EXCITED anti-Southgate retro-vigilantes had a field day when Gaizka Mendieta unexpectedly handed them a stick to beat the bogey man with.
Now he is asking everyone to sheepishly turn in their weapons after being left red faced by a ‘lost in translation’ blunder back home.
Mendi, who is the latest in a very long line of Boro icons in exile and whose abilities became magnified by not playing (see Tony McMahon), seemed to have had a pop at the departed dug-out scapegoat in the Spanish press about Boro’s “booze culture.”
Now, most Boro fans should have a default position of extreme scepticism about tabloid shockers. especially ones that have been translated from the foreign language press (El Ravanelli Misquota) and ripped from the original context making any kind of reasoned judgement difficult.
And most should know too that whatever else Mendieta is – Yarm Cricket Club groundsman, Velvet Underground fan club chairman, laid back English country gentleman of leisure, Strickland and Holt gold card holder – he is not a bitter gutter press kiss-and-tell merchant. He is philosophical about what happened at Boro.
But, hey, don’t let that get in the way of a bout of renewed hostilities over the Ex.
“Boro is awash with booze the second the whistle goes,” they screamed in vindication. “See! Totally unprofessional. No wonder Boro were rubbish. Southgate lost control of the drunken rabble.” For a second there I thought we were back in the Black Bull with Robbo’s inner circle.
Alas, the will have to screw the top back on the bottle. Mendieta has now emphatically denied making the comments and has unreservedly apologised for inadvertently causing a storm in a beer glass.
He says he did the interview with Spanish paper El Mundo where it was filleted, marinated in Iberian stereotypes of the English game then picked up, chopped up and reheated by the English press.
Mendieta said: “I want to apologise for what has been written, supposedly in my name. I never said that and I am upset that the Spanish journalist has twisted it to sound like I did. It’s very annoying.”
The shock horror story claimed that Mendi witnessed a drinking culture at first hand immediately after games – which in itself should have set off alarm bells because he was so infrequently even in the changies under Southgate.
It also flies in the face of what was being said about the exits of Lee Cattermole and Jonathan Woodgate, who let’s be honest, liked to unwind with a post-match pint or two.
People like to believe all players are on the pop all the time. They aren’t. Some of the younger ones like to go out with their mates on a Saturday night now and then and let their hair down a bit, – who doesn’t? – but very few are stupid enough to jeopardise a potentially lucrative career by routine extended boozing and most of the swear down taxi driver tittle-tattle is malicious nonsense magnified as it is passed on third hand by those who would like to appear ‘in the know.’
As for beer flowing in the changies… I am usually down the tunnel area after the game and far from being party central it is all focussed, professional and very dull: stretching, warm-downs, pasta-based light meals and isotonic drinks to replace energy and fluids… and there is not a can of Stella or Mars Bar in sight
And now Mendieta has cleared it all up anyway and retracted every word. He said: “It’s not what I said at all. What I told the reporter was that I heard from team-mates and others that this was the sort of thing that had happened in the past.
“But I certainly never saw it when I was at Middlesbrough. Things like that didn’t happen when I was at Middlesbrough. I never saw any sign of a drinking culture there. Everything was always very professional under both Steve McClaren and Gareth Southgate.”
So that should put the lid on that. Bit it won’t because months and years down the line whenever people are glancing through the Southgate crime sheet or marshalling their ‘facts’ in an argument “booze culture” and “treatment of Mendi” will be set in stone.
Now, Mendieta did have a case to be angry at Boro. Trying to sell him off to second division Spanish clubs behind his back was shoddy and undiplomatic while not giving him a squad number was insulting and unforgivable (and arguably just short of grounds for ‘constructive dismissal’). But being kept on gardening leave on ÃÂ£30k a week for 18 months is hardly incarceration in a gulag.
He was a brilliant professional, always first into training, superb with the kids and was never a bit of bother behind the scenes in any way. And yes, there was a long, frosty diplomatic Mexican stand off behind the scenes – but let us not create a myth about him being a massive, irreplaceable talent frozen out in a nose/spite situation.
He was not a Juninho being kept in the naughty corner despite offering a vast array of irresistable options to the team. The reason he wasn’t a fixture in the team and the reason the club tried to move him on was that his legs had gone. And whatever people might say now as their political position has co-opted Mendi as a potential weapon that was the consensus among the crowd at the time. He was a boo-boy target in waiting. He used to get slated mercilessly or luaghed at every time he was even on the bench.
His lack of pace was repeatedly exposed on his rare appearances after his injury and despite some sparkling early displays (in Europe and notably as the main man in a five man midfield that demolished Manchester United) it was clear he was no longer up to it on a regular basis. Nice guy, did a great job for the club. But please, don’t make him a political martyr or a weapon to beat a boss who has gone.
GUTTED. My “Hand of Frog” headline suggestion was rejected for the story about Thierry Henry’s last gasp larceny against Sean St Ledger
THERE is a cracking piece in the news pages of the Gazette today in which Gordon Strachan reveals his X-Factor obsession, his dismay at Jedward’s twin evil advance at the expense of Lucie and his angry living room invective aimed at Simon Cowell on the box.
Quality lifestyle journalism.