GARETH Southgate is halfway to understanding the zen of Boro. Asked on Match of the Day 2 after the stirring 2-2 monstering of Manchester United “can you sum up the enigma that is Middlesbrough in less than 20 words?” he gave just one: “no – and that is 19 less than you offered.” That shows honesty, self awareness and humilty and a certain level of insight into the inpenetrable nature of the riddle and reveals that he is coming to terms with the question.
After eight years as player and boss he has seen it all, the frustrations and the glories, the coupon busting wins against all the odds and the inexplicable craven capitulations at the beckoning open doors of success – Cardiff, Steaua, Eindhoven, Cardiff again – and has had to cope with the turmoil of the terraces that goes with that too. He has broken down the intellectual and emotional impact of that and reduced his experience to one word. That is good.
But all true Teesside zen masters of the Holgate know the true essence of the dichotomy is actually summed up in two: “typical Boro,” a knowing phrase that pronounced correctly is spat out like an obscenity that combines disgust, betrayal, righteous anger, world weary cynicism, bloody-minded defiance and a kernel of hope, an eternal flame of perverse optimism that can be fanned into glorious life by defeat as readily as victory. We shall overcome. Erimus. The nature of the club, the strength, is derived from a unity in moments of despair.
Southgate is starting to understand the depth of the enigma which is a start. Steve McClaren and Bryan Robson – the two most successful managers in the club’s history – never even acknowledged there was a question, let alone tried to grasp the answer.
I like Gareth Southgate. He is honest and open in answering even the most difficult questions in a way that is rare with managers and even though that opens you to quite vicious attacks from supporters and sneering ones from the press when things are going wrong he has never retreated from that during the tough times. He has a dry sense of humour, a dignity in defeat and a willingness to accept that he is still learning. His post-match interviews are articulate, frank and press a lot of emotional buttons that suggest he is acutely aware of how the supporters are reading the situation. On the Beeb after the Man United game for instance he touched on the impact of the Cardiff game in way that suggested he understood its political and emotional impact beyond the result on the day.
One day he could be a true zen master and unravel the enigma. What about you? Can you do it in 20 words? I’m bloody sure I can’t.
“Boro Goal Machine” Alves is a Brazilian blend of Bernie and Ravanelli. He has the uncanny and uncoachable Slavenesque ability to be in the right place at the right time allied with the power, poise and clinical finishing of the ruthless Italian finisher. For both goals he made the right runs before the ball broke and was on the spot to ram them home in style. It was inspirational.
There is an argument that it is a learned response, that he has studied Boro in recent weeks, has absorbed the way the team play, has anticipated the kind of moves and the nature of the knock downs and through balls but that is far-fetched over analysis. He has qualities that can be coached: movement, strength on the ball, first touch, finishing … but what will make him worth the ÃÂ£13m is an instinct to be where the second ball lands, an innate ability to be in the right place in the right time. That is something Boro haven’t had since Slaven and is an incredible asset. We have said all along that he will come good. Most of us anyway.
His ability to rattle the woodwork last week was noted and seen as a plus. He was just getting his eye in. Now with fitness levels up and galvanised by a goal or two there will be no stopping him. Now, if only he could head the ball….
MotD2: The BBC branch of the Boro Supporters Club? At times it sounds that way. Both Lee Dixon and Gavin Peacock were gushing in their praise for Boro, which is nice. Both were excited by Boro’s positive approach, pace getting forward, willingness to take the game to United and the number of chances created. And they didn’t even even pick out a couple of individuals to slag off. They would get slaughtered on Teesside for being bloody ra-ras.
Mad Dog Bites the Granny Botherer: Well, he didn’t bite him, it was worse than that – he laughed in his face. Wayne Rooney was giving the lip readers in the armchair audience apoplexy with his foul mouthed invective after being unceremoniously brushed aside again, effing and blinding and looking for trouble and the uber-cool Alpine hardman looked at the emotionally incontinent spud-faced Scouse, sneered and laughed in his face. Quality. It left Rooney incandescent and charging around in an undisciplined rage and put Poggy well and truely in control in that particular battle.
**OVER TO YOU – can you answer the Beeb’s Boro enigma and sum up Boro in 20 words? Or get with the zen of the club and answer in haiku form?