BARRING injuries – and this is Boro so don’t rule out early action for the stretcherbearers – Southgate has now plugged the gaps at the back with a central defensive pairing that has finally replaced two key figures of what was once a watertight defence.
The new Gate has replaced the old Gate as a classy ball playing defender who is tough in the tackle but also has the anticipation, positioning and organisational qualities that give them an edge against the best and who can make a back-line greater than the sum of its parts.
And Huth has finally replaced Ugo, a bruising, physical, athletic presence that can bully even the biggest strikers and who adds strength and height to the defence. The commanding Ehiogu of three or four years ago has been sorely missed and left Boro with a soft centre.
If things work out then these can be two brilliant signings that ease the early pressure on the boss and give him the platform to shape the team he wants. If they don’t, well….
Let us be under no illusions, there are risks involved. Huth is a German international and physically ticks all the right boxes but he has only played 42 games for Chelsea in five seasons and alongside John Terry even Phil Whelan would look good. Many Boro fans are raving about him but few will remember him playing for Chelsea. In many respects he remains unproven. Boro have paid a lot of money for him and he comes with an unresolved injury that will keep him out for the next three weeks at least.
Woodgate is a class act. He was widely considered to be technically the best defender in England at his peak and Real Madrid bought him because they thought him among the best in Europe. He was a key factor in propelling Leeds to the brink of glory and Newcastle never lost in the 30 odd games he played in. On that basis his signing is a real coup.
But he has been out injured for the best part of two years. After playing just 12 games in two seasons he will be rusty at best and well short at worst. He broke down twice on his attempted return for Real and they do not believe he is yet ready for them. That leaves him with a lot to prove, which could work well for Boro if he has the fire to return.
He also comes with baggage – a conviction for affray after a late night attack on an Asian student – and while there has been a reticence to even mention it on Teesside the national media will not be so shy and with the slightest off the field problem it will be used as a stick to beat the club. Shaun Custis has already had a dig in the Sun and claimed a move to Boro where he is surrounded by his friends and potential distractions will be a disaster.
And remember, not all Boro fans have always been so keen on his rehabilitation. Last time he played at the Riverside he was repeatedly serenaded with “you’re supposed to be in jail” and over the years has be widely denounced as a ‘traitor’ by the lunatic fringe for wearing black and white stripes. There will be hardened critics who will need to be won around.
But there are lots of positives to the signing. As a local lad he will fit straight into a changing room already ringing with Teesside accents and as a world class player will be welcomed for what he can add. And he will be welcomed by the Riverside crowd too. A few good performances will soon see him idolised. Boro fans are knowledgeable and should see the value of his contribution and will allowances as he works his way towards full fitness.
For Woodgate this move is a chance to rebuild his career and regain his place with England, with Real and at the top of the game and if he takes it Boro will have got a world class player on the cheap. Then the problem will be persuading him to stay next summer. That a quality player burning to show his potential is at the Riverside should be a cause for great optimism.
Plus signing of a household name from Real Madrid and a German international from the champions should also end the bleak undercurrent of despair, talk of a downturn in ambition and any fears that the money has run out. There has been widespread frustration at the lack of signings but Boro have ended that in style.
And don’t underestimate the potential of Euell either. He is a good squad player that adds a physical dimension and punch from midfield that Boro were sorely lacking, a player who can aid a switch from 4-5-1 to 4-4-2 or from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3 without a substitution and one with a excellent goal scoring record.
And as he has so often played well against Boro he meets the other recruitment criteria too.