Rovers, Race And Dug-out Diplomacy

BORONOIA strikes again as Paul Ince has been given the backing of the League Managers’ Association to take over at Ewood Park despite not having the stipulated coaching badges.
That will be the same League Managers’ Association that was so vehemently opposed to Gareth Southgate taking over at Boro because, er, he didn’t have the stipulated coaching badges then?

Relax though. This is not about giving other sides a helping hand at Boro’s expense, although you could argue that may well turn out to be one of the consequences and Blackburn should really be bossed by someone with all the badges, like Howard Wilkinson for instance. No, this is about political expediency, ticking boxes and maybe fear at being branded ‘racist’.
First it must be said that since Southgate and Glenn Roeder were given their two year dispensations to do their coaching courses and get the UEFA Pro-licence by the Premier League – moves that the LMA insisted must by the last – there have been other loophole dodgers that have been endorsed by the dugout staff association.
Roy Keane was given dispensation last term because he won promotion with Sunderland, which seems fair enough as a concrete demonstration of ability, and Avram Grant was given the nod at Chelsea on the grounds that he had managed at international level and been involved in the technical side of the game for decades.
But even then the LMA stressed their opposition to unqualified managers working in the top flight as a principle. In general terms it is a principle I would agree with. In any sphere of employment it makes sense to have as much training as possible and if that can be structured in a coherent way and designed and delivered by people with experience and technical expertise in that area then all the better. All other things being equal you would want your organisation managed by someone who has shown they have reached at least the the minimum standard required in the industry rather than the the bloke who hasn’t.
Personally though, I don’t believe paperwork should be the only criteria for filling jobs. Apptitude, determination, potential all come into it too, as well as being in the right place at the right time when a vacancy comes up and catching the eye of an employer willing to take a chance on an individual they believe have the ability to short-circuit the exam structure and deliver results. If they get it right they are masters of the game blessed with insight and vision that the pen pushers and badge counters don’t possess. If they get it wrong, well, that’s their own look out.
The LMA in contrast don’t see those as acceptable methods of entry into their industry. Like any self-important professional body of clipboard wielders they defend their qualification criteria jealously, seeing it as a tool to control the supply of labour and ultimately the job prospects of their members at the expense of chancers and interlopers. Which is fair enough.
But having set out their stall with exacting standards it seems opportunistic to then rush to endorse Ince as Rovers boss. Yes he is a member of the LMA and has managed in the lower leagues and has an impressive early record as they have said – but you either NEED the licence to work in the top flight or you don’t. Which is it to be?
If they are now to judge every case on its merits and accept there can be exceptional circumstances will they be forwarding an apology to Steve Gibson and Middlesbrough Football Club for their intense public opposition to the appointment of Southgate?
Or is there another dimension? Are the LMA making a politically motivated stepover to get past their own red tape and tick some boxes with positive discrimination?
Brendon Batson, the FA’s equality and diversity consultant, said: “We need someone to carry the flag. Paul is providing great encouragement to other black players looking to pursue a career in coaching or management.” Which is true and laudable and at least honest.
Incey has long been a pioneer and for that deserves massive respect. As a top player at a time when the bigots were still making monkey noises and throwing banana the self appointed ‘Guvnor’ was in the vanguard of changing perceptions of the role and potential of black players and as the first black captain of a senior England side (Ugo Ehoigu had already skippered the Under 21s) he helped crack the glass ceiling of racism.
And there is no doubt that there are other barriers yet to be broken. Only last month the Daily Telegraph and anti-racism outfit Kick It Out published a report into why so few of the huge number of black professionals stay in the game and progress to become managers, coaches or even physios and scouts. In that context Ince has become a cause celebre, and indeed his progress and potential has also become he focus of black political organisations beyond the game.
I can’t imagine he is comfortable with that. In general sportsmen are non-political and see their own pursuit of excellence as an individual one rather than part of a wider social context. Having spoken to Ince when he was at Boro my impression was that he was determined, zealous in his quest to win every game and every tackle and intensely focussed but not that he was a radical crusader and certainly not that he encapsulated the hopes of a generation.
He would want to succeed on his own merits and because he was good at the job. Blackburn would want the same. For people to want him to succeed simply because he was black is patronising and insulting. And for him to be given special treatment to that end is open to similar accusations. Are the LMA following the Bateson line and relaxing their own fiercely defended principles for the sake of political expediency and affirmative action? I think we should be told.
MEANWHILE, the appointment of Incey means double trouble for Gareth Southgate – now there are TWO other former inspirational Boro skippers for him to be measured against.
It is inevitable that Ince and Tony Mowbray will become the new proxy benchmarks against which the critics will judge Southgate’s progress this year. Every big signing for Rovers will be used as evidence that our man hasn’t got pulling power in the transfer market, every shrewdly engineered Baggies win over the big boys proof that Mogga is every inch the master tactician that the Gate is not. Collectively they will fulfill the role that Martin O’Neill in recent years did when he was The One Who Got Away.
If either Rovers or Albion get off to good starts and Boro do not, then not only will the the only barely submerged dissent begin to become vocal again but that now it will have renewed focus. Maybe we have got the wrong former Boro skipper in the dug-out people will start to say.
Of course, that has long been the case anyway in Mogga’s case but for Southgate that problem will now be doubled and shifted from the realm of the abstract and made concrete by the league table.
If Boro do not start brightly then the matches against both Rovers (at home on September 27 and away on January 17th) and the Baggies (here on October 29th and there on February 7th) will be potential minefields and bad results may swiftly become sticks to beat the boss with.
The challenge for Southgate this term is to neutralise those putative claims to his throne by delivering the goods. There were glimpses last season that suggest he is not far short of a team that can play exciting, attacking football with pace and movement. If that can be sustained, and if shrewd summer signings can strengthen the squad and help the team push on into the top ten and beyond then the presence of the pretenders will not even be an issue.
He has broad support among the crowd but a sizeable faction remain sceptical or are still smarting over the Cardiff catastrophe and it will not take much for them to become vocal. A good start for Boro can win those waverers back over and put the project back on track.
It will also make what could be tricky Riverside returns for Mogga and Incey little more than a nostalgic case of Friends Reunited.
More musing on this potential political problem in today’s Gazette…
KEITH LAMB has said progress is being made on a string of signings and that Boro are confident of having three new faces in place when pre-season training starts on July 7th. You can read the full interview here.


72 thoughts on “Rovers, Race And Dug-out Diplomacy

  1. Liverpool might try and use Carson as part of any deal for Downing.
    Hopefully Downing will as GS says be going no where.
    C’Mon Boro!

  2. I think Boro should get Carson for £10m. It’s money well spent as he is young and can last at Boro for years as goalkeepers usually play until well after 30 years old.
    If we were to sell Downing, i think a swap deal for Jermaine Pennant would be great. So we would have two pacey players in Pennant on the right and Johnson on the left who can interchange and provide Alves with the goods.

  3. BoroMike, £10m for Carson and you think thats money well spent??? Are you for real? They are only looking to pay £12m for Downing and you honeslty think that a £2m price diff is a fair price between the two? Not a chance.
    If they honestly want Downing it can only be because Villa have told them where to go with their persuit of Barry.
    We should do the same, if we are even contemplating a deal with them then it should be a player plus cash deal involving £8m for Downing & we get Alonso, Carson & Pennant too.

  4. I don’t envy the job that Ince has taken on at Blackburn. I think Hughes took those guys about as far as he could, and his success shows the catch-22 that teams like Boro and Blackburn have.
    In our case, a period of time where we “seem” to have underachieved has led to disgruntled fans and an alarming number of empty red seats on match days.
    Blackburn’s success will surely lead to a mini-exodus. Incey has proclaimed himself “the Guvnor” and issued the obligatory hands-off statement to the usual suspects, but I’ll be surprised if he wins that battle of wills.
    Take away Bentley and Santa-Cruz and that team will be a shadow of its former self (oh, how I wish they hadn’t been playing in the opening match of last season!).
    So GS has quite the balancing act to do with regards to signings. As fans we want the “Juninho-like” sexy signings, but players like that will probably not work out long term. Harper and Digard are not spectacular, but if they help us to become more of a solid “Everton-like” side, then I’m all for it.

  5. Never Happy – I think that you’ve hit the nail on the head.
    Perhaps the scenario is/was Boro contact Liverpool asking if Carson is available and the response is ‘we’ll swap him for Downing,’ hence the rumour in todays papers.
    It’s also possible that the same happened with Fulham ie Boro ask if Bullard is available and the response is we’ll swap him for Young.
    Who knows; transfer negotiations are complicated and people/organisations with varying agendas feed stories to the newspapers.

  6. Boro Mike
    A reason liverpool might want Downing (and I say might) is because the delivery from Babbel and Pennant is so hit and miss. The idea of Pennant firing random crosses on one wing (plus his unstable background and behaviour) and the as yet unproven Johnno on the other is not a good mix.
    Pennant and Downing maybe could work, Johnno with someone reliable on the other wing would be the same. But not together.
    Harper is not a dog, I am sure he is admirable but he is not what we need. If we assume either O’Neill or Aliadiere plays wide right we are still left with the problem in central midfield. If Harper is so good why did Reading go down?
    We need a player to drive us forward, someone who has pace and can play a pass plus shoot. When I have seen him play I havent thought to myself wish he played for us.
    Where to find another Fabregas is like the search for the Holy Grail, we all want one but there are not many about.

  7. AV no offence mate but Harper is not and will never be as good as Robbie Mustoe was for us.
    It didnt matter who we signed, Mustoe always fought off the competition and proved he was good enough to be in the team week in week out.
    Could you honestly see Harper still holding on to his place every week if we were to go back to the days of signing players like TLF, Emerson, Barmby etc because I couldnt.

  8. Mustoe commentated on some of the Euro 2008 group games on ESPN here in the States. I was impressed with his analysis, and his sidekick kept referring to his time at the Boro.
    The commentators were also really impressed with Tuncay (especially Andy Gray) and kept mentioning that he was a Boro boy. He is an assistant coach with Boston College’s mens’ soccer program.

  9. Neil (USA)I heard some of the espn comentary but didnt hear Mustoe which was a shame.
    You still wont beat the comment on (I think) bbc in turkeys first game where Tuncay tripped over in the box, (ok he dived) and the comentator said ‘well he certainly didnt learn THAT at the Riverside’.
    Saying that though after Austria’s first game they were calling Poggi a thug and started using the Mad Dog tag again. They never once mentioned his improved disciplinary record over the last season.
    I wonder which Poggi we are going to get back, the club captain with some self control or the guy who took over Mad Frank’s Querdrue’s title. I have to admit, a big part of me is hoping for the return of Mad Dog !!

  10. Sorry, lads, the last post doesn’t read too well…It’s Mustoe who is Boston College’s assistant coach.

  11. So if we are going for Marvin Emnes does that mean O’Neil is on his way?Or is it that he is going to be played in the centre?We already have cover on the right so seems a bit strange if he is not going or moving into the middle.

  12. So the players that we have seriously been linked with so far are Digard, Harper, Robinson, Kaboul, Bullard and Marvin Emnes.
    Southgate says there wil be three new signings before pre-season and my guess is that it will be Digard, Harper and Marvin Emnes.
    However, after he has completed a deal for them I presume he will go for Kaboul as a replacement for any injuries in defence and I also think he will eventually go for a keeper, possibly Robinson or Carsson.
    If there is any money left in the bank it looks as if he still likes the look of James Beatie.. not too sure about that one though!

  13. Ok i know i am mad…but why not…Downing and Tuncay in the middle…. Johnson on the left and Emnes on the right.
    This would mean we had the distribution and speed…plus gives Johnson a slot and provides Alves with the bullets. But that does not solve the -2 goals we lose to start with the keepers we have and will do Downing no favors in the England set up although I do think he would do a great job….mmmmm

  14. Chris
    If we are going to sign the right winger Martin Emnes (definitely someone who slipped under my radar) then I agree that O’Neil’s position is looking in doubt.
    Though, I never thought right wing was his position anyway and a switch inside as a box-to-box midfielder to central midfield is his better position – which is also presumably where Harper is penciled in at.
    But if the initial reviews of Emnes are anything to go by then he’ll definitely improve us on the right.
    So given the prospective signings, I’m now leaning in terms of formation to 4-1-4-1.
    TBA (Turnbull/Jones)
    Young (McMahon)
    Wheater (Riggot/Hines)
    Huth (Pogi/Bates)
    Pogi (Taylor/Grounds)
    Digard (Bullard? Anybody Hard?)
    Emnes (Johnson/Ali)
    Tuncay (Arca?)
    Harper (O’Neil/Cattemole?)
    Downing (Johnson)
    Alves (Mido/Ali)
    As a squad it at least gives us more options and a much better bench than we’ve had for a while.
    Though Southgate may yet go for bog-standard 4-4-2, which would definitely leave a few players futures in doubt as they may not even be guaranteed a place on the bench.
    So it may well be time up for Boateng, Cattemole, Arca and O’Neil once they see Gareth’s first choice team.
    Finally, regarding the general recruitment policy it looks like Southgate (inspired by Lamb) is more in the Wenger school of bringing in promising young talent than let’s say Keegan’s ‘blow the budget on an over-hyped big name signing’ – which I think is the correct philiosophy for a club our size, and this season could well turn out to be quite sucessful.

  15. Werdermouth
    You beat me to it. I tried to post several times with no success due to internet problems.
    If we get the three players that are being bandied about then Cat, Boat and Arca do not have certain futures. O’Neill is a question mark but if he stays he may move inside. Shawky may well stay because he hasnt really contributed yet and is a mate of the Sphinx.
    On to another topic.
    I see Platini appears to be in favour of a move for Ronaldo to Real. The warning bells are starting to ring, we have a club in Real who are heavily in debt trying to buy (through hints.,winks, open statements of intent and telling Ronaldo he has to engineer a move) from an English club in debt and that is OK.
    On the other hand he makes unveiled threats about English clubs being brought to heel because of debt.
    I always thought of Platini as a man with a mission but seeing him sat smugly at the matches this year I am starting to see a younger Sepp Blatter.
    Make no mistake, whilst we all smirk at ManU’s discomfort Platini is looking increasingly an anglophobe. His actions wont just affect the big four, it will cascade down to our level.

  16. On a training course with a Derby colleague and his description of Platini is not flattering, the only caveat is what he described him as is not fit to post and what is more it is useful.

  17. Ian, I don’t know how good Harper is or Digard for that matter, I do know that Harper scored six league goals last season, so he would be an improvement on what we had.
    I also know that Reading went down because you need 11 premiership players in your team not just one, just as when Boro went down despite having Ravenelli & Juninho in the team.
    This is Boro, we aren’t going to sign a new Roy Keane or a new Vierra and if we were lucky enough to do so he would be a young unknown player and several posters would no doubt post ‘what are we signing some unknown kid from xxx for?’!!

  18. Ian
    From Boronoia to Anglophobia – seemlessly executed!
    For the record I think Platini is more concerned about too many foreigners in the English game, in terms of ownership and players, rather than being anti-English – at least Spain are still able to put out a decent national team and overcome my over-achieving german hosts
    Back to Boro:
    I keep forgetting about Shawky, he’s certainly the invisible man when team selection comes around – I guess he’ll be the natural understudy for Digard now.
    The O’Neil situation still puzzles me – if he’s staying there shouldn’t be a need to buy Harper.
    But I think Boro are going to struggle to recoup their £6m on him as despite early promise he failed to chip in with any goals – and given that Harper is priced at only £3.5m with six goals in a team that often struggled to score, then he looks better value.
    Perhaps Harper is a red herring and the three players coming in are Digard, Emnes and a hopefully a keeper (we’re still being linked with Robinson!)

  19. Mainy, Mustoe only commentated on the “lesser games”. Andy Gray and Adrian Healey did all the plum first round games on ESPN and ALL of the second round games.
    One thing I’ll say about American TV is that there is NO Boronoia. ESPN / ABC commentators mentioned the Boro favorably several times while discussing Pogatetz and Tuncay.
    Also, commentators and pundits for Fox Soccer Channel positively gushed over Southgate last season, who in their mind had slowly but surely transformed McClaren’s aging defensive-minded squad into a younger side that held promise (obviously in a lot of the games the commentators emphasized that the Boro had promise, but weren’t necessarily delivering).
    Hope we can make progress on our transfer targets soon. I’d still like to see a keeper added. Maybe GS is going to really let Jones and turnbull fight it out…maybe he’ll give them until January to show everyone what they can do.

  20. All the rumours lead to Digard and Harper both the same. The Dutchman sounds intresting as he can also be a backup striker which is good cover and plays rightside. I hope we dont take all season trying to find the best positions for these chaps.
    Again overseas players who will take time to settle at least Harper played in the prem last season if he does half as good as Young did then he will do. If all these chaps come then its goodbye to the Boat and maybe Arca.
    Still think all this will be no good without a keeper if what we have is so good why did we revert stright back to Mark as soon as he was available.

  21. These coaching badges and rules to manage in the Premier League are a waste of time if they are not going to be inforced.
    At least with Ince he spent a couple of seasons learning his trade in the lower leagues which I feel should be encouraged more.
    Will be interesting to see how Ince, Mogga and Southgate do this season. Big season for Southgate and he will be compared to them two. So important he has a good season. It is his team now and so no excuses

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