JOSE Mourinho’s former right hand man Aitor Karanka has now been officially installed as the new manager. Here’s a bit on the unfolding big picture and why Boro decided upon a radically different way of operating in a bid to reignite the club.
THE ARRIVAL of new boss Aitor Karanka signals a seismic shift for ambitious Boro.
Steve Gibson appointing a Spaniard to the Riverside hot-seat is more than just adding a European accent in the dug-out.
It is a calculated move to guide Boro towards a radical new structure.
It is about more than just a new boss: It is about a new model.
The ambitious aim is to bring about the most significant game-changing paradigm shift since the arrival of Bryan Robson and the Riverside Revolution.
If the new structure unfolds to plan it could be the start of a new era of expanded horizons and imaginations.
Aitor Karanka has been brought in to be at the heart of a whole new way of operating designed to make Boro fit for purpose in an age of Financial Fair Play.
Boro are trying to find a new approach that would put in place a stable, cost-effective on-going scouting and recruitment system that does not change with every manager, that will feed into the squad steadily over the years to come rather than sporadic revolutions.
They want to tap into the most promising young talent at the biggest clubs in Europe ahead of the curve either on loan, or on short term deals that carry little financial reward or on shrewdly structured deals that carry potentially huge rewards if they impress and can be sold on for a profit.
In Spain and Italy there are no reserve leagues and big teams are keen to get players not quite ready for the senior side some competitive action – and put them in the shop window. Chelsea could been keen to blood their own youngsters as they prepare them for big things the season after next.
A year’s loan here. A real deal with a sell on clause there. If they excel at Boro for a season and the team benefit from their talent then are sold on, then everyone’s a winner.
If they don’t, well, Boro have not lost out. There is no three year contract on £10k a week to weigh the club down.
That seems a sensible and sustainable strategy for a club of Boro’s size and profile. But it is a strategy that requires a different outlook from the more conservative English managerial norm. And it is a strategy that Aitor Karanka not only understands, but has also had some input into shaping.
He has been one of the conduits as Boro felt their way towards relationships with clubs in Spain and Portugal. He has worked with Gibson, Mowbray and Boro scouts over the past year as the project tentatively took shape.
Now he will take charge of that project. The former Spanish international is seen as the key to Boro moving towards a new European approach to recruitment, players development and technical training.
Karanka will bring with him his own staff in key positions as part of the reshuffle that has seen club stalwarts Mark Proctor and Steve Pears leave Boro. Not immediately as some are still at clubs in Spain – and here – and it may take a few weeks to get all the cogs in place. But the wheels are in motion already on that.
It is a major change in perspective for Gibson who rejected the chance of bringing in successful German boss Felix Magath after the exit of Steve McClaren and the high water mark of Eindhoven.
The chairman decided back in the summer of 2006 that the prospect of German trainers, nutritionists and scouts and the creation of Middlesburg-on-Rhine was a culture clash too far for the club and opted for continuity and the safety of Gareth Southgate instead.
But the landscape has changed dramatically since then. Once flush Boro are treading water in the second tier with the new financial noose tightening and even though Gibson is backing the club to the maximum allowed by the strict rules, he knows it still leaves Boro well behind their biggest Championship rivals.
The chairman now admits that maybe in the past the club had been a bit parochial in outlook in dug-out and behind the scenes recruitment. Now it is a global game.
Karanka is seen as the key to Boro decisively stepping up a gear with a model that can short circuit that financial gap, a model that has been a year and more in the making.
But he is not just a handy hub, a human conference call. He comes highly recommended as a successful coach, make no mistake about that. He has a great CV that makes him a good fit with a club like Boro.
He comes personally recommended by Mourinho who told Steve Gibson: “Just get him”
He was marked out in Spain as one of the brightest and best of a new generation of tactically astute operators in a nation that has put great stock in nurturing football thinkers. He was the manager of the Under-16 team for two successful years – a group of players that have swept all before them in every age group and who are now reaching the ages of 20 and 21 and looking to establish themselves in their senior career. Which could come in hand.
That ability earned him a place as Jose Mourinho’s right hand man at Real Madrid, and the Special One isn’t known for employing duffers. There was even talk of him joining Mourinho at Chelsea but the Portuguese gaffer has a policy of always recruiting a local assistant with domestic knowledge.
But as well as an accomplished coach he is also a gateway to an exciting world of big club contacts, scouting knowledge and rising talent across Europe.
As one of a group of progressive coaches plugged into a pan-European network of insider intelligence he is well placed to identify some of the best young players around.
He also joins the dots behind the scenes. He has close relationships with Iberian agent Jorge Mendes and former Manchester United chief executive Peter Kenyon, both who have been working closely with Steve Gibson over the past year.
They have introduced Boro officials to the main players in major boardrooms to smooth the way with a fledgling framework. That has helped Boro’s scouts swap information and ideas with their counterparts at Champions League clubs.
And while it may not have produced results as yet, the potential is exciting.
And Kenyon and Karanka are both very close to Chelsea boss Mourinho too and that could well swing it when it comes to Boro putting in loan requests to Stamford Bridge. It opens mouthwatering possibilities for bringing in top talent on the cheap.
Just think, Boro could have had Lukaku and Chalobah on loan if it was in place last year.
His ability to open doors and call in favours from some of the biggest clubs in the world could prove invaluable in a period of prudence when Boro can no longer match the market muscle of the big boys.
Gibson’s ambition burns as bright as ever for Boro but he is acutely aware that Championship budgets and the new limitations being placed on them are a major obstacle in returning to the Premier League.
If Boro are to compete they will have to be canny.
They need to find a new way of operating.
Boro are slowly putting in place an extensive scouting network in Europe that runs in tandem with rapidly strengthening new links to some of the biggest clubs on the continent like Atletico Madrid and Juventus
Delegations from both have been at the Riverside this year with parties from Roma and others also pencilled in to visit.
This week Boro’s Under-18 and Under-21 teams are in Madrid for technical training sessions and games against their Atletico counterparts while Luke Williams, Bryn Morris and Bradley Fewster jetted out to Madrid for an extended stay.
That is just the first stage of what could be a productive exchange scheme.
And not just with one club. Boro are honing a network of similar links that will hopefully bear fruit in terms of securing first options on young talent.
They are cultivating links with key individuals too: But the club have nurtured strong ties with former Riverside goal-getter Marco Branca, sporting director at Inter Milan, and Croatian FA big wig Alen Boksic.
All the pieces of the jigsaw are falling into shape.
It just needs the right manager now put them all together to make a Premier League picture.
Steve Gibson believes Aitor Karanka is that man.
He has been the club’s first choice target since the axe fell on Tony Mowbray.
While Boro inevitably had a lot of interest in the Riverside job, most candidates were only concerned with what they wanted to do on the pitch.
Boro are equally concerned with what is planned off it.
Hence the club’s courting of Aitor Karanka, a man tipped as a rising dug-out power and one who not only understands the nuances of Boro’s vision but has been involved in its steady evolution. He has cut his teeth as a coach and now wants to prove his credentials as a manager.
Karanka turned down the offer of a more traditional role at Premier League strugglers Crystal Palace because he believes Boro are at the start of a project he believes can be exciting.
Let’s hope he and Gibson are right.
I DID a live blog of how the day unfolded, from an exclusive Gazette breakfast chat with Steve Gibson at swanky Rockliffe Hall to the unveiling of the new boss. You can relive the drama (even the spa scene) here. and here is the Gazette video footage of the press conference to complete your multi-media experience.