Cash & Barry: Boro’s Budget Shopping Strategy And Robbo’s Release

BORO’S decision to let Barry Robson go has been met with some raised eyebrows.
The battling Scot has been probably Boro’s second most important player over the past 12 months (after fellow Titian terrier and midfield linchpin Nicky Bailey) and a key component of the steady – if currently stuttering – momentum of the Mogganaut.
He consistently offers determination, experience, drive, steel and goals in midfield and displays exactly the fierce will to win needed to win games in an attritional grind of a division. So why have Boro not put up a fight to keep him at the Riverside?

Robson has been a massive player over the past 12 months. He is combative, industrious and radiates an intense will to win just this side of scary. The shark-eyed schemer adds relentless drive and bite and an attacking instinct to an otherwise mono-paced and conservative midfield unit and has contributed a string of important goals.
He has scored eight in 26 starts so far this term including a rocket to seal a vital last gasp win on Boxing Day against fellow play-off hopefuls Hull – voted Boro’s best strike of 2011 in a twitter straw poll – and the cracking low angled strike in the first FA Cup derby clash away at Sunderland.
robbo2.jpgWe’ll over-look the dropped blob soon after that conceded the leveller at the Stadium of Light and also the flurry of yellow cards spread liberally in his furious stomping, snarling wake as a neccessary by-product of his robust approach to the game.
There is no doubt that Robson has been a vital ingredient in the mix as Tony Mowbray has turned a relegation bound shell of a side into play-off contenders in just over a year.
And, equally, there is every reason to believe that, even at 33, he has the legs, energy and motivation to command a place in the engine room next season too, certainly if Boro remain in the Championship.
So why have Boro agreed to let him leave for semi-retirement in the relative football backwater of Canadian MSL side Vancouver Whitecaps?
It’s the economy, stupid! Robson is one of Boro’s top paid players. Releasing him eases the financial binds on Mogga’s wrists a touch.
Boro had an option to extend his current deal for a further year but have decided not to exercise it and instead Robson has signed a pre-contract deal for two years in Vancouver. You can’t blame him for that: it will be a wonderful lifestyle for his family, he has managed to get a pay-rise and he has secured a two year deal which would have been unlikely in England and a non-starter in Scotland.
In an ideal world Boro may well have wanted to trigger that extension clause and keep Robson for at least the extra year on his existing terms.
But it is not an ideal world. Far from it. Boro remain a club with an acute awareness of the need to balance the books. It may slip out of supporters’ consciousness between transfer windows but the message from the club over the prudent recent past has been consistent. The unchallenged exit of Robson is a stark reminder of that.
The financial wallpaper to Tony Mowbray’s tenure has been radical wage-cutting, squad-trimming and an age of austerity and rummaging through the bargain bin. Yes, Boro spent £1.5m on Lukas Jutkiewicz in January but that was money squirrelled away in August and funded by summer departures and even then the deal took some massaging to complete. Not much has fundamentally changed.
That deal may have prompted some to believe that the financial strait-jacket had been eased off and that Boro could tentatively edge back towards the shopoholic excesses of the past. No chance.
While the wage bill is now said to be ‘under control’ there is still very little wriggle room – hence the need to shuffle Stephen McManus – experienced, physical, imposing and very useful defensive cover even if no long part of the first choice pairing at the back – out on loan and help ease the exit of Tarmo Kink in a mutual termination specifically in order to free up funds to finance the “wow factor” loans expected to arrive soon.
And that prevailing economic climate is the most pertinent factor in the exit of Robson.
It’s nothing personal. It is just a case of bad timing. Robbo represents the tail end of a millstone blip in the wages curve that helped bring Boro to the brink of financial meltdown and which the club have been anxiously addressing over the past two years.
He arrived for £1.5m as Gordon Strachan was throwing money around in the last hurrah of ‘big spending Boro’ in an ill-fated and short-sighted Jockification of the club. The £10m splurge on the Strachanovite revolution involved investing heavily in top flight fees and wages for the clutch of his chosen players that were intended to bridge the cross-border culture gap and fired by an Old Firm winning habit, carry Boro into the Premier League.
It was a strategy costed on the basis of Boro being promoted. Chris Killen and Willo Flood came in on relatively little money and Andy Halliday as next to nothing as one for the future but Robson, Scott McDonald, Kris Boyd, Kevin Thomson all signed well padded deals that had one eye on the Premier League. They arrived on top flight wages the club can’t realistically afford to carry anymore.
Any and every opportunity to unload one of those big earners must be grabbed.
Again, it is nothing personal. In an ideal world a flush club could comfortably afford a striker scoring one in three on £30k a week. Ish. In this division they can’t. Or an injury-dogged midfielder watching most games from the stand on on £15k or so. They remain on-going financial problems that the club need to manage, either by making sure they are delivering on the pitch or by somehow moving them on as they did with Boyd.
In that context Robson represents decent value for money at round about £15k a week. Give or take. It’s a lot of money but he has an impact on most of the games he plays. He has been effective, consistent and is a driving force in midfield plus he chips in with goals – but he is out of contract and that represents a golden opportunity to make a wages saving and recycle that into the budget elsewhere in an unbalanced team.
Talking about what players earn is always guess work and back of fag packet stuff, but it is safe to assume that Robson is among the best paid at Boro (although nowhere near the bloated Midoesque wages of the past) – and crucially, right up near the top end of the pay scale for Championship midfielders. That makes him expensive – and expendable.
The bottom line is that if Boro are not promoted then, even if they really wanted too, they could not realistically extend his current deal for another year while if – and it remains an elephant sized if – they go up then Mowbray will embark on extensive renovations and put down foundations for the future. It is hard to see Robson, who will turn 34 over the course of the campaign, being seen as a viable part of any revamp in the Premier League.
And if Boro remain in the Championship those wages can be directed elsewhere as part of a more far-reaching revamp. Robson will have known that. Mowbray is extremely honest and honourable in his dealing with the players and there will have been no attempts to string him along with talk of looking at the situation in the summer. And in the same spirit of openness, Mowbray will have no problem with his player signing a pre-contract with another club, nor fears that he will not perform. There can be no question of Robson’s focus or commitment wavering. I don’t think he does half-hearted.
Arguably the impending exit has already helped the club tie up Rolls Rhys Williams – a far more important piece of the long term Boro rebuilding project – on an improved and extended new deal. The redistribution of a slice of Robson’s project wage may well have decisively swung the balance on Williams new four and a half year deal.
And there will be more down-sizing and redistribution of wages as the club continue their restructure in the summer. This is a division where outside a handful of marquee players at a handful of clubs still burdened with the legacy of a top flight wage bill, player contracts average ‘just’ a few thousand quid a week now.
The Championship is packed with players who would improve Boro in every department, who would add athleticism, height, pace, width, guile and tenacity. Every shade of the skill-set needed in the comprehensive coaches’ palette is out there. And at a wage far below the top end of Boro’s uneven pay-scale.
In almost every game we see electric performances against Boro. In every game we see players who would walk into the current team Check out the players who we list in the “sign him on” box in the match graphic, who could do a fantastic job here – Jay Rodriguez of Burnley, Matt Phillips at Blackpool, Kazenga LuaLau of Brighton, Billy Sharp at Doncaster, Lewis McGugan at Forest, Adam Federici at Reading, Wilfried Zaha at Palace and Sammy Clingan at Coventry are among recent nominees – and who are all on a fraction of the toxic wages the club have been burdened with.
Getting to a team made up of those players, who we may want but can’t afford while we are still whacked up to the max, from the one we have one made up of players who we may not want but who no-one else can afford, is the biggest obstacle to Mowbray’s ability to shape his own team playing his game to his vision.
The departure of Robson will be part of a major attack on that restrictive differential.
He is just one of several in the current squad who will find their current lucrative deals ending very soon who can expect any new offers to be massively downsized.
Take Justin Hoyte. He has his critics – or #haters in twitterspeak – and it is true he is no Ashley Cole but he has a nice first touch, a turn of pace and an ability to over-lap that has enabled Boro to utilise a wing-backs system to effect.
He is a perfectly adequate Championship full back – but he is on Premier League money. He signed to replace Luke Young for £3m from mighty Arsenal. He had Champions League experience. He will not have come cheap. He probably came on close to £20k a week and possibly had built in annual pay rises in the deal.
Again, he is certainly among Boro’s top paid players. Think of a number. It is not totally inconceivable that some weeks he is paid ten times what the opposition full-back is on. Yet it would be easy to compile a lost of prospective possible replacements. He is out of contract in the summer and has next to no chance of being offered even a third of what he is on now. Either here or elsewhere.
Fellow right-back Tony McMahon is in a similar position. His current deal was signed when he was a Premier League player. Admittedly a fringe player but he had been a regular in the squad and had played in the UEFA Cup. He will have been on a decent wedge. Probably around the £10k mark. Give or take. Certainly he will be among the best paid in his position in the Championship. He too is out of contract in the summer.
The boss may want him to stay – but not on the same money.
Both of those may well be made new offers but if they are to stay they may need to “do an Arca” and take a substantial pay cut that brings them down from the stratospheric salaries of the top flight to the harsh – ha! – realities of this division.
Then there is the thorny problem of Matthew Bates, a problem that both parties have agreed to defer until the summer when Boro know what division they will be in, what players they can move on and what is in the kitty for wage adjustments before they make an offer for the skipper.
So the issues raised by Robson’s move will be revisited in spades over the summer when once again the pressing need will be on the need to move on players earning wages out of synch with the economic realities of the Championship.
Robson’s skill-set will be missed – but he and the others who are ushered through the out door can be replaced. Hopefully with better. It’s not like we are Barcelona.
And the movement will give Mogga the financial freedom to re-engineer his side properly for the first time, to give him the tactical flexibility to play his philosophy football.


41 thoughts on “Cash & Barry: Boro’s Budget Shopping Strategy And Robbo’s Release

  1. As you may have guessed form the previous thread, I don’t agree with all of that! I don’t believe that Robson’s release was a purely economical decision – we could afford to keep him if we really wanted to.
    This is more of a strategic decision – a judgement call where the club believe they can use Robson’s wages more effectively.
    Furthermore, it is a further statement of intent. The club are focused on value for money footballers and will not pay excessive wages regardless of the player’s standing in the team.
    I support that.

  2. As ever an excellant appraisal of the situation AV. Robbo will want to finish on a high even if its tiddly winks, he doesn’t do second best and his hot headedness and card collections are testimony to the fact that he doesn’t do losing either.
    If we get up through the play-offs he has a Wembley appearance and a medal to add to his collection and the perfect send off to his time at the Boro. He won’t want to slip out unnoticed at the end of the season especially when he can see the finishing line starting to appear on the horizon.
    The signing of Rhys is testimony to the “realistic” ambitions of the club. Worse case with Rhys is if promotion this or a Championship winning next season don’t materialise he can move on and the club can profit from a decent tranfer fee for someone with three or four years left on his contract at the time.
    That unfortunately wouldn’t and couldn’t be the case with Robbo due to his required contract length and age allied to salary at this level.
    The recent midfield injury and suspension crisis showed how weak we are in depth. With Bails and Robbo out we looked lost and whatever four we strung across the middle it just didn’t look convincing.
    Reality is that with say £15K Mogga can bring in two or even three midfield terriers to add cover, depth and competition next season. If its a Premiership Season then I would expect to see the same prudence applied in case we come straight back down. Norwich and Swansea have proved that throwing QPR style money at the Prem doesn’t neccesarily work.
    If Robbo was four years younger it may have been tempting for him and the club but to have a lifestyle experience which even Rockcliffe can’t match (or Rutherglen come to that) who can blame him. Most importantly it has all been conducted openly and honestly which in itself is refreshing in Football these days.
    Whatever happens when the time comes I wish him all the best and although his challenges (including off the ball altercations) cards and giving away of free kicks have sometimes pushed me to the limit, his overall passion, fight, spirit and never say die was uplifting in the extreme.
    One thing we can say about Robbo was that he was no mercenary and always gave 100% out on the pitch. No sulking, no disinterested shrugs of shoulder, just integrity personified.

  3. I think Robbo’s biggest downfall is his age. I think we would have broke the bank to keep him if he was five years younger. He must be one of the shortest serving players to achieve legend status.

  4. I’m not a fan of Robson. What his fans call drive and will to win I think is seething temper. There is no doubting his energy and work-rate but he is ill disciplined and chases out of position all across the pitch chasing the ball and leaving big holes behind him.
    He is so angry. If someone beats him with pace or a trick he throws himself to the floor and has a tantrum. He shouts and screams at the world. He dashes about snapping and moaning at players on both sides and the referee alike. He loses his head and shape too much when we need calm and solidity and that it spreads to the rest of the team. It is part of the reason we end so many games games in a shapeless tizzy. He has already had two suspensions. He has got more yellow cards than goals.
    What I will agree on is that despite all that, excellent Bailey aside he has been our most effective midfielder for 18 months … but that says more about the meek, slow-motion, error ridden ineptitude of the rest that it does about him.
    I have no problems with him leaving. I hope Thomson follows him out and Mogga can crack on with spending their wages rebuilding the entire midfield.

  5. Great article AV, spells out the home truths again.
    You mention the players who would improve our team and there are one or two guys per team who would do very nicely in our set up. Mr Sharp moved for £3.5m to £1.8 depending on the story and who you believe.
    How do Boro get these guys in though?
    Going “doomsday” and we dont go up. The players you mention either take cuts or leave. Either way there is going to be a significant further reduction in the wages this summer and quite easily. But these players need to be replaced. The guys you mentioned are still going to be £2m a pop at best.
    Where is the finance or what is the time period to wait for these arrivals?
    Over the summer we are looking at replacing:
    One CB- Big mick being sold
    Another CB – should Bates leave to the Prem
    LB – we only have one
    RB – depends on Mac and Hoyte
    Wingers- guess he wants some has signed some flair players but they dont seem to play to much (Messer Martin and Zemmamma (sicknote))
    CM- Robson has gone, needs replacing box to box is a must
    Forwards – lightly stocked at the moment, Main could reduce that need, Bart – yet to see fully fit and in the team – so needs replacing (?)
    So that is 5 guys needed in without bolstering the general squad.
    Then there is the issue of Scotty and Thompson. Massive wages for one guy at this level and massive wages for any level when you dont play! Are these the last two big earners outside of the out of contract guys and Big Mick?
    So if we dont go up, my fag packet maths, say five bodies need minimum, wages now massively under control, with two out standing wage “issue” players.
    Where does the cash for five bodies come from if we are skint now?
    What quality would they be? Of the list you mention or more cloth trimming?
    (If we go up money comes in, problems are more easily solved).
    Any news on the Wow loans? I think we are clear for the play offs now.

  6. AV – Good piece. ‘Wow’ factor? I don’t think so. But Rolls Rhys is certainly ‘Phew’ factor – even if it’s only securing a decent fee if he does leave but hopefully it’s even more positive than that.
    I try not to think of the wedge that Hoyte and Thomo are on when I watch them play!!

  7. Robbo feels like a big loss. It’s not just what he does, it’s what he inspires others to do. If Boro are now two steps forward, this puts us one step back – pending replacement(s).
    AV’s list of the bigger earners was thought-provoking: McDonald, Thomson, Hoyte, McMahon, Bates. There aren’t many of those I would break the bank for and, in most cases, there is better available more cheaply. If promoted, only Bates could cut it in the top flight as a regular.
    I would let Thomson go tomorrow. He’ll need to have the mother of purple patches for the rest of the season to make him seem worth fighting for. Hoyte’s more useful but not much. There are better FBs/WBs out there so, unless he’s prepared to work cheaply, let’s swap him out.
    McMahon is a little different. Not especially good, he hasn’t fulfilled his early promise – but he is one of ours and is Boro through and through. All comes down to how much he wants to stay and what wage drop he will take but I’d only see him as a squad player even in the Championship.
    McDonald is akin to Robson for his effort and commitment. However there’s not much goal threat. If still in the Championship McDonald is worth keeping if he’s cheap enough.
    Bates is in the same category as McMahon: a home-grown – but he’s much better. His phenomenal record of serious injury will probably make purchasers think twice. Unless he’s looking to go, Bates is probably the one worth pushing the boat out for.
    All in all, it feels a bit like the end of an era and possibly the end of the generation of Youth Cup youngsters. Not sure whether to feel nostalgic and sad or excited and optimistic.

  8. Neil M –
    Apart from Scotty and M&S, Robbo has more yellow cards than the rest of the team has goals added together.
    I stick by my view that when The Unholy Trinity condemned us to relegation by a disastrous August transfer window that if they had bought Robbo we would have stayed up. Probably wouldnt have got him but he was just the sort of player we needed.

  9. Here’s a few targets for Mogga:
    Alessandro Costacutter
    Benito Carbooty
    Bargan Basementovic
    Craig Lidl
    James Morrison
    John Aldiridge
    Costco Jankovich
    **AV writes: Be-Netto Carbone? Pri-Mark Yeates?

  10. AV:- Didn’t Billy Sharp sign for Southampton? Which I suppose proves your point exactly. Another astute, realistic article from your goodself.
    **AV writes: He has indeed signed for Southampton. But he was still the “sign him on” nominee last time we faced him. There’s plenty like that out there, excellent players at this level who are better at what they do than what we’ve got.

  11. Re-signing Rhys Williams is a major positive. Let’s hope a win today (just kicked off 49 seconds ago) puts us back in the play-off positions.

  12. My post at 7.46pm. We did win, and we are back in a play-off position.
    SOUNDED a good goal by Curtis Main. And a year ago he was playing for Darlo? And Mogga had to be persusuaded to give him a chance? Doesn’t matter now that he is with us, has signed a contract for the next couple of years (bet it will be extended!) and has started to score goals.
    Jukebox and Main up front. Emnes wide or behind them?

  13. What have I been watching? Hoyte has a first touch, turn of pace, overlaps? I must of been tying me shoelace at that moment when that happened! This guy is a lazy, lazy man. Emnes is in the same category, lazy, lazy man!!
    We need industry in the midfield first and then the rest of the team.
    We need to play from kick-off in a “Get at em” attitude.
    We need to get the ball in their half.
    We need to show some urgency, not stroll around.
    We need to win the 2nd ball.
    When we defend we need to pass without panicking, losing all control &
    LAUNCHING the ball to not one red shirt in the centre circle.
    We need to pass the ball forwards, not sideways & back!
    Above all of this, we need to STOP GIVING THE BALL AWAY!!!!

  14. Fans always focus on results and players. I’m no different and we all like to have a go when we are disappointed – but we should also realise the football club is a business and I for one am happy we are getting our house in order off the field (Look at Glasgow Rangers). I’d rather have a club to support than not.
    I think you can still be competitive and financially viable without the over priced salaries being paid out. I have no problem paying bonuses for success but paying guys top money to sit on the bench 25 – 30 games a season? Er, no thanks.
    I think MFC got lazy prior to relegation. They didn’t work hard enough on the right player recruitment (how come Everton did) and that for me is all it takes: doing your due diligence, making sure everyone is on board and if you have to, walk away when its not right. A club like MFC cannot afford not to do that. It affects a lot of people the club employ. Yes you might get the odd one wrong but as we’ve seen under certain managers you get more wrong than right
    Back to footie, watched the Burnley v Reading game, Burnley didnt deserve to lose and played the better football after the break (I was really impressed with Rodriguez). Reading use a direct approach and are looking at Roberts up front more. They have two centre backs who not to say they are slow but they look like two trees standing by the side of the road but they will stay deep and its hard to get around the back of them. Mogga will have to find a way to force them out.
    Kebe has speed and wants to go by and cross so I would tell Bennet to stand off a little and force him to cross with his left foot
    You’re welcome Mogga

  15. Great result but feared for it when we were throwing aways chances early on then we stopped at half time. Good to see the impact of Main and delighted for the 3 points.
    The one thing that baffled me was Robbo battling on when still injured and apparently wanting to come off. The comentators were astonished and Mogga almost Strachanesque in his response in the post match interview when questioned about it.
    Any thoughts on the issue Vic?
    **AV writes: I think our titian Terminator may have been proving a point about his continued commitment. There were several brief discussions between the player and bench early on in the limping. I think Robbo stated quite emphatically he didn’t want to come off unless it was absolutely necessary.

  16. Great result last night well and truly back in the mix. TM is right this run of 13 games need to be good for us. Well, he said that two games ago and we have pulled maximum points from them.
    Emmes and the Juke seem to have started well together up front and the rewards are there to see.
    On Robbo good luck to him he still has a very important part to play in our season and i have no doubt at all that he is up for it. Another good move giving TM now has lots of time to find the right replacement.
    Williams also a good move the honesty coming out of the club to the players will only do us good in the future trying to bring in new players.

  17. Well, we’re right back in the mix again after last nights result. I was a bit nervous at half time after we’d battered Millwall for 45 minutes and were only one goal to the good. The BBC stats were showing Millwall with one shot and one goal and Boro with 68% possession.
    Still we held on in the second half and then the Main Man stepped up to the mark and wrapped it up nicely.
    So we’re now six points off an automatic promotion spot with a game in hand, but its still very tight, we have Hull behind us with two games in hand, Birmingham are in a stupendous run of form its going to be quite a ride between now and May.
    Reading is going to be a tough game, they have the meanest away defensive record in the league and we have one of the worst goal scoring records in the top ten. Reading haven’t drawn a game since Arsenal were a good team, the match has 0-0 written all over it. I’m off down the bookies with the mortgage money.

  18. I predict a 3-1 win tonight. Emnes 2 and Main to open his account. No doubt we will have them on the rails first half and be pinned back second half. I bet they score with a header too, with their first shot on target.
    **AV writes: If it’s there I’ll give you the money myself…. d’oh!

  19. (Wrote this or something like earlier but it never went through.)
    Agree with all your comments AV, I think most of us realised the same some time ago.
    What did attract my attention in your article was ‘The wow factor loans’ are you saying that we are to bring in more than one player? All well and good if we are. Great result last night, hope our boys and girls got home alright.

  20. I understand everything you say AV about finances etc but there still remains questions that need answering.
    Who at the club is more capable of making the step-up if Boro do manage to make the step-up this season? Nobody.
    You can say wahtever you like about Rhys Williams and Matthew Bates but equally the same was said about Wheater and has he made the grade at PL level? Definitely not!
    If we make it up this season we will have to spend a lot to replace Robson amd pay the incomer a lot more in the process. He would have gladly opted to stay on his current wage then for the chance of a crack at PL before his career ends. He has that ambition about him – thats obvious from the way he plays.
    And if we fail this season we are already reducing our chances of going one better next season by taking out arguably the club’s best player.
    Short-sighted IMO
    **AV writes: And yet Norwich are giving themselves a decent chance in the Premier League still using a handful of players many of their fans argued weren’t good enough to step up to the Championship. It’s a funny old game.

  21. jiffy –
    I think you’re wrong about Boro not having any players with premiership potential, I would say Steele, Bates and Rolls Rhys have it, maybe one or two others also. You’re wide of the mark comparing Wheater with Williams and Bates, both of the latter are far better footballers than Wheater is.
    If we get promoted there is a fair chance we won’t survive, that is something that all promoted teams are faced with. But what it will give is the time and resources to develop a club that can eventaully sustain premiership football.
    A promotion will secure a big financial windfall, plus a guaranteed minimum of four years of windfall payments if relegated. Mogga is not the sort of manager who will go and buy a Boksic, Karembeu or Branco on £60k a week. He’ll assemble a squad of good players with premiership potential and he’ll pay them sustainable wages. Remember he laid the foundation for where WBA are today.

  22. Talking of Wheats – what chance do you think of a Saltburn stopper thinking that re-acquiring a Redcar Rock for the fraction of the price and wages he was sold to Notlob for might not be a decent idea – especially if Bates moves on.
    **AV writes: You wouldn’t get him on a fraction of his wages. Two years left on a big rise on what he was on here last time.

  23. Very good article AV, getting to the inside of things, and the reality of the Championship.
    However, I have got to agree with Boro Doug, and what I said in the previous thread. Its fine reducing the wage bill to free up the overall wage structure, and give more flexibilty, still think we could have possibly accomodated Robson, BUT where will the cash up front come from, and how much will there be to sign the new players we will need.
    You know far better than I AV, but the players you named and others you may fancy….you will require a good few thousand at least for the better names.
    As I said where will that come from???

  24. Bit quiet on here.I enjoyed the above AV, as usual and the responses.
    I wasn’t at Millwall but saw them play at Brighton last week, when they drew but deserved to win. Don’t know if they played above themselves on the night, but looked far better than their league position suggests. As such, last night’s win was was really excellent.
    With regard to Robbo, I’m one of those who really rate him in this league, along with Bailey, and he will certainly be missed. Good news about Williams, sends out exactly the right message.
    Down here in Sussex, Brighton supporters seem to think the championship is a really good league, whereas Boro followers seem to think the opposite is true. I suppose it’s about where the teams have come from over the last number of years. I for one am really enjoying the season, although I wouldn’t pretend the brand is exactly brilliant.Anyway, looking forward to seeing the Boro down here at the end of March, when hopefully the sun will be shining again.
    PS: AV Can you not get a job on the Evening Argus down here? Believe me, Teessiders don’t know they’re born. Even the main journo on matters Albion is a Stoke supporter. I’m even at the stage where Bernie would be a good option (well perhaps thats taking it a bit too far).
    **AV writes: Are you making an illegal approach? That kind of speculation linking me with other papers doesn’t usually start until the sill season.

  25. I suspect that if all three (Wheats, Bates & Rhys Williams) had a chance of playing for a stretch of games in the same defence in the Premier League, Rhys Williams would be the one who would make fewer mistakes, make more good tackles and make more good passes.
    He isn’t lightning fast (and pace is always an advantage, at any level) but is at least “adequate” in pace. He seems to have the ability to make last gasp tackles cleanly, when the ball might appear just out of his reach.
    I say “the same defence” not as a way of putting them all in the same back four or five (too much!), but as a means of comparing like with like. In other words it would be a poor comparison if one of them was playing in the middle of the Man City defence with quality all around him, a second in the Swansea defence and the third at Wigan.
    Bates, on the asssumption he may now have a sustained healthy spell, and that he doesn’t have to renew acquaintance with the physio for several years, may well have a very decent future ahead of him. And at Premier League level (hopefully with us). He is brave and very solid. He seems much better in the air than might be expected for a lad who doesn’t appear to be the usual centre-back giant.
    Wheats was always committed. Reasonable in the air (but I always felt he could have scored a few more at the other end from dead-ball situations). But you could never call him a cultured, ball-playing defender who seems to have an eye for the occasional defence-splitting pass – which you can say for Williams.
    Again he has to prove that his health (which was a real concern) has turned the corner, that he can put in 38-48 games a season. But he does seem to have a certain “quality”, a certain degree of class. He is still young in football terms, particularly bearing in mind the amount of time he has missed through injury in his young career so far.
    In my view Rhys is the best of the three, without in any way disrespecting the other two. But I’m still very happy to see Bates at the back.
    Additionally, and this might be a bit of a surprise, it seems Seb Hines has returned to the team after a long spell absent through injury, and it’s as if he had never been away. Is it possible for a player to improve WITHOUT playing?
    **AV writes: Sometimes it is about who you play alongside. Wheats was on the fringe of the England squad when he was being protected/directed by Woodgate and Huth but looked chaotic and clunky when paired with Poggi, McManus, Riggott and Hines. When he was the main man and asked to be the brains of the operation (and when handed the armband) he stumbled.

  26. AV – I agree the comment you made in reply to my post of 9.24pm: that it is sometimes about who you play alongside.
    That is why I suggested to assess the players you’d have to watch them play in the same teams – that is, to compare like with like (not have one playing with international quality defenders at his side while the next plays in a struggling team with poorer colleagues, under the cosh in nearly every game).
    Of course it would be impossible to do that properly. But it would no doubt have been easier for Rhys, Bates et al to have played for a couple of seasons alongside Southgate and Ehiogu or Huth. They would have learned a lot!
    PS – did anyone else ignore the European football on offer on Wednesday evening? Couldn’t be bothered to go to the pub, nor even to switch ITV on. Gave FiveLive a listen though, with Higgy behind the mike for Hull v Brighton. Essential background listening and research against possible rivals for promotion!

  27. Yeah, Yeah. OK! So Bates DID play 28 times alongside Gareth Southgate for the Boro! It’s late and sometimes these things pass one by….
    Still, if he’d played a couple of seasons alongside him…. I bet I played at least 400 games alongside my usual “partner” at the centre of defence when I was active (not at football, though). And several hundreds of games alongside other regulars, out of what must have been about 1,000 games over 25 years.
    Mind you, I had a fairly moderate talent, just a lot of enthusiasm and a wish to learn. I got to a certain standard. The interesting thing is that I know I was a better player at 38 that I had been at 28. Maybe at 40 there would have been a discernable difference as I was getting slower and couldn’t really make up for it any longer by positioning. But maybe, if we can patch them up, we might see Bates and Hines out there for at least 15 years?
    OK. I get the hint. “Time for bed”, as Zebedee used to say.

  28. An excellent victory at Millwall and another boost with Hull and Brighton drawing.
    I really feel that we’re starting to see the benefits of having the physical Jutkiewicz in the side, even if it’s Emnes who’s been scoring.
    I admire McDonald’s endeavour and he’s scored a few this year as well, but there’s a question mark against his overall effectiveness and I think he’s going to struggle to regain his place in the side. Even more so if we contiue with two up front and Main keeps impressing.

  29. The Bates, Rhys, Wheats debate is a bit like trying to compare Mannions with TLF. Doomed to irrelevance.
    McManus was compared unfavourably with Bates in one match where Mick had to come off and Bates dropped back to replace him. Bates did very well but, and it is a big but, the team reorganised and put a recognised central midfielder on.
    Prior to that Bates didnt pick up or track a couple of runs which created all sorts of problems and I think, led to a goal. Bates also had several games where he didnt distinguish himself at full back, especially on the left side when he tends to return to his comfort zone in the middle and leave acres of space for the wide – the home defeat by Ipswich at the start of last season was a cracker. Their right sided players had acres to get in to good positions and cross unchallenged.
    He has now settled back at centre back and is looking the good player he is. What we cant do is judge him playing centre half with himself out of position in central midfield or left back!
    What he doesnt suffer from is having Bates playing centre midfield in front or at left back alongside him. I think he is an excelleant player but as AV says you cant always compare because the situations are not like for like.
    For all the run of infuries in the last month or so we have an historically short injury list leading to a number of players getting many games under their belts. Two of those are Rhys and Matt.
    That leads to better understanding between players. Hoyte is looking better for being on the pitch. It isnt rocket science.
    Who knows how Wheats would have done without the turmoil of the Donkey St Ledger and multiple line ups under Gate and Strachan.
    As Forever says, Hines has improved without playing, Rhys and Matt are the same. Or is it the settled line ups and fitness that have helped?
    My view is that Matt and Rhys are showing us what good players they are. Who knows how good Wheats would have proved with either of those fit and alongside him in this division.
    But we will never know.

  30. Interesting comments by Dormo, as ever, particularly with regard to Hines. I remember seeing him break into the first team, at left back I recall, when he looked cultered and to have a good future, if a bit lightweight.
    Hopefully this is his chance to make a good career for himself with Boro. Mind you, I thought Andrew Taylor was going to be our left back for years to come, but I seem to have been one of the few who really rated him.

  31. After going into administration, Portsmouth are now saying that they are struggling to find enough cash to finish the season.
    If this should happen then all points gained from Pompey will be deducted from each team in the league and the season will become a 44 game one.
    So the top of the table would currently look like this – With West Ham, Cardiff and Birmingham being the biggest losers (other than Pompey of course):
    Pos. Pld – Team – Pts (Pts diff)
    1 (2) 31 – Southampton – 58 (-1)
    2 (1) 29 – West Ham – 54 (-6)
    3 (4) 30 – Reading – 54 (0)
    4 (6) 30 – Boro – 52 (-1)
    5 (3) 30 – Birmingham – 51 (-3)
    6 (7) 30 – Blackpool – 51 (-1)
    7 (5) 30 – Cardiff – 49 (-4)
    Anyway, let’s hope that for the sake of Pompey fans this doesn’t happen but it would open up the race for automatic promotion.

  32. Big rumours circulating that we’re signing Jonjo Shelvey on loan. Can you shed any light on this AV?
    **AV writes: The rumour appears to have started because someone saw @mrsbailey tweet him to ask if he was coming up here “for a stag”. Could mean party, could be football speak for “sign on loan.” Who knows? He’d be good.

  33. So Jonjo Shelvey is the first of the “wow” loanees (I think), with Jason Scotland touted as the second.
    I thought TM was interested in more experienced players but I’m very happy with Shelvey. He’s the sort of dynamic midfielder with a creative edge that should suit our prefered style of play and he has some Championship experience with Blackpool. He scored some goals for them and having Nicky Bailey around will hopefully help him settle quickly.
    Jason Scotland, if true, is a less understandable one. Scott McD is a medium term casualty but with Jukey, Main and Emnes all looking good at the moment (and Ogbeche knocking around somewhere) it’s not a position I would be looking to fill. The message it would send to Curtis Main would be difficult for him to accept.
    I would prefer a winger.

  34. The Shelvey loan is is definitely a WOW signing (Was On Wikipedia) – It says the following on his page so it MUST be true.
    Jonjo Shelvey (born 27 February 1992) is an English footballer who plays for Middlesbrough on loan from Liverpool.
    Possible 3rd spot up for grabs today – Royals turn to Jelly after being stung by Boro
    **AV writes: Our understanding that while there is some interest in Shelvey (he is one of a number of names on Mogga’s little list) there is no deal in place to bring him here.

  35. I see the rumour now is that Johnjo Shelvey is about to arrive on loan from the Scousers after the Carling Cup Final tomorrow and that Mogga’s still interested in Jason Scotland.
    I suppose the first will be described as the one with a wow factor – more the Hmmm…. factor for me. And what is Curtis Main to make of a non-scoring journeyman that is surplus at Ipswich.
    **AV writes: We have asked several times (in August and January) about the Scotland story that won’t go away and been told by Mogga there is nothing in it whatsoever. They asked about Ishmail Miller last week but then he did a hammy playing agsinst Boro.
    The Shelvey one seems to be a ripple in the twittersphere. There was interest but we understand it has gone any further than a brief inquiry (the same could be said about a dozen players). Although obviously, he ticks a lot of boxes and would be great.

  36. Well that’s all we needed, So after yet another home set back
    I’ve got to ask some questions:
    Is Tony setting the team up for wins at home?
    Maybe with Main up top alongside the Juke and Emnes given a free role we may get at teams more affectively
    Is Tony using his sub options positively?
    Many times this season with fresh legs and talent on the bench games have been left to drift away when a little energy with for instance a triple substitution which could win the game and points for us
    Is Tony using his squad to best effect?
    Playing the same team offers stability and security and is very affective as we all know. However playing injured players who are half as effective as when they are fully fit as he has chosen to do many times this season kills the spirit of his young guns who are dying for a chance. Many of these kids are ready and able as they showed against Sunderland
    I know Tony is going for promotion. GOOD ON HIM. I also know he fears the uncertaity of youth yet it could be that youth that carries him and us to promotion
    If we dont make it this season it will be those young guns he will need next year to push on yet again.
    We all know he has a very good chance to achieve promotion this season – but if he lets fear dominate and looses the boldness that his teams are famous for then I fear he will lose out on promotion. Boro will lose out, We will all lose out
    When Tonys Team failed to impose themselves at home early in the season
    the opposition soon latched on and sat back trying to rope a dope. Many succeeded, too many, including Reading
    My Message to Tony is this:
    You have the team, you have the squad, you have the backing of your chairman and the Boro supporters. Go out and attack the League. Use the kids, at least four are ready and able now.
    Get a couple of WOW FACTOR signings. Remember how Paul Merson Drove us to promotion. He was a class player that no one expected to sign for the BORO (but he did). We need a player or two of that ilk
    How about Tom Huddlestone and Giovani Santos? They are the type of players that will get the Boro promotion.
    UP THE BORO and remember no mater what, in Tony we trust

  37. Where has Adam Reach gone??
    Debut like a player with 50 games under his belt!
    Played against Sunderland & looked accomplished!
    Where has Adam Reach gone?

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