IS STEVE Gibson planning to add an Anfield style ‘bootroom’ to Hurworth? Is it the main man’s grand vision to lay down the foundations of a coaching culture that can foster a golden age of sustained success? Are we to cultivate our own leaders and managers as well as our own players? Certainly that appears to be the picture emerging from the smoke that surrounds Boro’s dug-out dynamo recruitment drive.
There has been no public comment on the managerial position from the club at all but while that might fuel the rumour mill and send the jumpier element of the crowd into a Pete From Big Brother style bout of emotional Tourettes, the pieces that have come to light make the outlines of an interesting picture.
It seems that Gibson is being very specific about the criteria his prospective manager must meet and is setting down strict structural parameters that many established bosses may find it hard to work within. That is a high risk strategy – but the potential rewards if the gamble comes off could transform the club.
The chairman is quite clear about what he wants. He will not be seduced by big names or a CV that shows fleeting success built on shaky foundations. Outlining the job description he told the Gazette:
“He will have to fit into the culture of this football club, our integrity, the way we deal with agents, our Academy, our fitness regimes. The Academy will not be touched. We want to progress on Middlesbrough Football Club’s terms. We want our philosophy and our methods to be followed.
“Our infrastructure is as good as it gets. Look at the kids coming through and the challenge for a new manager to make them better. It’s a great opportunity. We have got to pull a manager out of the top drawer. We have got to get it right and make it a seamless transition.
“The club is in a fantastic position, we have a wonderful infrastructure, we have a fantastic academy and we have some wonderful young players coming through that we have to treat very delicately and make sure we get the best out of them. We can’t rush them. They must be given time to develop. We have so many good things going for us and that will help us move forward again.”
He also put a great emphasis on continuity and the need to keep individuals with knowledge and passion and who shared the vision within the set-up. There would be no throwing the baby out with the bathwater, no boom and bust cycle of new managerial set-ups purging the staff and starting afresh. Specifically Gareth Southgate and Colin Cooper were noted as having a future contribution to make while the Steves Round and Harrison were also marked down as assets to be retained.
It is a laudable aim but many – most – managers would not accept that. Most have their own chosen staff who they have worked with succesfully for years. Often the team comes as a package. Martin O’Neill for instance would insist on bringing Steve Walshaw and John Robertson, the coaches he has worked with since Leicester and who share his philosophy and can make concrete his tactical and technical demands. That was one of the sticking points in the talks. Boro knew that but must have thought there was a way to resolve the problem or the mooted move wouldn’t have got off the ground.
The attraction of first refusee Venables was presumably that he was willing to work on a medium term contract and brought no baggage – not in the form of preferred staff anyway – and was considered willing and able to slot into the existing coaching structure. He was considered ideal to provide interim leadership and tactical nouse while not wanting to rip apart the fledgling hot-house.
But it will be hard to sell that package to would-be bosses. ‘Top drawer’ managers achieved their success through implementing their own vision and using their own staff. They are used to having total control of every aspect of the football side. Many get results by taking short-cuts, changing tack suddenly to suit their needs and using the chequebook and would not take kindly to having their hands tied by a corporate structure or anything so whimsical and principled as a vision.
Nor would many accept a ‘future manager’ lurking in the background, a Shearer like figure marking time and looking more like a successor with every defeat. It takes a special kind of steel and self confidence to tolerate, to encourage and to develop a would-be usurper in such a cut-throar and results led industry as football.
But there will be such people about. Men who will see the potential, buy into the vision and accept the challenge of making it a reality. Boro is a club structured for success. The facilities are in place and the support of the chairman – financially and politically – are unquestioned. The stage is set for a hero, a leader and a legend. The problem is finding the right man, and quickly.
Boro fans who know their own history will be aware that Boro once before came tantalisingly close to snapping up a man who could create such a dynasty. In the late 50s they interviewed a passionate young coach bursting with ideas and enthusiasm and convinced that Boro could be great but turned him down in favour of a big name, David Jack. The rejected coach, a young Scot called Bill Shankley joined second division rivals Liverpool and carved out an empire while Boro flounderd around in obscurity for almost two decades.
Getting the right man now is possibly the biggest decision Steve Gibson has yet had to take. Get it right and we can build on the legacy of Europe and push onto to really make a mark. Get it wrong and Boro could easily slip back among the makeweights for a generation and the Riverside Revolution will be dead.
It rests on getting the right man, a manager who can sympathetically build on the foundations being laid. For my money O’Neill remains THE man for the job. He has the motivational qualities, the tactical nouse and the winning mentality to push Boro on to the next level. I believe he could be the alchemist to turn base metal into gold. He could be our Brian Clough or Bill Shankley figure that transforms a club brimming with potential into a powerhouse. I hope that the possibility is not completely dead.
If not O’Neill then Sam Allardyce, although not the most popular among Teesside fans, strikes me as the next best British candidate. He is a keen advocate of the appliance of science and has shown a willingnes to utilise his own academy and praise Boro’s. The England applicant is a strong personality and a shrewd tactician and has taken Bolton to three successive top eight finishes and hints at more. Beyond that Gibson must relax his stipulation that the boss shoud be English and look further afield. At Louis Van Gaal and Ottmar Hitzfeld for instance.