FOR SALE: assortment of footballers. Bit of a mixed bag. Will split. Ideal for spares or repair. No reasonable offer refused.
One dimensional Boro are a poor side stuck knee-deep in the Championship relegation quagmire and they are desperate for fresh blood. But with no money in the pot Boro will have to sell before they buy – and effectively EVERYONE is up for grabs.
Stick or Twist? Mogga faces tough choices as he tries to rebuild his squad.
We don’t have many quality players coveted by big clubs any more but the few we do have, those who ideally the boss would want to keep for his rebuild, are effectively all for sale. Make us an offer.
Beggers can’t be choosers.
That must be the starting point as the transfer window looms. We are not just a loud clicking sound away from a sustained surge towards the play-offs. The dug-out presence of an icon will not mystically transform base metal battlers into gold and glory.
As it stands this team does not have the quality or skill set to do much more than survive.
If something doesn’t change quickly and drastically Boro are just a few injuries or a bad run away from being sucked down a division – and as the budget has been based on promotion or bust this term that could spell catastrophe.
We all know the “fundamental problems” in the squad. Now Mogga is finding out too.
He must wonder how the hell Gordon Strachan managed to spend so much and yet still leave a squad so unbalanced you fear for the future as it wobbles alarmingly through games.
But there is no quick fix. Mogga could be the first Boro boss in the Riverside era to not have a penny to spend. Borassic Boro have spent up. The post-relegation belt-tightening has meant a massive downshift in spending.
What money there was – ÃÂ£10m was raised by the reluctant sale of Adam Johnson and the hand-snapping glee at offloading Brad Jones – has been frittered away to little effect as Strachan built a distorted squad that lacks pace, creativity and width but has a glut of monopaced conservatve midfielders and three strikers but no-one who effectively can hold the ball up in the box or terrorise defences.
Now as Mowbray tries to salvage something from the wreckage he is faced with a major problem: to rebuild he must sell – but the few players that other teams may want are central to his own survival hopes.
He has admitted there will need to be ins and outs in January but there is no money so he is hostage to fortune.
As in the previous two January windows Boro must now decide whether to twist or stick.
If offers come in for these key men and he resists them (as the club did when Gareth Southgate was at the helm in the relegation season and dug their heels in over Stewart Downing and Gary O’Neil), then he runs the risk of not being able to make the deep structural change urgently needed. Yet without change, Boro could go down.
Even they don’t go down they risk being sucked into a season long battle against the drop that will further dent morale, depress crowds and lose the potential for a rejuvenating momentum under Mowbray.
So realistically Boro need to sell to give the boss a chance to reshape the squad and try to find a spark before it is too late – but sell who?
They have very few real assets to cash in. Most of the squad are not good enough to command a fee high enough to fund a far reaching reshuffle.
The ones we want to sell have been judged not good enough. So who will buy them?
And even the ones who may attract a few sniffing half-interested predators and asset-strippers are on hefty wages – we are running the highest wage bill in the Championship lest we forget – that may push them well beyond the pockets of most potential suitors.
For instance, all the strikers lack physical presence in the box and it may be that Mogga wants to cash one in – any one, take your pick – to bring in a bustling targetman to give him an extra option and added muscle up front.
But all three have struggled at this level. None has shown the kind of deadly form that would appeal to a Premier League side while it is unlikely a Championship side could afford their wages.
Kris Boyd turned down ÃÂ£50k a week and the lure of several lower Prem clubs to join Boro and will be on big bucks. He is possibly – nay, probably – the best paid player in this division bar Craig Bellamy. Finding a buyer willing to pick up his wages won’t be easy – and he sure won’t be taking a pay cut.
Scott McDonald may be more affordable on the wages front… but he cost ÃÂ£3.2m – a massive fee in the Championship. Who will pay that? A top flight side won’t buy him. And Celtic can’t afford him back. Even if a Championship rival came in, to move him on Boro may have to take a big loss they can’t really afford just to free up space on wages.
Wages. There’s the rub. Even after the post-relegation fire-sale, Boro are hampered by a millstone of a Premier League legacy and a string of players in a no-go grey zone on the salary curve.
For instance, Watford would love to take Andrew Taylor but he is on Premier League wages. Not top whack but enough for him to be in the area where he can set up an exclusive web-site for his peers worried about being ripped off on their next Aston Martin. And that is certainly enough to mean Watford can’t afford him. Not and pay a fee too, which defeats the object.
Similarly Matthew Bates. He was linked with Everton and West Ham 18 months ago before his injury and now, having played his way back to fitness, may find some Championship clubs keen but he signed a new deal in the last hurrah of the big money so it is doubtful they could afford him.
Industrious Gary O’Neil has been perma-linked with an exit since the day he arrived and his name gets more tabloid mentions than most every time the window looms (Blackburn, Fulham and Stoke so far this week alone) but his contract extension in January brought a pay-rise to what were already Premier League wages. So who could afford him? Most of the lower top flight sides have already got their 25 man squads and unless he is going straight into the first team are unlikely to be tempted to shell out ÃÂ£30k a week for a benchwarmer, even if he was judged good enough.
A Championship side can’t afford him. He is in limbo. See also Hoyte, Justin.
Meanwhile Boro have been paying at the top end of the fee spectrum in recent years so would have to take a hit on fees to move on their fringe players.
Lee Miller cost ÃÂ£500,000. Andy Halliday ÃÂ£350,000. Would we get half of those fees back? Hoyte ÃÂ£3m. Would we get a third of that back? McDonald? McManus? There is very little chance of realising anything like the sums invested.
And the kids – Williams, Bennett – may have plenty of promise but would bring in very little in fees. Besides, if the worst comes to the worst they are the future building blocks of a new Boro on a far, far lower cost base.
Which leaves Boro vulnerable to any predatory offers for players they don’t really want to sell. And that means effectively David Wheater or Jason Steele.
Wheater has already popped up in the tabloid gossip snippets linked with top flight relegation strugglers West Ham Liverpool and Stoke and you can see the logic: a former fringe England defender winning rave reviews with plenty of potential to blossom and as he is out of contract in the summer he should be relatively cheap.
Boro have been painted into a corner with Wheater and since he declined a new deal last summer the clock has been ticking ominously. Th edilemma is do we cash in now and get a few million? Or keep him until summer and hope he performs well enough to help keep us up and that Boro finish the season on a high and create a new post-Mogga buzz that persuades him there is a bright future he wants to be part of.
That clock continues to tick. The pressure builds by the week. Even though he has been the best and most consistent player by far this term and has sparked a Spirit of 86 comparisons with Mogga, Boro will be under almost irrestistable pressure to sell if a reasonable offer comes. Or even an unreasonable one….
Wheater is 24 in February so Boro will not be entitled to an Adam Johnson style ‘development fee’ by the summer. That means if Boro can’t get him to sign a new deal – and they may not be able to afford it without selling someone else – they must sell in January to fund a replacement or watch him walk on a free.
Other clubs know that. The question is what level of bid would start Boro sweating… ÃÂ£2m? Or ÃÂ£3m? Surely Boro would crack at that point. If a couple of clubs were involved maybe an auction would nudge the fee up. Maybe an exit could be tied to a loan player coming in to soften the blow. Maybe.
If we could realise a decent fee Mogga could bring in a stop gap centre-back and use the rest to plug the other gaps to get through to the season.
The only other real asset is Jason Steele, a rising star and England U-21 international. There would be clubs who would take him (and he could be quickly replaced by a journeyman or loanee) but the fee may not be enough to fund a big shake-up. And should we mortgage the future anyway? That would send out very bad signals.
So the gaffer faces some tough decisions as tries to square the circle on transfers, balance the books and beef up the squad.
If Mogga thinks the first few weeks have been a headache, just wait until January.