Gate Points To Progress Through Pain

IS BORO’S current success by accident or design? Certainly the season has not panned out as it was intended. The Red Book renewal spin stated emphatically that we were aiming at the top six and beyond but back in January suddenly we were deep in the brown stuff and it was time to start digging. That wasn’t in the script.
I raise this not to muddy the waters before our UEFA Cup moment of truth but because, well, HE started it. Gareth Southgate is a player to be admired for his insight and integrity and willingness to answer a question honestly. Some people may suspect his timing is questionable after he started picking at the barely healed scabs of January in the Sunday Times but we shouldn’t forget where we were at back then.
“Well, there was so much going on behind the scenes,” he recalled. “The chairman deserves a lot of credit because at that point it looked as if important players were going, and he put a block on that. Otherwise we’d have lost Mark Schwarzer, Ugo Ehiogu and Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink, who have all played significant parts in our revival. The manager wanted to bring in new blood and felt he had to sell those three to do that … It was the dressing room, as much as the manager, that put things right.”


There was a lot going on behind the scenes in January? It was absolute bloody chaos with manager, players and club chiefs all seemingly briefing against each other in the media. The club appeared to be tearing itself apart.
Overly dramatic? Well, maybe. But remember, December had yielded two points from six games, January started with a late sucker punch at Newcastle, crowds were in free-fall and Boro had slipped into the dangerzone. “It was always going to be a season of consolidation,” said the boss.
Then the shadow dancing began. There was transfer money available then there wasn’t. Loan signings were coming in then they weren’t. Players were openly touted around clubs by their agents but nothing happened. “I was a Baggie in my head” said Ugo. Schwarzer had slapped in a transfer request six months after signing a new deal. From day to day McClaren changed his position on signings, then after it was agreed that there was to be no activity came a deadline day bid for Joey Barton that the boss appeared not to know about .
Meanwhile there were stories of dressing room unrest, apparently confirmed by fisrt Jonathon Greening, then skipper Southgate. “There a few things not right in the dressing room,” he said. We couldn’t believe such a media savvy individual could drop a hand-grenade like that. It must be a mistake, a misquotation, surely. Then he repeated it a few days later. Clearly it was calculated. Had McClaren lost the dressing room?
Then, with the squad on a sunshine break in Spain, Keith Lamb went live on the Three Legends and gave a less than spirited defence of his boss. He conceded there were problems, agreed the football was far from entertaining and admitted “no one at the club expected it to be a season of consolidation”.
On balance he said there were more good things on Mac’s CV – the cup, Europe, the kids coming through – than bad things… but in making than analogy he seemed to suggest that the situation was actively being weighed up and that the scales could tip the other way with just a few more mistakes.
He also admitted that Southgate had called a squad meeting to blast the senior squad and console the kids. Hold on, said tens of thousands of Boro fans, isn’t that the manager’s job?
Then as a parting gesture Lamb took a call from a suspiciously well informed mystery man – not Graham Fordy talking through a bunched up handkerchief, no siree – and admitted “No, Steve McClaren has NOT signed his contract” then ripped off his headphones and dived into a revved up car before his bombshell could be discussed.
I took the revelation to be part of some dark political machinations and suggested it was not good for Mac’s employment prospects. He appeared to agree. Two days later “sources close to McClaren” told Louise Taylor of the Guardian that the boss was “furious at being publicly undermined.”
Now in newspaper speak “sources close to” means one of two things: a) he told me but told me not to tell you it was him; or b) I’ve made this up. Surely if it was b) she would be banned by the club or at least face the cold shoulder from Mac. But no, there she was at Friday’s press conference/ contract signing circus laughing and joking with Mac as he beamed and waved around the paperwork we had been told was sealed six months earlier.
That weekend Boro were thumped 7-0 in a humilating display at Highbury. “Any team would lose against Arsenal with ten men,” said the boss, even though Doriva had been pedalled ten minutes from time with Boro six down. The defeat at home to Wigan was spirited but still a defeat, then there was a lacklustre FA Cup draw at Coventry. Then Boro went to whipping boys Sunderland and the consensus among the cognescenti – and that includes members of the club staff who I won’t name – was that defeat would mean the chop, new contract or not. They won
Then came the Villa match. There is a separate detailed piece to be written about the Villa match, a novel even: Mac’s body language, the spineless capitulation, Cattermole’s tears, Mark Davison throwing his season ticket and getting a standing ovation as he was carted off, the angry bust-up between Viduka and fans after the game and then Steve Gibson addressing the disillusioned gathering two hours after the game and refusing to accept the Red Books surrendered by a disillusioned supporter.
What happened next we can’t know. The reaction of the fans – not only the season ticket chucking but also the rousing rendition of ‘You Are My Boro’ straight after – and the reaction of Cattermole must have hit home to the players. Riot acts must have been read, in the dressing room and in the boardroom. The club had hit rock bottom.
Boro beat Chelsea next – and I dread to think what would have happened if Petr Cech had saved the first one – then won away in Stuttgart and the season was galvanised. The hope returned. The goals returned. George Boeteng returned. Suddenly we were flying in the cups and glory beckoned.
But looking back just three months, prompted by Sir Gareth, shows exactly how fragile footballing success can be. One result can shape a season and define an era. When we play Bucharest in a UEFA Cup semi final on Thursday – yes, UEFA Cup semi-final, I can’t say that enough – it will show us how far we have come as a club. Not just in the dramatic 20 years since liquidation but also since January.

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8 thoughts on “Gate Points To Progress Through Pain

  1. Whatever happens this Thursday if Steve McClaren is manager of Boro next season then it is make or break time, we have a very good squad now, probably the best ever and presumably some cash to spend in the summer.
    We need league success to move forward from this year, that means top six. If not it will be time for a change of manager. I for one hope Steve McClaren is sucesfull with Boro next year, we all deserve it.

  2. Vic
    Won’t repeat here what I put in response to Boro should go large after Big Mac.
    I puzzled too over the timing of the Gate interview on Sunday just before the semi knowing, as you say, how well able he is to judge what he says, why and when and being media savvy. So the issue is why did he do it?
    Let me try something out on you. I think McClaren’s leaving us anyway. I think that Steve Gibson decided that around Xmas/New Year and it was confirmed by the performances away at Arsenal and home against Villa.
    Gibson stopped him selling players and recruiting more rubbish from the reserves of middling European teams and it is clear that Gibson with a cadre of senior players lead by Southgate and JFH took a grip and have pulled things around since.
    So McClaren knows his time is up and so does Gate. Gate also says McClaren isn’t ready for England but then Steve Gibson is demonstrably thinking about replacements with rumours that the FA have been talking about contract compo.
    It wouldn’t surprise me, then, to see one of 2 alternatives if McClaren doesn’t get the England job.
    Scolari gets it after the World Cup but McLaren is recruited as full time England coach and assistant manager with a wider role for national coaching development at all levels and a promise of succession after the next World Cup.
    If not that, Erikson gets Real Madrid (or similar) and McClaren goes with him as first team coach/assistant manager (doing something a little bit like Queroz did the other way round with Real and Man U) in an attempt to boost his ‘big club’ credentials for after Big Phil leaves the England job.
    Any way round I hope this is resolved soon. One thing that leaves a really bad taste at present is that since the Beeb took that poll of chief sports reporters which indicated that none of them wanted McClaren to be England manager they have been orchestrating a campaign against him.
    I don’t mind that particularly but often the chosen method is to slag off Boro as a way of getting at McLaren. A recent example was one national daily that was chortling that our UEFA 2nd leg Semi was only on ITV 4 because that was all our entertainment value under McClaren merited.
    It’ll be interesting to see how sniffy the press pack are about the UEFA Cup next season when their beloved Gunners christen the Emirates Stadium with a UEFA first round tie against a Greek 4th place side.
    About the same as they were with the Scousers a few years ago when they won it, I guess. Those who aren’t Gooners (mostly the radio and TV types) are Happy Hammers so I guess they won’t be so sniffy next season either and the UEFA games might find themselves on ITV 1!

  3. In September I made the point that a couple of cup semi’s and finishing 8th and no europe would be treated as failure. Unfair but failure. The ramifications of not requalifying are huge. The following points are put bleakly to highlight the club’s problems.
    Can we support the wage bill and squad? Rotation means a place in the North Riding Senior Cup.
    What will happen to season ticket sales following the fiasco of ‘the only place you dont go to on a Saturday at 3.00pm is the Riverside’. Fans have learnt that you can bide your time and go to the good matches. Why turn up for lower teams when you know Boro won’t. The glory seekers who only turn up when Cup Finals are up for grabs now includes the players.
    If Mac had been on the sub continent we would have won both test series because Mac is the match for Kumbli and co in the spin stakes.
    Gate openly talks of problems, the biggest we may face is if Mac stays. Not everything is his fault, he gets reflected flak from off pitch activities. As Phil Thomson said, if you are winning all the problems melt away.
    Clearly there are problems at the club, most clubs have them. Expectations are now much higher. We have won a trophy, played in europe for two seasons, lots of exposure good and bad. I think it will be a turbulent summer.

  4. Watching from a distance you can sometimes pick up on patterns that you don’t see when close up.
    One thing that I have noticed about Mac is that he tends to get glowing references from his current boss but more mixed references from those beneath him. That’s always the sign of someone who can take and pass-on orders but can’t give them.
    I think everyone would agree that Mac works incredibly hard and that he never stops thinking. He does appear to be a good technical coach but his man-management appears to be poor when he’s in the one in charge.
    It may be that the crisis brought the best out of him. He had absolutely no luck early in the campaign but has had plenty since: Cech’s lack of concentration being the most obvious example. To give Mac his due, you can’t be a failure when you get us to the semis of the UEFA and FA Cup in the same season.
    Yet, when you look at it objectively, Mac has the look of someone who has been promoted above his ability. Over the new year, he panicked, lost the plot and then got lucky. Bottom line for me is that he looks like a very good number two (and no, that’s not meant to be an insult).
    He could still prove his doubters wrong. This crisis may have been the making of him but I don’t think so. I would not be sorry to see him go and I get the feeling that the club management feel similarly.
    I don’t think it’s any coincidence that there seems to be little progress towards resigning our big players. The club look like they’re holding the door open for him to leave.
    Hopefully, posting this message means that we win the UEFA cup due to a stunning piece of tactical innovation from Mac. I could live with being wrong then…

  5. Noticed your comments about Louise Taylor upsetting Steve Mac. Hardly a surprise is it given that she is said to support a team that has amassed a whole 31 points in their last two Premier League campaigns.

  6. Having read some of the comments to this blog, looking at the message board, the press and like another posting I am from afar, if the Football Managers Association were a supermarket I suspect mac may be past his sell by date.
    That is not meant as a criticism just may be best all round.

  7. Here we go again, the sniping from the “self appointed Boro faithful” about partimers, glory hunters, band wagon jumpers etc,(ad infinitum, ad nauseum).
    For various reasons but mainly due I think to the quality of football served up this last two seasons, many would be season ticket holders have decided to put their “usually” hard earned money somewhere else.
    When will the message get home that football is not just a sport but should also be about entertainment (and in no small measure player/management committment).
    I don’t expect to go to the Riverside and see reruns of the Basel match every week, but I also don’t expect to be walking away from a match thinking “I could have spent the last 2 hours insulating the loft, instead of being here”.
    In the end it all boils down to passion, just like other things in life if the titillation isn’t there then the interest dies.
    Because of work committments I no longer hold a season ticket , but I would like to compare the number of games home and away (including the 3rd div., sadly no I wasn’t one of the 125,000!,if you can believe all those that were supposed to have been there,that watched the Boro play home games at Hartlepool), I have attended from 1967 till the present day with any of the johnny come lately “Boro faithfull”
    Anyway enough of that tosh. Come on Boro 2-0 for tonight, I will be listening on the net, a bundle of nerves as usual, please don’t make me throw my laptop out of the window.
    Steve in Mississippi U.S.

  8. Thought I would check back here after the match. Sadly there was no tactical master stroke from Mac. He went to the same well three times in a row and paid for it.
    I do think he got it wrong to start with. Morrisson has been off the boil for a few weeks and it was always likely that the game would be won in midfield.
    Personally I would have played 4-5-1 with Rochemback just off Viduka, Catt and Boat in the middle and I would have used Parlour on the right in the first half. Would have been massess of groans but you have the chance to get a foothold in the game and can up the pace later.
    That said, several of the players also froze and Boateng chose his big stage to have one of his occasional nightmares.
    All in all, I think Mac has been a mixed success. I think he’s a far better assistant and organiser than he is a manager. One thing the best managers have is the ability to spot problems before anyone else and the ability to plan a few moves ahead. McClaren has shown no sign of having that.
    It would be unfair to slate him because he has never stopped working but I fear he’s going to be found out and a decent bloke is going to be torn to pieces.
    The next appointment is going to be crucial. Venables/Southgate might be good but I worry that Southgate seems a little too David Platt and not enough Mark Hughes.

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