Basque To The Future: Karanka Key To Boro’s Ambitious New Model

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.


119 thoughts on “Basque To The Future: Karanka Key To Boro’s Ambitious New Model

  1. Carlonp –
    nice to hear from you again. Great to hear your mum is in good heath knowing her age. And yes, we have filled the wool stock several times here – my wife is spending even more time knitting as the children do not need attention anymore.
    I think we have some good players and the finances are OK now. I too miss Tony – our hero but perhaps we needed something new. A change.
    Personally I think Ator can change the thinking of the players and inspire them to new heights. I will be disappointed if we are not in top 10 in May. And I still dream about a late surge to the play-offs. There is still a chance – not big but it could happen. Remember Reading a few season back?
    Up the Boro!

  2. Jarkko –
    Hi! As Ian says, there’ll be an ‘Opinion’ piece on Friday re Karanka and my guess at his approach to the Leeds game. Overall, I’d agree with the Bernie Slaven ‘exciting and intriguing’ line.
    Apart from the lack of English league experience he fits the bill of the type of head coach I wanted to see.
    I’d have put a piece up earlier but was waiting with baited breath – as, doubtless, Karanka is – for his backroom team to be appointed. I think that’s key to the way things will go – especially in filling in the English experience bit.
    But, MFC know how to turn ‘bated breath’ into ‘blue in the face’ when, like now, they develop ‘drift’ into an art form! The lack of his own bootroom team can’t have helped the preparation for Elland Road.
    And, oh, by the way, I don’t believe that Veno, Proc or Pears should or will be retained – that’s both to ensure that the very necessary ‘sweep’ is ‘clean’ and because there’s nowt about their coaching outcomes with Boro that says ‘retain, despite everything’.
    It seems they haven’t been involved at Rockliffe since Karanka arrived and I’d hesitate to have Veno foist on the new Head Coach in another role – even if Gibbo has hinted he might go ‘Banquo’s ghost’ over the tapas.
    Karanka will make up his mind about Jamie Clapham, who has been involved. And, surely, Dr. Parnaby and his Academy Team will continue to prove indispensable.
    **AV writes: The Academy set up will be retained, Bryan English and the medical team (although there may be an addition there), most of the scouting network will stay, the pro-zone/computer analysts etc will stay. Gibbo is keen to retain Venus because he thinks he is a big personality, good organiser, commands a lot of authority within the squad and he is a good coach.

  3. 99 – the blog with a flake!
    I await response to the latest Gazette article with interest. Aitor’s views that the right way to play football is to win matches should prompt the odd reply.

  4. AV in a blatant attempt to boost posts, leaving it overnight and all morning at 99.
    I looked on Sky bet (other gambling sites are available) and GHW was 2/9 whilst Forever Dormo and Jarkko where joint 5/1 and Ian an interesting punt at 13/1.
    Saturday at 3.00pm can’t come soon enough especially after watching the shower last night. Midfield was like Josh McEachcran lite and central defensively was pure Boro!
    **AV writes: Oh you cynic. I’ve been out and about doing domestic things.

  5. There’s an obvious interest in the way that the back room team is or isn’t evolving.
    Hidden in a Gazette piece on Everton U21 game Phil Tallentire wrote:
    “Karanka was joined in one of the boxes in the West Stand by chief executive Neil Bausor, new fitness assistant Carlos Cachada and former Colorado Rapids goalkeeping coach, Uruguayan Leo Percovich, who is a close friend of the Spaniard.”
    But I haven’t seen Cachada’s appointment confirmed by either MFC or elsewhere. Or anything about a new goalkeeping coach. Anyone know more?
    I’d link to a picture but ‘there be dragons’.

  6. Andy R
    13/1? Paddy Power would have had me lower than that but there we are, it was as intended as Hoyte’s goal at Barnsley but as the saying goes – read the paper in the morning.
    That is two in a row methinks, a bit like Robbie Mustoe scoring twice in a season, both against Derby I am pleased to say.
    GHW was worried about his shed, Forever was Never Dormo and Jarkko belies his nationality – just cant Finnish. Mr Powls suddenly reappeared on the board.

  7. Ian –
    Congratulations,and well deserved. You’re the one who normally does all of the hard graft so that someone else can tap it in.
    Fascinating insight into the thinking of a top European coach by Snr. Karanka. He obviously said many perceptive and intelligent things at interview to so impress his selectors. I wonder what they were.
    Cachada and Percovich obviously arrived under cover of darkness. Anyone got any idea whom their agent(s) might be?

  8. Jarkko, you are irrepressible! Go on, Aitor, do your worst with our stalwart Finn! Break his heart if you think you’re hard enough!

  9. John Powls –
    Cheers. Cannot wait for Friday. I have waited on news on the Boro coaching team, too. Hope to get the news soon.
    Cartonp –
    if we all keep positive and the club is well run, we should be there one day. I think nobody expected the stay in the Championship would be this long. If we – fans and the club – keep on trying and keep positive, the dream can be reached.
    Of course we must give Ator time. But we much better off now than when Mogga started.
    Up the Boro!
    PS. Nice too see over 100 posts after some positives from Boro – for a change!

  10. I don’t think Venus should be retained whatever Gibson thinks of him.
    You can’t employ a new manager then tell him to work with the previous staff that in effect were failures. What will make their coaching methods successful this time??
    Way to go is a clean sweep throughout,time for Gibson to drop the sentimentality act,it hasn’t worked since McClaren left when he insisted on keeping Cooper & Co which led to O’Neill refusing to come.
    Appointing Karanka our first foreign manager is supposed to bring new coaching ideas and a new approach and style of play,I can’t see where Venus fits into that,if Mowbray failed then I’m sure he has failed too!!
    **AV writes: How do you know Venus is ‘a failure’ as a coach?
    I think his presence could be politically uncomfortable and that sooner rather than later he may opt to leave, more because he threw his hat in the ring publicly and so has been very publicly snubbed than because his line manager has been sacked, that kind of transition to a new regime happens in workplaces every day.
    But I don’t know enough about how exactly coaching was structured under Tony Mowbray to say he was ‘a failure’.

  11. Manager and his team come as a package don’t they and they all sing from the same hymn sheet? Usually when a manager is sacked the backroom staff are shown the door aren’t they?
    Surely Venus was coaching at Boro and responsible for their performances on the pitch which makes him a failure too if Mowbray was having contributed to the last 12 months poor results?
    He has been everywhere with Mowbray so must have similar thoughts on coaching methods,they wouldn’t have worked together if they didnt agree on things.
    In two of the three games he was number one it was like watching Mowbray’s team and I thought that was what the club was trying to change hence the new manager.
    A new manager likes to bring his own staff whom he knows,trusts and is like minded, I don’t think it would work being made to retain part of the old regime!

  12. Neverboroup knows from a hard year of watching us last year and paying for the doubtful privilege. Come on, Vic! Recognise the 100 per centers.
    **AV writes: Unless the 100 per centers have been watching training as well as games I don’t see how they can tell. I’m not saying one way or the other but Isn’t one of the problems in English football the cyclical Ground Zero obliteration of all the infrastructure at a club when the manager goes?
    I understand the “logic” to it. And I understand the need for recrimination. I understand the political convenience of sweeping away any embarrassing left-overs from the previous regime. But I don’t understand how people can decide that someone is a failure when they don’t see the work they do. Why not get rid of Dave Parnaby too? And Gary Gilll? And the coach driver? And tea lady?
    If people have skills that the club value then they should be retained. If you want a culture of excellence and some sense of continuity then you should try to keep those people who have something to offer. I’m not saying Mark Venus is a great coach. I’m not in a position to judge. But it is interesting that Steve Gibson was quick to say that Steve Pears and Mark Proctor would be replaced but that he wanted to keep Mark Venus on board, He must know something we don’t.
    If you trust his judgement on getting shot of Tony Mowbray and bringing in Aitor Karanka then why then not on Venus?

  13. Steve Gibson thought Gareth Southgate and Gordon Strachan were going to be our saviours. He kept Brian Robson a couple of seasons longer than he should so I would hardly trust his judgement about Venus.
    Karanka has obviously been appointed after consultation and recommendation from Peter Kenyon and Jorde Mendez, it’s not as if Gibson has found him himself. Even he is a risk and we are all hoping it works but he should at least be able to have his own team and not the remains of the old regime. It is strange he hasn’t appointed anyone to work with him yet,is he running everything by himself at the moment?

  14. In a results-driven enterprise like football, you can only judge the quality of the coach by the team you see out on the field of play when points are at stake, surely? How is their passing? Ball control? Set-pieces? Tactical awareness? And so forth.
    Now we hear that Venus is popular with and respected by the players. OK, but it is the players who slid down the table last year. Their comfort, and their opinions, are not of the first importance, though, when they have failed.
    One of the mantras I got fed up with hearing quite regularly from various Riverside sources last year, was how brilliant players were in training sessions! I was not impressed by that kind of special pleading when it was clear they could neither attack nor defend effectively at corners, just to mention one skill-set which seemed beyond our highly-paid “professionals”.
    If Venus was a good coach for our club, these players would have been improving, surely, and that improvement would have been visible on the pitch.

  15. ” And the coach driver? And tea lady?”
    I thought we got rid of Gazza years ago! And leave the tea lady out of it. I blame the ball boys. Somebody should be showing them how to waste time when we’re ahead.

  16. My view on Venus is that he has learnt a lot with Tony Mowbray, good, bad and indifferent. Against Donny he ripped everything up and completely re wrote the script. That tells me that he does have a slightly different perspective even though he looked like he was possibly starting to drift back to type against Blackburn and Watford.
    Removing the captaincy from Rhys was a strong but correct decision, as a club captain Woody is a better fit (fitness and appearances are another issue) due to age, experience etc.
    Mogga’s ethics and principles were right but the execution and methodology was sometimes questionable, he is a very single minded and dogged individual. Venus seems a calm low key type of character, not over burdened with ego or attitude. SG obviously sees something in him that he likes and trusts plus the continuity angle is something for consideration. Its important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
    Karanka will be his own man and if there is a clash of personalities between him and Venus then fair enough but I see Venus as a facilitator rather than an agitator so Gibbo’s reasoning may not be entirely flawed.
    Steve Pears was a great servant to the club but we have produced a long line of keepers these last few years (not all down to Pears admittedly) that are very “samey”, excellent shot stopping Vampires! My view of Steele is that he has the ability to be a top class Keeper or just stay as he is, a reasonable one with flashes of brilliance. I didn’t see anything which gave me hope that Steele was improving other than gaining experience through game time.
    My guess is that there were those in the club seeing the same with Ripley (and possibly Leutwiler). Sometimes a change is good for all concerned and Pearsy may flourish in a new environment and challenge. A new goalkeeping coach will bring fresh thinking and different ideology to the role which will be a huge benefit to Steele, Ripley and Leutwiler plus the younger ones coming through.
    Not sure about Proctor, perhaps he was too close and too identical in his thinking to Mogga which could ironically have been part of the problem, sometimes its healthy to be challenged.

  17. So, now that the dust has settled, where does it leave us?
    Make no mistake, our position in the Championship is under threat. We’ve had an error-strewn start to the season, have a team that struggles to defend its own goal, but which can offer a threat at the other end of the pitch.
    The team is TM’s and now he’s gone we have a head coach with no experience of the Championship, little knowledge of the players he’s inherited, and no opportunity to introduce new personnel before January.
    We all desperately want to see Karanka to succeed, but he’s got a tough job ahead of him, and all of the above points mean that Mark Venus must be retained by the club in some capacity – he’s the link between our immediate past and what we hope will be a bright future. In his time as caretaker, it looked and sounded like MV was born to be a No.2, not a No.1, but he did make some brave choices for the game against Donny, and we all enjoyed the outcome.
    He knows the current playing staff inside out, and will know their real strengths and weaknesses (in a professional sense, not from an armchair pundits viewpoint) – plus, we can’t afford Karanka to take another 10 games to figure out what he’s got in terms of players; we need results now or the bottom 3 looms.
    After such poor form for most of 2013, success for me this season is staying in the division, showing greater consistency as a team, and being much much harder to beat (no more Barnsley-like nightmares please). We’ve got some fantastic players at the club (for which TM needs to be given credit), but as the chairman has already said, the sum most be greater than the parts.
    Here’s my challenge for the new regime:
    1. Pick a settled back four and stick with it – and Ben Gibson must be part of it. By inference, this means that injury-prone players should not be part of the “core four” regardless of their pedigree or experience.
    2. Find the player that Rhys Williams truly is, because he’s not a centre half or a midfielder – too many casual challenges and too many unforced errors.
    3. Develop the likes of Luke Williams and Curtis Main into the players they should be by now – free-scoring forwards capable of causing problems against any Championship defence.
    UTB – always.

  18. I think at last SG has done something good .He is not only looking short term ,it looks as though he has a long term strategy with Karanka and he will be acble to hopefully get some top class loan players especially from Chelsea,as he was Mourinhos no 2 at Chelsea,could still get promoted this season.Lets hooe so

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