something Tony Mowbray would try to build towards but, for one reason or another, it didn’t really seem to materialise. But I’m optimistic that Karanka can really reinvigorate the whole place and it’d be incredibly difficult to argue against the idea that the club was in desperate need of a new set of ideas on the training field.

Of course, he is going to need time and patience from everyone connected with the club whilst he assesses what’s what in terms of his playing squad and sets about implementing his style of play. And this is a team that needs some serious coaching, of that there is no doubt at all. The deficiencies in our game, and in our squad, are there for all to see and any new manager coming into the club at this moment in time would have a pretty big job on in terms of improving us as a defensive unit. Quite what he will make of Grant Leadbitter, Seb Hines and Faris Haroun is open to debate, but you’d think that we possess just about enough quality, certainly in an attacking sense, to be able to cobble something half-decent together whilst the new gaffer works on something more his own in the mid-to-longer-term.

The worry, of course, would be that some of the lads just aren’t going to be good enough to do what Karanka will ask of them and that the playing-staff will inevitably undergo something of an overhaul in the next twelve months. But, if we’re being honest about it, how many of the current squad would we genuinely miss if they were to be sold in either of the next two transfer windows? As long as any funds raised through shipping a handful of them out are given to Karanka to strengthen the team as he would like then not too many of them, I imagine. But that’s not something for now, let’s not be too downbeat on the lads and let’s see which ones can seize the opportunity a new manager coming in will give them.

Perhaps the most intriguing, tantalising even, aspect of Karanka’s appointment is being allowed to wonder about the style of football he may choose to employ, which sort of ‘template’ he will use as he looks to stamp his authority onto the team. Will he play a possession-based, wear-the-opposition-down, defend-from-the-front sort of game, such as the one the Spanish national team use to great effect, or will he be a little more pragmatic and concentrate on fostering a more Mourinho-esque ‘win at all costs’ mentality? Will he adopt more of an Athletic Bilbao sort of system, such as the one deployed by Marcelo Bielsa a year or two back, with a team that presses high up the pitch, a team that was, to all intents and purposes, a ‘gung-ho’ attacking outfit that relied on collective fitness, speed and great technical ability. Who knows, he may have something entirely original up his sleeve for us to sit back and enjoy. So long as he organises his teams defensively and sends the lads out with a sense of purpose then I won’t be too fussed, but it’d be nice to think we could become just as easy-on-the-eye as Bielsa’s Bilbao side in the mid-to-longer-term. Or is that just the wild-eyed optimism talking?

Perhaps this is one of the most beautiful things about this particular appointment; the fact that none of us really know what kind of football he’s going to play, which components of the current squad are going to fit in with whichever template Karanka decides to work with and what sort of footballer he’s going to be looking to bring in to the club in January and beyond. But it feels big, good, special. It’s a step into the unknown and it’s something radical. It’s the kind of feeling you just wouldn’t get from appointing a Pulis or a Holloway, or any of the other boring candidates trotted out ad nauseam the moment yet another poor sod takes a tumble off the managerial merry-go-round. No, I’m happy with this one. Very happy indeed. The scrappy 1-1 draw at Leeds on Saturday week can’t come soon enough…