Year Zero: The Great Strachanovite Folly

IT WAS Boro’s Year Zero: a year in which the trappings of the discredited Arsenal-lite Southgate old order was reduced to rubble with an ideological zeal to be replaced with a new Strachanovite work ethic.
Adherents of the old way were sent packing and fully paid up missionaries who understood and believed were imported. As Adam Johnson and Brad Jones were sold the £10m was recycled in building a team in Strachan’s image. And he old methodology – attacking with pace away from home – was junked in favour of a uniform, pedestrian hard-to-beat grind that would wear down our souls and opposition defences. It would not neccessarily be pretty we were told… but it would bring results.

Gordon Strachan was quite overt in his desire to recruit – or shape – a new type of player at Boro: he wanted “men”, mentally and physically strong dedicated professionals who bought into his mindset on and off the field. He set about a Nietzschean project to test the squad to destruction, to weed out the weak and create a new group of strong and united players who bought into the Strachanovite vision.
It forced Boro fans to confront a dilemma. Did they want to demand entertaining football that every fan thinks is their birthright, did they want to invoke the ghosts of Juninho, Merson, and even Jonno – or did they want to claw their way back into the big time with a team of Boltonesque battlers who would grind out 1-0 wins?
Most were sceptical but prepared to give the experiment a chance. We knew that while Southgate had been axed with his team just a point off the promotion places, his team were fatally flawed; They could not break down limited teams who came to the Riverside to defend. They could not beat their promotion rivals. The fear was that while they could – should – make the play-offs they would not be able to beat strong opposition over two legs. If we were to return to the Premier League it had to be using a different approach.
But the approach faltered in the summer before the seaon had even really begun. The rebuilding project was botched. After a bright start to the reshuffle that saw a string of key targets brought in very early, the club either ran out of money, or ran out of will or ran out of luck in the window waiting game and lost their way. The transfer window closed with the squad still fundamentally flawed. There was an over-supply of conservative central midfielders but a dearth of creativity, width and pace – the wingers who were brought in were untried, lightweight and erratic – and there were fewer options than before when it came to providing the bullets.
For all the spending – the biggest outlay in the Championship – It was a team that could battle all day but would struggle to hurt teams and create chances for the expensively assembled new look front line. And the problems soon came home to roost.
The new look Boro were ponderous, toothless, pedestrian, predictable and for all the attempts to import a steely new professionalism, they looked as mentally weak as anything that Southgate had turned out. In fact in collapses at QPR, Watford and Derby they looked even more fragile, even more soft-centred, even more vulnerable.
The fans quickly decided that the experiment had failed. As results and performances – and gates, the factor that had seen Southgate off – dipped alarmingly and the manager became ever more tetchy, paranoid and remote in his media persona ( “drug-gate” brought the PR battle to boiling point), it quickly became clear Strachan was losing the battle for hearts and minds and that the antipathy to the manager, his personality and his football philosophy was in danger of dragging the club through the trap door.
Something had to be done. With the chairman due to appear live on Radio Brownlee on the Monday after the small screen shocker against Leeds, Gibson was facing a furious fans’ backlash of a kind he had never had to deal with before unless he delivered the manager’s head on a plate. In the end it was relatively painless. The chairman showed he had the ruthless edge that was needed. Strachan was invited to jump and he did with some dignity. He declined to squabble over compensation or contractual obligations.
The true, lasting significance of the great Strachanovite folly is yet to be seen. The £10m has been spent unwisely leaving Boro with a squad that is ill-equipped for the Championship but that has few realiseable assets to fund a major reshuffle other than a clutch of players on prohibitive wages that will make them hard to sell.
The removal of Strachan was timely, and neccessary to avoid a catestrophic car-wreck. But it hasn’t solved all the problems. We are left with an unbalanced squad and an unsustainable wage structure. Mogga has a big job on his hands in 2011. Good luck.
Happy New Year to all readers, bloggers and Boro fans.
Onwards and upwards. Let’s see more of you contributing this coming year. It will be an important period of rebuilding for Boro, let’s all help shape the consensus.
JUNINHO SPEAKS….. Boro legend talks to Football Focus. Says nice things about the club and Teesside; not so nice things about Steve McClaren


12 thoughts on “Year Zero: The Great Strachanovite Folly

  1. AV:
    “let’s all help shape the consensus” – a plea that means all things to all people! The weakness of democracy.
    Southgate’s approach – different from McClaren’s – by necessity. Strachan’s approach, different from Southgate’s – by necessity. Mowbray’s approach, different from Strachan’s – by necessity. All different – by necessity. Since McClaren, all failed. Different approaches, no Holy Grail.
    All shared one common factor. Severely reduced and reducing funding. Even if we’d had all three managers working on it at the same time, things wouldn’t have been any different in effect!
    Tell me, what should be the consensus and I’ll see if I agree with you?
    But be mindful that any platitudinous rhetoric doesn’t work for most of us. Note the dwindling crowds and Gibson’s failure to rally the troops with his “blind faith” brand of it and misplaced perceptions of his own recent capabilities.
    The best we can hope for is that whoever makes the decisions about how to utilise the resources available, does so optimally. But that’s not going to result in the instant success we all want to see either.
    We all wish for the same thing. Footballing success. That’s the only consensus you’re likely to get. The practicalities and details will only divide us after that. T’was always thus.
    If you do get genuine consensus, your contributing population will be down to Ian Gill and John Powls…….. maybe!
    No offence intended to these two ever-present, hardy and auspicious gentlemen, but like managerial change, and as always, we should be careful what we wish for!
    Happy New Year to all! Vive La Resolution!

  2. Would Mogga have preferred to inherit Southgates final Championship squad over the one he got from Strachan – I think yes.
    Would he have preferred to inherit McClarens squad over Southgates final squad – I think yes.
    There have been some catasrophic things happen to our club over the last few years and the “great Strachanovite folly” was merely the greatest of all.
    I have hope for the future, but I’m concerned that it could still get worse before it gets better. The Preston game was a huge result and the next month will be massive both on and off the field.
    I think the club has finally made a good decision, but our problems won’t be put right overnight. Championship safety will do fine for me this season.
    Happy New Year everyone.

  3. This whole nightmare year has been a complete mess. A disaster. A waste of time and money we couldn’t afford. Lost momentum. Lost direction. Lost crowds. The deep damage that Gordon Strachan has done to the squad and the finances is immense and we will feel the squeeze for years to come yet.

  4. Thanks for the link to the Juninho interview, Vic. Not just a soundbite but almost a quarter of an hour devoted to memories of his time at the Boro.
    The Love-In continues.
    Let’s hope next year will be better – not that there would need to be much improvement to qualify for “better”. Happy Ne’er as they say in these remote parts,

  5. Indeed a dismal year so let’s hope the only way in 2011 is upwards.
    At least the Juninho interview brings back some terrific memories to cheer up the fans.

  6. Folly?? I thought a folly was a building constructed primarily for decoration, but either suggesting by its appearance some other purpose, or merely so extravagant that it transcends the normal range of garden ornaments or other class of building to which it belongs.
    Did you mean Lee Miller?
    Happy New Year Boro Bloggers

  7. Happy New Year to everyone, especially to the new Smogette.
    (if we go down to two, I will still read it)
    Thanks to you AV, from the diasboro who savour everything Boro that they could miss out on.

  8. 1. Richard points out the common factor suffered by every manager since McClaren: reduced funding. However, there has been a more fundamental factor: consistently poor player purchasing.
    Even with our vastly reduced circumstances, Boro were still by far the biggest spenders in the Championship – but what did we get for £10m? By comparison, with much smaller outlay, many of our rivals brought in better players, including a few now on their way to being top players.
    This has been a weakness for much longer than the last five years – both Robbo and McClaren wasted zillions. With few exceptions, our successful acquisitions in the last 15 years have been obvious buys: any well-informed fan could have spotted them, no scouts needed. The last manager to buy wisely was Lenny Lawrence – some of his players did well for Robbo for years.
    We have had a series of managers (McClaren partly excepted), who have been poor judges of players. This fatal weakness applies not just to puchases – look at the players who have been allowed to leave, most of them on the cheap. You could put together a good squad of ex-Boro players now thriving in the Premiership – and that’s not mentioning Championship players like Danny Graham who’d we’d kill for now.
    The result is that, despite expenditure completely unmatched by any similarly sized club – and many larger ones – we have ended up with the weakest Boro squad in a very long time. Meanwhile, many clubs are benefitting from products of our academy.
    If we have repeatedly had managers with the fundamental flaw of being unable to judge a player, this begs the question: who ‘buys’ our new managers?
    2. AV’s 6th paragraph (‘But the approach faltered …) is, for me, pivotal. As pointed out ‘the club either ran out of money, or ran out of will or ran out of luck in the window waiting game and lost their way. The transfer window closed with the squad still fundamentally flawed.’ For my mental health, I need to get to the bottom of what happened this close season.
    I had to wait over a decade for confirmation of my suspicion that Robbo did no coaching and our expensively-assembled players were, in fact, as unorganised as they appeared. At that rate, I risk going to my grave not knowing what went wrong this summer.
    It started so promisingly: all the right sounds and, almost uniquely for Boro, early key purchases. The strategy was clear: establish the spine and then fill in the gaps – but the gaps were left unfilled and proved to be gaping ones. What happened?
    Was as it simple as Strachan ran out of ideas? Did he have a budget which he blew with the job half-done? Or did the club unexpectedly & prematurely close the cheque book on him? In which case, Strachan was left high & dry and was allowed to become the fall guy.
    Can anybody shed any light on this conundrum? Or do I have to wait another decade to find out?
    **AV writes: There was an ‘A’ list of targets to be funded largely by the money that had been brought in by the exit of Adam Johnson and the wage savings made by the departure of Poggi, Riggott, Aliadiere etc. Those players – Boyd, McManus, Thomson, Bailey – were brought in quickly. All well and good. Credit due.
    The ‘B’ list – a full-back, a quality wide player and another striker (Hooper) – were to be funded by the fee/wage savings raised by the sale of Gary O’Neil but he was injured during pre-season and that put a spanner in the works. While they thought about their next move they lost a couple of key men on their target list and as the start of the season loomed they realised they were still short in some key areas.
    At that point they brought in Kilgallon on loan (knowing he wanted to play CB rather than LB and that he had an on-going back problem) and went for Kink knowing he wasn’t really ready for the Championship but hoping that both would come good…. then they got the offer for Brad Jones. A couple of weeks earler and maybe that cash could have been used more effectively. Who knows.
    It was poor recruitment really. On paper we brought some good players in but the balance was never right and there were some key components missing: no pace going forward, no “big lad,” no spark in midfield. It is hard to see how a team in the Championship can spend that much money in a year and come out of it with a weaker team.
    Hope that helps your mental stability.

  9. “Brandon said…I’m quietly optimistic for the new year…a steadfast belief that things are finally changing for the better”.
    AV, truly sorry about this, but I thought I’d inject one last piece of negativity before the year is up…sorry, Brandon, I think you may ultimately be disappointed, for, you see, without regime change this Club is doomed.

  10. AV, in your reply to NikeBoro you write that “on paper we brought some good players in but the balance was never right and there were some key components missing.”
    I’m not sure, that even on paper, that these players looked good. No wise judge could surely have sanctioned some of these buys and this is not with hindsight.
    Lee Miller? Surely everyone knew he was a pointless purchase and lacking in any quality or ability. And now we have to pay his wages.
    Stephen McManus at £1.8m is grand larceny. He did not improve the defence collectively while on loan so why would thing s be different as a permanent Boro employee?
    Tarmo Kink. Who?
    Andy Halliday. Bloody hell.
    Scott MacDonald at £3.5m, a player deemed superfluous to even the Australian national squad, is a staggering folly. What does he do?
    Nicky Bailey at £1.4m. Run of the mill and would have no place in the PL, our aim at the time he was bought.
    Then there’s the loan signings, the ultra lightweight Willo Flood and many more I don’t want to think of.
    Barry Robson? A waste of space this season after last year’s heroics and, sadly, a man who brings an inflexibility to the team structure.
    Kris Boyd. Well, I can see why we bought him and presumably there will be a resale value.
    And Kevin Thomson, I still have hopes for him and a Mogga man more than Strachan.
    Total value now? Maybe £500,000 apiece for MacDonald and Boyd and a few bob for Bailey.
    Even at the time, these signings were madness but underwritten by Gibson and Lamb on the basis of their ultimate folly.
    The team put out at Preston looks like the start of the Strachanless players we need to move forward and I really don’t see us going down. We’ve hit rock bottom and will edge forward now with a spirit and togetherness among all that hasn’t been there for a good while.
    Like Brandon, I too am quietly optimistic for 2011. And what better place to start than Elland Rd?

  11. AV –
    To back your response to NikeBoro lets do a Jim Bowen. This is what you could of got for £10m (Boro signings only)
    66% of Alves or 1.66 Mido’s.
    Robbo had his faults but we got a lot of money back from his signings. From McClaren onwards we just wasted money, with the odd exception managing to devalue many players or running down contracts and getting chuff all.
    Our fire sale was precisely that and appears to be used to service debt.
    A word of praise for getting a good fee for Johnno, lets hope they can do the same with Wheats.
    A bit of a slap in the face this morning that Downing is off to Sunderland, if true lets just hope there is a sell on clause.
    Next week the FA Cup starts and a local match for me and another ground to tick off the list. Even a part time fan from far away can end up with a decent tally, it will be my 45th ground ranging from Carlisle to Swindon, Peterborough to Anfield.

  12. The summer recruitment drive was indeed botched.
    In Strachan’s defence, he was absolutely right in identifying the soft-centred nature of the squad he inherited from Southgate. We knew we were a soft touch in defending set-pieces, conceded too many when under pressure particularly late on in games, lacked a creative central midfielder who could unlock tight defences and also lacked a genuine finisher. A goalscoring midfielder was also desired, if not required.
    Unfortunately however, while Strachan identified our weaknesses he appeared to entirely disregard/ignore/fail to notice our strengths. Our pace and counter-attacking qualities should have been supplemented. Instead they were replaced with an unbalanced and ultimately even more flawed group.
    It seems to me that recruiting new players is as much about opportunity as scouting, but Strachan seemed to sign every player he liked who was available, willing and affordable rather than looking at what the squad actually needed. That his recruitment drive was unfinished is no excuse.
    Anyway, despite results not being all that much better under Mogga thus far, I for one am certainly feeling much better about the immediate future. There is hope again and a feeling that we’ve bottomed out and are back on a long-term upward curve.
    This is tempered by what happens in the next two transfer windows and how we redress the wage bill issue, but whatever happens I think there is greater harmony under TM than under several previous managers and we will rise again from whatever depths we plunge.
    Happy New Year bloggers.

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