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 ÃÂ£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 ÃÂ£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.
COME ON BORO.
JUNINHO SPEAKS….. Boro legend talks to Football Focus. Says nice things about the club and Teesside; not so nice things about Steve McClaren