No Self Pity From Men Of Iron

TODAY I am loving the defiant and proud but still harshly realistic assessment of the current situtation by Football365’s professional Boro loving rock and roll Northern Monkey John Nicholson.
I largely agree with both his poetic appraisal of both Teesside’s psycho-history and his analysis of how impending relegation will sit in the grander scheme of things. I don’t take a doomladen millenarian view that relegation is the end of the world. If anything it may dampen down some of the damaging aspects of hysterical over-expectation and inject a new sense of realism about what – and how – we can achieve.


Within the eloquent piece Nicholson says:

“It also still has a Premier League football club – just – and it has done for 11 years. We’ve been in the top flight longer than many bigger city clubs. We have done this while employing at least two managers that ended up being a by-word for football jokes, while supposedly better managers took their clubs down. Maybe they were not always as bad as history re-wrote them to be.
“As higher profile clubs have come up and gone down, we have survived and at least can point to our first silverware in 2004’s League Cup. This is as much success as the club has ever had. So while it might seem odd to the outsider, we feel like we’ve been living in clover, competing at this level and doing alright. It’s not always been pretty, but that’s Teesside all over. We find glamour in grit.
“Now it could well be coming to an end, at least for a season, but Teesside knows a thing or two about decline and how to deal with it. It’s a tough area with firm minds and absolutely no pretension. It is innately equipped to deal with relegation because recent success is but a blip in the Middlesbrough tradition.
“This has been an unusually golden period in the Boro’s history. A period of decline was inevitable at some point. So many of us have psychologically prepared ourselves for it. The younger generation brought up at the Riverside on rich, creamy top flight football may feel it more painfully, but the club stands as a testament to resilience, to bloody-minded survival, to what can be achieved by loyalty, firmness of mind and by growing a giant pair of bollocks. We don’t blindly look to false Gods and so-called Messiahs to rescue us.

Those sentiments would sit easily in this blog. Yesterday in a live post-derby web-chat between people from the Gazette and Chronicle I was asked, to paraphrase, if Boro were heading towards administration and disintegration or whether they were following the now well trodden path of Charlton, Leicester and Southampton towards disaster.
I answered no, that the future will probably be more mundane than that. If Boro go down – and incredibly, despite being woeful for months that is yet far from certain – they will simply revert to their natural status as a upper second tier club pushing for promotion every other year in front of crowds of 18-20 thousand.
We would not implode but would just revert like Cinderella at midnight to being the club that existed the day before Robbo walked through the Ayresome Park gates, only with a nice new stadium and a box in the loft full of fantastic memories of Wembley, Cardiff and Eindhoven that can never be taken away and that many other clubs’ fans would die for.
Relegation would not be a major realignment of the balance of power, just football gravity pulling us back to our natural level, a process that has been kept at bay for a decade by Gibbo’s cash and the momentum we gained with a bold leap forward.
It is the current golden age that we are now leaving that has been the abberration.

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70 thoughts on “No Self Pity From Men Of Iron

  1. Stubbsy:
    Your post reminds me of a point I’d intended to make but, as yet, I haven’t.
    I don’t suppose any of the players intentionally go out to play badly. It’s not their intent that’s in doubt, or in question; certainly not in my mind anyway. In fact, Southgate, like a good manager should, has on occasions, taken those whose intent, attitude and commitment was in question and dealt with it. That’s not bad management. That’s exemplary management.
    I think they’ve probably got close to the best they could, frankly. It’s their overall intrinsic abilities, as individuals and as a squad that isn’t good enough. Whether that be in skill, physicality, athleticism, intelligence, imagination, judgment, control, innate football skill or importantly, character, experience and maturity, they’re not good enough to compete and succeed, as a squad, at Premier League level.
    In fact numerous posters here have highlighted individual players’ shortcomings. I haven’t – well, not much – although I have agreed with them to a large extent and could add a few to the list.
    The main point of contention on this blog is, I believe, between some who consider that, under different management, the squad is good enough and others, like me, who consider that it isn’t. And of course, as an extension of that, whose responsibility is it if the squad isn’t, in fact, good enough?
    It is my view that the limited capabilities of this talent-challenged squad, has in fact, disabled the manager by closing down options when injury and other first team squad outages happened. That leads to “square-peggism”, as others on here have called it, in an attempt to seek some balance. All in an imaginative attempt to try to coax the best out of an intrinsically mediocre and then depleted squad.
    I’m under no doubt whatsoever, that at many times during the season, Gareth Southgate will have wished that he had more and better players at his disposal, that he had at least double cover in all positions with genuinely Premier League quality players. That he hasn’t, is down to MFC not being able to afford it. And only able to afford the calibre of player that we currently have with the extent of positional cover that we have. And that has meant players “playing out of position” – i.e. doing what they’re not most comfortable in, or naturally more “gifted” at.
    I’m also of the opinion that the hope at MFC was that the young squad would be good enough to stay in the Premier League and that they’d “grow up” with each other and get better as they matured and that this would give us a stable core of players for a number of years, in principle like the Manchester United crop of Beckham, Scholes, Giggs, the Nevilles, supplemented by a few bought-in hole-fillers as gaps developed for whatever reasons.
    I think, however, albeit with hindsight, everyone would have to agree that the inherent risk of that strategy has been too great. We’ve been caught out.
    But that strategy was only adopted because we couldn’t afford the alternative! And at the end of the day, it’s therefore ultimately, about money!
    **AV writes: I have no doubt that the heirarchy knew that operating on a thin and young squad was a gamble but they genuinely thought they had enough in terms of talent to get through this season at least without significant investment and that the risk was justified. Most, not all but definitely most, fans thought the same.
    The club’s big gamble not to invest and instead to address the debt head on was predicated on there being at least three teams worst, and again most fans thought the same. Certainly I did. And so did the bookies. In effect Stoke’s robust direct scrapping has upset the calculations and long thrown a spanner in the works.
    The real question – which will no doubt be at the heart of the summer inquest – was whether, having seen how the strategic landscape had shifted, the club should have reassessed in January and somehow found funds to beef up the squad. The attempts at bringing in people were low key, low budget and half-hearted and possibly fatally undermined by the political energy invested in battling to keep players here who wanted to leave. But that is for another day.

  2. I see Mendieta is still living in Yarm. Is it too late to get him in the squad for the last two games? Can’t do much worse than the bunch we have at the moment.

  3. Originally a Scouser (still a Scouser) I’m now a Boro fan – hooked totally and suitably distraught. And I’m now of the opinion that Boro-fanitis is a deadly virus from which there’s no escape and for which there’s no cure.
    All we need is a miracle. Is that too much to ask?

  4. Richard I don’t know which books you have been reading lately but it is most definitely a manager’s job to Lead, Motivate and Inspire; else why bother with the role at all in any industry sector?
    A Manager who does not or cannot motivate is a liability in the real world be it on a factory floor, a battlefront or in our case a football pitch. Who motivated those young Beckhams, Nevilles, Giggs and Scholes etc and whilst I am on the Manure subject what about “The Busby Babes”? Or was that just a bunch of talented youngsters kicking tin cans around a street who by chance happened to organise themselves into a formidable force?
    Gareth has had three years to “experience and learn” the art of Management with the most supportive, understanding and patient Chairman in the business. These are the most trying and difficult commercial trading conditions in our living memory but if I had three weeks let alone months (and in Gareth’s case years) of similar performance in my business I would be out on my Ali derriere. How many Managers in the Premiership have served longer than Gareth?
    There are at least six teams with inferior squads to ours yet they all seem to have something extra, something which set them apart from MFC this season. That something is motivational management and not the airy fairy clueless claptrap that Gareth has espoused all season as he went leapt backwards into a self perpetuating spiral of decline.
    If there is to be an inquest at the the end of the season I suggest SG and KL don’t bother. The clues and answers are all contained within the contributors posts above (the only exception being Steve Coppell for manager, please no, although tenfold better than what we currently endure a “YoYo” manager is most definitely not the answer).
    If we actually get a result on Saturday brilliant, but I suspect the die is well and truly cast and the final opportunity for “Home Truths” may be too much for some to bottle up and there will be recriminations against those in the dug out as well as those who “talked the talk” endlessly all season but who failed to “walk the walk” and ironically will now be walking away and back into the Premiership next year, deserting a ship which they and their unmotivated performances effectively sunk!

  5. Nigel wrote:
    “Was Copple a good manager in the seasons his teams were promoted and when they survived in the prem. and then a bad manager in the seasons his teams were relegated?”
    This depends on what you mean by a “good manager”. In professional football success is based on results. A good manager is a successful manager, but success is relative to the expectations of the club’s owners, fans and, to a lesser extent, players.
    For example, what Houllier achieved at Liverpool was considered failure. It would probably have been considered a resounding success at Boro, where most, myself included, consider mid-table in the Premier League to be success.
    Alex Ferguson is not considered to be the country’s best manager because of his coaching, tactical or motivational abilities. Most people have no direct knowledge of any of those things, however important they may be, only the outcomes they produce. Ferguson is the best manager in England because Manchester United are currently the most successful team in English football.
    This applies equally to players. Are Boro fans saying Afonso Alves is a good player because he scored a lot of goals in Holland? Or are they basing their jibes about banjos and cattle on his performance this season? Are they trotting out the pundits’ empty cliché that “form is temporary, class is permanent” to excuse him from not doing what he is being paid to do?
    So Coppell was certainly a very good manager when Reading were promoted, because simply playing in the Premier League was success at that point. But, when Reading were relegated, Coppell had to decide to what extent that constituted failure. Last year the fans persuaded him that they didn’t regard it as failure. This year he correctly decided that things have changed. Expectations at Reading are raised, and not achieving promotion was failure, particularly the way it happened.
    Harsh perhaps, but that’s why Coppell resigned. He didn’t simply seek a vote of confidence from the chairman, which I’m sure he could have got. Instead, he took a broader view. He can be seen as a victim of his own success, but that’s the way it is, and he’s accepted the situation with dignity.
    There’s another tired cliché of the pundits’ that “you don’t become a bad manager overnight”. Unlike most pundit’s clichés, this is actually true. In fact, it takes a whole season, a season like this one.
    However you look at it, Gareth has been unsuccessful this season, and he should consider his position. And whether he goes or stays shouldn’t solely be the decision of a chairman who is strangely reluctant to admit that he made an honest mistake.
    Steve Gibson should canvass much wider opinion among the fans. Between them, they have put even more money into the club than he has over the past sixteen years, and they have a right to be heard. If it appears that most of them want Gareth to stay, that will be fine by me, but right now it doesn’t seem to be the majority view.

  6. Every time Southgate has opened his big mouth to urge on the fans, the players have mostly failed to perform. Why is that? We have seen them earn their salaries only on rare occasions, but why cannot those occasions be more commonplace?
    Look at the likes of Wigan, Fulham, and even West Brom. They play good football and fight like hell on the pitch. We don’t fight, we don’t compete. You know every ball Brad Jones kicks upfield will go to the opposition because we don’t even TRY to compete for those balls. Who instills that attitude in the players? Southgate and his coaching staff.
    I’ve said before other teams go out of their way to nobble our best players. It seems to be standard practise thoughout the Premiership but not something Boro ever do in return. We need more steel in the side. Cattermole should have been controlled, not let go. Just one example of Southgate’s poor man-management skills.
    In a relegation dogfight, you need battlers, you need people to give their all out there on the pitch, but few of our players can be bothered. They are too disheartened to find themselves in the current position, and cushioned by the knowledge that most will be sold on to pay the club’s debts once a line has been drawn under this season.
    Matches have been lost for a number of reasons, injuries, poor team-selection, poor tactics, poor substitutions, fear, playing not to get beat instead of trying to win games.
    One or two games did hinge on poor refereeing decisions, and these things only ‘even out over the season’ if you complain about them and embarass the referees and FA, so that next time we might get the benefit of the doubt. Keep quiet and just keep accepting poor decisions, and that’s all you’ll ever get from referees, knowing we are such a soft touch.
    Team spirit has been weakened by the manager’s negative approach to the game. Now they’ve all but given up, unlike West Brom who are still fighting like hell, getting goals and results. Of the bottom three, they look most likely the team who deserve to escape the trapdoor.

  7. I agree, in practice professional footballers shouldn’t need motivating, but these are no ordinary players, these players are Boro players.
    Usually it takes a game against a top four team to get them motivated – trivial rewards such as FA Cup semi-finals or avoiding relegation are simply unwanted distractions.
    So perhaps Gareth should tell them to just go out and enjoy themselves as we’re as good as down – after all Gareth ‘ask me a straight question and I’ll dig myself a big hole’ Southgate is not one for putting a spin on things – he should just play last year’s Man City video before the game.
    OK, perhaps I’m being unfair on the players, as Southgate will continually remind us is that they are also young players who are learning lessons – who we shouldn’t forget – cue Gareth – are being led by a young manager also learning lessons.
    Although many fans would advocate change following such a disastrous season, Southgate is keen to get his collective learning curve message across in today’s Guardian, which is ended with this absolutely priceless quote:
    “There are no thoughts in my mind of doing anything different next season but of course I have learned lessons,” he said. “I think you would be mad if you were in this position and had not learned lessons but the benefit of hindsight is something we have every Monday morning after a fixture”
    Just put the spade down Gareth, now move away from the hole before the whole Riverside is engulfed – Mmm, maybe he’s actually digging a tunnel – cue The Great Escape music as Boro escape to victory…

  8. I was one of those who was very concerned at the gambles being taken at the start of the season and said so. I was also concerned at the defeatist and negative messages coming out of the club over Xmas.
    I have also stated above that you cant just blame Gate. Others are involved with the current situation be it senior management, backroom staff, players etc. There is no ducking people taking responsibility.
    That doesnt mean having a gallows outside the Ayresome Gates and show trials in the Legends Lounge.
    There will be a time and place for an inquest after the season whatever the outcome over the next couple of matches. For now it is all about getting positive results and trying to stay up.

  9. Peter Davidson,
    “And I’m now of the opinion that Boro-fanitis is a deadly virus from which there’s no escape and for which there’s no cure.”
    It is worse than that…… we give it to our kids !!!! MY ex wife called it child abuse and I should have pretended to support Man Utd ..” for the sake of the children”

  10. Totally agree with Richard 15/5 8.16pm. Also AV, love your bit re Stoke “long thrown a spanner in the works” very clever.
    Something that always puzzles me about signing players from abroad, is who actually goes to see them play prior to their signing ie, how many times did Gareth personally watch Alves and Emnes playing in Holland?
    Did he actually go or was Alves in particular signed after recommendations from scouts and video? If Alves had been worth that type of fee, surely some of the so called ‘bigger boys’ would have been after him.
    Despite all the mistakes made by management, my anger and frustration at the situation including inner rants at Gareth Southgate and Steve Gibson’s failure this season, having listened again last evening to Gareth, I do believe he has the making of a good manager and our loss ( if he does go) will in the longer term be some other teams gain.
    **AV writes: All of the big wigs – right the way up to the top – watched Alves repeatedly. It was a very well researched transfer. Even when the price started going up they were collectively convinced they had not only a top European goalscorer (which his record suggested was the case) but also a Juninho figure that would excite the fans, get the town buzzing and put bums on seats.

  11. Nick makes a good point
    Spurs (despite being dysfunctional) had the guts to make changes and have flourished. Blackburn done the same.
    Boro have been toothless and sinking like a stone for five months but the club’s do nothing acceptance smacks worryingly of Gibson’s inability to accept his naive misjudgement in 2006 and that any change would reveal it (the only thing that would be more worrying if he thinks he really did get it right!)
    In this life to overcome a problem you have to accept you have one and that’s what makes me nervous that Boro are in for three more hapless years wandering aimlessly.

  12. To sum up MFC, season, the chairman,the manager, all the backroom staff, the fans are as follows:-
    PASSIONLESS
    POOR
    NO CHARACTER
    NO GUTS
    POOR SUPPORTERS
    POOR ATTENDANCES
    The club are where they are because Gibson doesn’t care anymore. Southgate is out of his depth,and the fans must be the most quiet and passionless supporters in the country. Mark my words if MFC are relegated.
    I think the fans will desert the club like a sinking ship,and that will not be good for a ground that has a capacity of 35,100. Also some of the comment i have read are pitiful. Why are Boro fans so negative.The club can be as good as any in the premiership

  13. I believe we will be beaten today and there will be more ranting and raving on here that we went down without a fight.
    If the advance info on the team is correct we will have Arca Johnson Downing Emnes and Tuncay playing. How lightweight can you get? These players are not going to fly into tackles. It’s not their game.
    All certainly or probably have the technical skills to play in the PL.Arca is a clever footballer but cant hack the pace and physicality of the league.
    We have a squad on paper that looks to be good enough to stay up but isnt. I do not believe it is anything to do with Southgate’s motivation but his blindness to the fact we do not have the right mix of technical skill with height strength and power to make a competitive side in this league.
    The best example of this is we have scored one headed goal all season-we do not have a forward that can head a ball.

  14. “Relegation would not be a major realignment of the balance of power, just football gravity pulling us back to our natural level, a process that has been kept at bay for a decade by Gibbo’s cash and the momentum we gained with a bold leap forward.”
    Whaaaaa? This is exactly the sentiment which has got us into this position the old “Teesside will get the club it can afford”. After 11 years of sustained top level football, relegation is NOT us returning to our natural level. Just because we used to a be a lower league side doesn’t mean we have to or should return there. If that’s your thinking, we went bust once lets do that again!!!
    It is possible to sustain top level football and not spends lots of cash. Bolton, Everton, Fulham, Blackburn, Wigan and West Ham have all sustained without breaking the bank. OK they have flirted with relegation from time to time but so have Boro. Its a natural phenomena in this league.
    What is different is they have spent WISELY and are backed up with EXPERIENCED management which I’m afraid is what will send us down ultimately.
    **AV writes: Everton aside, thos teams you list have NOT sustained top flight football for a decade. They have all dipped down to the second tier for a spell or just recently arrived in the big time. The costs of a big push forward are only sustainable for a couple of years before they start to bite.
    It is not an acknowledgment that the books have to be balanced – and if need be the club must take a step back – that will lead to the club going bust again. It is a naive belief that we can keep throwing money that does not exist to chase an elusive success measured in fractions.
    If we stay up next year is it worth adding £30m to the debt and risking the entire medium/long term security of the club just to raise the club from 17th to, say, 11th? Or 10th? Or even 7th? Or is it better to address the structural problems now in the hope we are better equipped and financially stable enough for another sustainable Golden Era a few years down the line?

  15. There appears to be several schools of thought
    1. It is all down to the club adopting a more prudent model.
    2. Further investment would have prevented the situation developing.
    3. The playing side has been poorly managed and we have not got the best out of the resources available.
    I am firmly in the latter grouping. It also applies to the messages coming out of the club.
    But coming up in 50 minutes is the match. I have done my family duty today (there is a ceremony called well dressing in the villages around Derbyshire, the local one is on today – we have gone every year since moving to Derby). I am safely in position in front of the computer awaiting Ali’s commentary with skysports on TV and the radio ready.
    I will be sending score updates to John as the goals go in across the country. He is charged with getting three points.

  16. AV
    I can’t see how going down to rebalance the books will work, we will lose TV cash and then at some point we would be aiming to be promoted again, which would have us in exactly the same position now, but worse as we would not be an established club.
    I think Everton-lite should be the example we use to follow, shrewd signings, good management and use of youngsters. I do not think this is unattainable and we could do this by staying in the Prem.
    **AV writes: I don’t think it is a question of deliberately going down TO balance the books. More a case of setting out to balance the books as a priority and accepting that it carries with it the risk of relegation.
    I don’t think the club strategists thought that risk was particularly high. I calculated there were three teams worse than Boro and that would help them buy breathing space but that it has all gone horribly wrong.
    Pick any one of a dozen games where it went wrong by a fraction… last five minutes at Liverpool, late goal at Hull, missed penalty at Sunderland, good goal ruled out at Blackburn…. any of those go the other way and they would have pulled it off.

  17. I’d like to quote the last para of your response to Capt. K:
    “If we stay up next year is it worth adding £30m to the debt and risking the entire medium/long term security of the club just to raise the club from 17th to, say, 11th? Or 10th? Or even 7th? Or is it better to address the structural problems now in the hope we are better equipped and financially stable enough for another sustainable Golden Era a few years down the line?”
    But where is the evidence that we are addressing any structural problems other than cutting costs? We still have the same management and coaching set-up, the same scouting, the same medics and physios.
    If we saw that these problems were being tackled there would be more sympathy for your views. Instead we see a club heading for relegation with a structure that is more likely to lead to Div. 1 than the Premier League.
    **AV writes: I agree that for the strategy to work there needs to be a root and branch overhaul of operations top to bottom on and off the pitch. That has been the most pressing problem for years.

  18. Sorry AV but I’d like to quote you in another reply to Capt. K:
    ‘Pick any one of a dozen games where it went wrong by a fraction… last five minutes at Liverpool, late goal at Hull, missed penalty at Sunderland, good goal ruled out at Blackburn…. any of those go the other way and they would have pulled it off.’
    Sounds like the ‘bad luck’ card being played. But over a season I don’t think luck comes into it.
    **AV writes: I’m not playing the bad luck card (I think it was self inflicted because the removal of experience left a mentally fatally flawed unit), I am just out-lining the thinking of the club hierarchy going into the season and the nature of the high stakes, fine line gamble that they have taken and how close they have come to getting away with it.

  19. So, in response to your comment (above), AV, there’s a lesson to be learned – that this was a foolhardy gamble and we’re paying a hello of a price.
    Trouble is that the way the club has responded as this horror story has unfolded shows obvious lessons weren’t learned re strategy and tactics. And the worry is that this unanalytical mind-set will continue into next season until it’s too late – and beyond.
    Scape-goating and naming and shaming aren’t what we need (however tempting) – sound, dispassionate reasoning’s what’s needed.
    But think we’re entitled to wallow in being totally —– ‘fed up’.
    On the other hand we might win 4-0, Hull might lose 0-6 and N’cstle might lose!

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