GARETH Southgate did a lively Q&A on BBC Tees last night and it went as you expect these things to go: a lot of interesting things were said – but no one will have changed their mind one jot and listeners from both ends of the Boro political spectrum seized on the particular soundbites that will confirm their own beliefs.
At least there won’t be howls of outrage that a section of supporters have been slighted this time – although plenty will believe that their intelligence has been insulted. Those for who the die is cast will see the exercise as merely PR spin and empty platitudes.
The gaffer is an articulate and sincere bloke so spoke well and honestly about where he thought the club was now and where – and how – he intends to take it. It is always good to hear the boss deal directly with questions from a passionate and hard to please public rather than a press pack who don’t really care about the answers.
There is more urgency, more importance and more scrutiny of every single word – here’s John Powls’ analysis on Boro Banter of some key phrases used and not used and here is the view from the Follow The Boro Brick Road blog. But that examination helps feed a healthy debate around the club. It is culturally beneficial.
But those who are firmly in the anti camp will gleefully point out it failed to address what they see as the key problem: his own tenure. Those who want blood will not be easily bought off with hindsight admissions about the failings of last season or an acceptance that if he fails this time the decision to stay or go will be taken out of his hands… as if he was going to go live and confess to Ali Brownlee that yes, indeed, he was a rubbish manager and every problem in the team, the world banking collapse and the crisis at Corus were all of his making and subsequently he was resigning immediately. That is not what these things are about.
When faced with one early tetchy and persistent dissident who raised just that point – his tenure, not his responsibility for the world economic slum – and said directly and unequivocally they had not renewed because he was boss Gareth was patient, respectful, understanding and reasonable and accepted they yes, had that right and explained that he knew there were a large faction who took that stance and who wanted him gone but outlined his determination to win them back with results. That was magnanimous of him; personally I would have told them to get stuffed.
That call raised a lot of issues that will be central to the political dynamic this season. No matter how persuasive Southgate and the club are, no matter how honest the explanations or ambitious the rhetoric and no matter how well the team perform there are now a significant vocal minority who will not be pacified or won over and who have set out their stall. They want the boss out no matter what. They have decided.
Every defeat or dropped point will be further evidence of Southgate’s ineptitude as a manager and tactician and will intensify the calls for his head while every win or stirring display will be seen as being the bare minimum and achieved despite of not because of him and will only buy breathing space until the clamour resumes with the next set-back.
We have been here before. Steve McClaren lost a section of the fans midway through his second season and that slowly gathered an unstoppable momentum from then on, no matter what was piled in the credit column thereafter.
The victory at Cardiff was for many ‘papering over the cracks’. The highest ever league position was a fluke that was achieved by the players despite McClaren’s attempt to stifle them with his tactical strait-jacket. And the UEFA Cup runs were an undeserved freak that couldn’t disguise the disintegration of the league campaign. A lot of people really did not enjoy the glory years because the reality did not sit comfortably with their own imagined apocalyptic world view of Satanic dysfunctional McClarenism.
The point is that you have to start from what you have, not what you would ideally like and you have to accept that in a world of contradictions and fine margins even a flawed team – or a boss you have decided is not up to the job – can still deliver.
Anyway, I digress. Southgate was brave to go live at this point before his new look team have had a chance to be tested. At the moment it is all speculation and that left him open to all manner of conjecture. It was also risky because he was never going to win the opposition over while running the risk of alienating more waverers.
What do the punters think?