Quietly Going About Our Business
by Dave Hearn
The January transfer window is absolute madness, that much is obvious. Clubs gambling the house on a big Scandinavian lunk after seeing a compilation video of some good headers he did a while back, managers scouring the youth and reserve teams of Premier League clubs in the hope of finding the new Josh McEachran. It’s daft, isn’t it. Daft. But the Boro went about their business with the minimum of fuss, it seems, operating in an efficient and ruthless manner as we had something of a mid-season cull of the playing-staff whilst adding five new players to the squad. And when you look down the list of incomings and outgoings, it’d be hard not to reach the conclusion that when the transfer window ‘slammed shut’, as they say on satellite television, the squad was in a healthier state than it was when Sky Sports, sorry, I mean the authorities, declared the window open on January 1st.
Given that Karanka favours a high-tempo pressing game and sets his teams up accordingly, the signings of Kenneth Omeruo and Nathaniel Chalobah from Chelsea, both of whom are athletic, upwardly-mobile footballers comfortable in more than one position on the field, made sense for a variety of reasons. Omeruo is a Nigerian international looking to book his place in their World Cup squad and Chalobah was one of the stand out players in a Watford side that made it all to Wembley and the play-off final before succumbing 1-0 to Kevin Phillips last season. Whilst these two lads do come with pedigree, one cause for concern, for me anyway, is that they’re both very young footballers coming from an incredibly wealthy club that doesn’t really seem interested in giving it’s academy graduates a chance in their own first-team and looks towards other clubs, less wealthy clubs, to do their donkey-work for them. And when you consider the amount of money, time and effort we put into our own academy set-up, I have some reservations about these kinds of deals if it means one or two of our own kids miss out on the chance of some involvement within the first-team environment. But, of course, if the two lads prove themselves on the pitch then it’ll be very difficult to argue with the logic behind bringing them in.
Daniel Ayala then marked the turning of his loan-move from Norwich City into a permanent deal with some Jon Gittens-esque defending at Leicester City, costing us a goal in the process, but by and large he’s been an integral part of a much-improved defence that has kept six clean-sheets in their last eight league outings. He’s an interesting one, Ayala, because he’s an agricultural defender, shall we say, who can head the ball as far as most goalkeepers can kick it but he does have the odd lapse in him. The hope would be that he continues to improve in the way that he has been and, if he does that, we’ve got ourselves a bargain at around £350,000.
Of course, it wouldn’t be ‘deadline day’ without the club making us wait until the dying embers of proceedings before adding some much-needed attacking impetus to the squad; Becchio, Doyle, Dorrans, some kid from Holland, they were all talked about at relative length but it does seem like the gaffer had decided fairly early-on that Danny Graham was his preferred choice to take over the no.9 position. It’s good to have him back as he is proven in the second-tier, and he is a clear improvement on Lukas Jutkiewicz, but I get the feeling he needs to get his goal as quickly as possible because he’s endured an incredibly poor 2013. That said, scoring goals at Premier League level is a much more demanding task than scoring them in the division below so I’m optimistic about the lad rediscovering his knack and banging a few in for us. The deal for Lee Tomlin, who seems to be a bit of a nutter really, had to wait until the clock struck eleven but it’s clear that we’d been trying to get it done for a good old while as a deal to make the move permanent next summer is already in place. I don’t know an awful lot about him, aside from the fact he’s got goals in him, he likes to shoot and get involved in the play as often as possible and he gets sent-off quite a lot. Unusual as it may sound, the thought of watching a little stocky bloke from Peterborough United strut his stuff on the Riverside pitch is actually quite exciting.
In terms of outgoings, well once again Karanka’s ruthlessness in shipping out those who either weren’t playing or, to be frank, weren’t delivering was a fresh of breath air(that’s deliberately the wrong way round, by the way, a la Roy Keane on telly sometime last season). Lukas Jutkiewicz’s move from Coventry City just hasn’t worked out and his last few performances for us, barring a good hour or so against Burnley on Boxing Day, had been very poor. Sometimes it just doesn’t look like working for a player and the more he played for us, the less likely it seemed he would turn it around. Bolton Wanderers have found the perfect replacement for David N’Gog, perhaps. We also allowed Faris Haroun to join Blackpool for 50p and and a handful of Our Price vouchers.
The most interesting departure is that of Marvin Emnes to Swansea City. Personally, I’m relieved he’s gone because I don’t think he offered enough to the side – one goal and four ‘assists’ this season speaks for itself. Six goals and seven ‘assists’ since the start of last season doesn’t just speak for itself, it absolutely bellows at you through a megaphone down a loud-haler thing that’s plugged into a really powerful amp. The kind-hearted members of our support will remember him as a talented boy who scored a handful of spectacular goals(that sublime scissor-kick thing he did at Walsall in the cup, the screamer at Elland Road), though I suspect most of us will remember him as someone who failed to apply himself properly a lot of the time, who didn’t seem to like taking a shot on or getting into the box, and as someone who liked to drop deep into the midfield, far too deep at times, and faff about instead of doing the things he was good at. I don’t think it’s much of a surprise that Karanka has allowed him to move on just three months into the job, though it will be interesting to see how he gets on in the Premier League.
The one I was most disappointed to see leave the club was Richie Smallwood; an ever-industrious player who never let the team down when called upon and a lad who I thought would prosper under Karanka, in fact I think he was prospering actually but, well, what can you do. The gaffer thought it best for him to be out playing every week instead of having a few minutes here and there for us and it’s hard to argue against that, especially if Nathaniel Chalobah lives up to the hype. The others who left; Halliday, Reach, Luke Williams, Frazer Richardson – well will we actually miss them? They’ve barely featured for us this season and it’s better for everyone if they’re out there getting a regular game instead of loitering about somewhere between the U21 side and Nandos.
So all in all it looks like did some good business and seemingly improved the squad, the team itself, whilst simultaneously ridding ourselves of some of the lads who needed moving on to pastures new. Not being able to extend Shay Given’s loan might be the one thing we regret but, to put it simply, we can’t afford to pay him the kind of money Aston Villa pay him so we move on to someone else. It’ll be interesting to see how Jason Steele fares behind a new-look defence, behind a resolute team that defends from the front, as opposed to the circus he was playing behind prior to his sending-off at Leeds but maybe Karanka will fancy getting another experienced head to see us through to the end of the season. All we can say about this window is that it’s put us in a decent position to build on the recent improvements and that the squad looks in better shape now than it was a month ago, which is pretty much all you can ask for of a manager and his staff once the the window ‘slams shut’, as they say on satellite television.