HAPPY New transfer window! Here goes for what could be a momentous month, one of immense importance to the future development of the club and to the ultimate success of the Southgate project.
There is a potential banana-skin FA Cup looming in which even if Boro fans are not outnumbered by the 7,000 Barrow fans (cue “you’re supposed to be at home”) it will certainly sound like it. Boro also have vital basement battles against Sunderland, West Brom and Blackburn either side of a trip to Chelsea that will determine the tone and the area of the table in which the rest of the season is fought out.
Progress in the cup and a decent return from those league games would ease the mounting political pressure and head the growing anti-Southgate sentiment off at the pass. Seven points from the nine would be excellent, five may be acceptable providing performances are good – especially at home – while four or less would be very hard to sell to the dissenting sections of the crowd and could mean the rest of the season is a tense war of attrition that slips towards ugly internal squabbling in the crowd.
Meanwhile it is a hugely important January in the transfer market too. A fortnight ago the smoke signals from the club suggested that in these times of financial prudence, wage bill trimming and good housekeeping they were powerless to prevent richer scavengers picking over the squad, that the club needed to sell to buy and that every player had their price. We were just waiting for the phone to ring.
In recent days there has been a more defiant public position espoused. The boss has come out and said Stewart Downing is going nowhere, that he is under no pressure to sell any player and that he is keen to keep his important players and add bodies where they are needed, albeit by loans. That is a welcome switch in emphasis.
How January pans out on the transfer front is of huge significance. Finish the month with say Downing gone and O’Neil gone, leaving the midfield bereft of creativity, energy and bodies to be replaced by a couple of untried Serbians and it sends out the signal that the club have downgraded their ambition and their ability to compete and are taking a risky course that ultimately risks relegation.
But if maybe one big name were to be sacrificed, Mido say, and the cash raised was used to tweak elsewhere in the weaker positions and the squad overall was given a more balanced look for little or no outlay then that may well be a boon.
To finish the month will all the key players still in place and with even one or two extra bodies, even obscure loan players with potential for the future, will be regarded as a success, especially if it is accompanied by a decent points return.
The transfer window is open now and the market is already moving. What it brings for Boro will be keenly deconstructed for its political and financial content. It could be a watershed month for the future of the Riverside Revolution.
Happy New Year.