Beyond Our Ken: Karanka Explains What Omeruo Brings To The Party

KENNETH OMERUO looks set for a debut at Blackpool as Boro go into the second half of the season looking to put the recent calender curse behind them and actually make January a profitable month.
The Nigerian international centre-back, on loan until the end of the season, is the first real long term signing by Aitor Karanaka – Shay Given was an emergency loan and Daniel Ayala, whose loan deal he will look to extend, was already in place. And it is the first sign of a mooted relationship with Chelsea starting to bear fruit.
And said Karanka, “he is the player I was waiting for.”

Yes, he is young. And yes, he is only on loan. But the indications are that it is a loan from a higher drawer than Josh McEachran came from. He comes with rave reviews and high hopes. Some of his story and a taste of his determination can been seen here in this excellent profile from Four Four Two magazine.
Obviously there is the Chelsea connection, both on the personal level between former Real Madrid No 2 Karanka and the Special One and also between Steve Gibson’s new advisor without portfolio and one time Stamford Bridge chief executive Peter Kenyon and Mourinho too. That has prompted talk of a lot of favours being done, But Kenneth is far more than just a “welcome to management” courtesy hamper left in the dug-out by Jose. He is a genuine prospect and a possible future star. He is no Jay O’Shea,
Kenneth playing at a club with a similar outlook and being coached by a man Mourinho knows well can obviously benefit Chelsea, who see the highly rated Nigerian not just as one of a host of suck-it-and-see starlets but as a future first teamer. But if he is half the player a raft of experts believe then it must also benefit Boro. After all, a full Nigerian international added to the centre-back roster has got to improve a notoriously creaky defence which hot only has dropped clangers in its DNA but also injury problems. .
And crucially, the manager believes the new boy is a good fit with his own style and that he ticks a lot of boxes on his target recruitment wish-list He is talented, he is keen to learn, he wants to be here and he wants to play football.
“Jose recommended him because he knows what I need and he told me Kenneth would be an interesting player for me because he’s young and strong and I like strong central defenders in this league,” Karanka told the Gazette in his regular weekly sit-down chat, the first since Kenneth arrived on Teesside..
“He’s a player who has a very good future and I think he can improve here. The important thing is he’s hungry and has come here to improve. I can see every day on the training ground that he is the player I was waiting for.
“He’s here because for him it’s important to improve and play in England, in the same country as Chelsea. We will work here with the same methodology and philosophy as he has in Chelsea. Our philosophy here is the same as Jose and his staff’s and that’s important for him and useful for him. It will help him improve.”
“I have not seen him play this season but but it is not the first time I have come across this player,” said Karanka, when quizzed on buying blind. “He was playing for Nigeria when that country hosted the FIFA Under 17 World Cup in 2009 and I was coaching Spain. Nigeria beat our team 3-1 in the semi-final and then lost perhaps an easier game to Switzerland in the final.
“He has developed well since then. He went to Chelsea which is one of the biggest clubs in the world and last season he played 34 or 35 games in Holland and then he has been playing with Jose for the last few months. He’s a young player and he needs to improve obviously but I think he will help us.”
On the issue of where he will play Karanka said his primary position – and where he Kenneth wants to play – is a central defender but that he may also play at right back. Chelsea see him as a centre-back, it is where he plays for Nigeria and in an ideal world he would play there for Boro too. But Karanka is a pragmatist,
“It depends, I think he plays better as a central defender but at some times I could need him as a right-back,” h admitted.
Turning to the transfer window the boss said yes, he wanted to strengthen and bring in players but that he also aimed to trim the existing squad which he thinks is too big,
“We’re working hard on lots of players,” he said. He refused to comment on individual names – Nakhi Wells, Billy Sharp, Nathaniel Chalobah – who have been linked with Boro but insisted he only wanted players who are better than those already at the club.
“Players who will improve our squad will always interest us. But I don’t like to have a lot of players so we’re working to get the squad down to 22, 23 or 24 players if possible. Now we have 30 players and that’s no good for anybody, for training and for those who don’t play. We have to work hard this month.”
MEANWHILE, “typical Boro” fans will relish the prospect of a visit to a powder keg Blackpool. It has coupon-busting upset written all over it.
They are on an a horrendous nose-dive after seven defeats in eight, they have had massive disciplinary problems after having the boss banned from the stadium for five games after assaulting an official in the tunnel then on his return they had five players sent off in 86 minutes that torpedoed the season. Now the fans are in open revolt, the chairman is taking pot-shots at supporters, six key first team squad men have gone back to their parent clubs after loan spells and ‘troubled’ striker Michael Chopra is on the naughty chair after an expletive peppered twitter swipe at a poor training session.
The local Blackpool press are almost suicidal over the direction of the club and predicting a poisonous atmosphere and open revolt should Boro score. So for a certain group of fans that has “nailed on Blackpool win” written all over it. I’m backing Boro for the first win over there for the first time since 1986.
THERE must be a language barrier in dealing with Aitor Karanka, people often ask. Well yes, but not neccessarily the one you would think.
Listening back over some recent interviews there is a ‘lost in translation’ gem from the press conference after Boro’s 2-0 win at Millwall. This is the closest phonetic transcription I can get to the opening exchanges.
Gordon Cox : “Gentlemen… Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka… any questions”
Stereotype Cockernee reporter: “Soooo Ai”oor, you know Jo-zaaa Mo’weenyo don’cha? Well we wuz taw’in to Jo-zaaa vis week right an he sez ‘at Middews-buwwaw is the furss wesut ‘e looks for … you mus’ be very flattered an’ awl vat? Wot wiv’ ‘im sayin’ vat?”
Aitor Karanka (looking non-plussed): “Errrrr… sorry?”
SCR (slower, louder): “Jo-zaa Mo’weenyo… he sez Middews-buwwaw is the furss wesut ‘e looks for. Wot you fink ov vat then?”
AK : “Errrr… sorry?”
SCR (slowly): “Sooo, wuz you ‘appy wiv the game today? Did you fink Middews-buwwaw deserved to beat Miwaaa?”


12 thoughts on “Beyond Our Ken: Karanka Explains What Omeruo Brings To The Party

  1. AV –
    Thanks for asking the pertinent questions. Every Boro supporter will wish Kenneth well. I look forward to seeing him tomorrow.
    The points I made at the end of the previous thread still appear to stand, however. Karanka isn’t buying him blind – he saw him play nearly five years ago. How high would you place that on the scale of managerial professionalism? And this from one who is a management rookie
    And what does this signing do for the future of our finest young centre-back prospect, Ben Gibson? This should be the season when he could hopefully develop into our No1 centre-back for many years to come. Now he appears to be relegated to 4th choice. The probability is that, come the beginning of next season, when our present on-loan players are a distant memory, Ben will be the only centre-back currently on the books who will still be around.
    It is the long-term development of our basic squad which should be the club’s priority, not the recruitment of loan players,who, however promising they may be, will be here today and gone in a few months time. Doubts arise for me if and when loanees begin to compromise that longer-term development.

  2. Len –
    Do you not see Kenneth as a replacement for Woody? I think that is what Karanka has in mind. My guess is Ayala and Kenneth as first choice centre backs with Woody and Gibson as back-up.
    I’m not sure a new CB arriving will damage Gibsons development, young players these days rarely become instant permanent fixtures in the first team. I think it is curtains for Hines and Woody gently heading toward concentrating on his coaching badges. This guy seems to be highly rated, if he’s better than what we have got then bring him on down.

  3. Come come Leonard! A little less despondency…why not look at Kenneth’s loan as an opportunity for the boy Benjamin to learn from another admittedly young, but nevertheless international class player. Who knows? They may go on to form an excellent defensive partnership which will be invaluable to young Ben’s education.
    Elsewhere, disappointed with Mr Powls negativity towards Kenneth’s loan..
    **AV writes: Some people don’t like loans full stop. It is not a quality issue but a philosophical one. Which is fine. I’ve no problem with that; its a perfectly logical and principled position. Others see it as just a pragmatic approach in an industry where in-demand talent is often stockpiled in a small number of clubs (and where their wages make acquiring them full time prohibitive.) Almost all managers and chairman fall into the latter camp.
    I think most fans tend towards pragmatism and probably don’t examine the ethical dimension too much. Rather than marking out defined ideological positions I think a lot (most?) people probably flit between perspectives depending on how good the last loanee was: Given good/Ameobi bad.
    What I would say is that some of Boro’s “best” signings – the most productive, timely and successful – have been loans. Uwe Fuchs and Marco Branca at this level for instance. Their impact wasn’t a long term negative for the club or any of the other players in the squad.
    Of course not every loan is successful but then, the financial commitment is limited. If they are not good enough they will not play (the idea that loanees have a ‘must start’ clause is a myth), they will be sent back and won’t cost a fortune or be stuck in the reserves for two years on £8k a week.
    And in a post-Financial Fair Play landscape, the biggest ‘favour’ from Jose and Peter Kenyon’s contacts could be the negligible contribution Boro are making towards his wages, creating space which could fund other recruitment.

  4. I think we need to look at Aitor’s comments in totality. He wants a smaller squad of around 20 to 22 players. You can’t have that with perma crocks, a small squad and perpetually injured players are not conducive to that philosophy.
    So that means two things, firstly get rid of the “excess” playing staff and secondly cull those that are a liability in terms of fitness. You can’t have a trim squad if four or five of them are habitually hamstrung.
    In terms of loans, thinking back if we had of had the luxury of having Alves on loan first then a very long bargepole enters my imagination. What if we had actually bought McEachran? Would we have bought Boyd after three months of a Riverside stint? Perhaps Ayala is a possible permanent target in which case we have at least had the opportunity to weigh up if on balance he is worth a punt.
    Despite a few errors I think he is worth a gamble if a reasonable fee and salary can be worked out. If not then we need to move on and perhaps that is part of Aitor’s thinking.
    Woody and Hines are both injury prone, Rhys is marginally better injury wise so we could end up with Big Ben being our only permanent CB if Aitor has a ruthless cull. Its unlikely Omeruo will become a Boro player full time but with 6 points off the playoffs if he can improve our points to games ratio by being less error prone then it augurs well in my opinion.
    On the subject of having first hand knowledge of the players coming in, how many of us have employed people purely based upon a CV, a half hours chat, maybe two and a reference from individuals some of whom we don’t even know.
    If Aitor will have detailed knowledge on the individual and been watching him for a while then its likely that half the league will also have them on their radar, Nahki Wells is a good example. His “friendships” and “connections” may yield better results than previous Boro recruitment drives.

  5. AV, Thanks for the illuminating contextualising gloss on loans.
    I guess that the very definition of despondency is a situation in which Cassandra tries to cheer you up. Much appreciated.

  6. So AK wants to trim 6-8 from the squad? I always relish these games.
    My proposals: Leutwiler, Hines, Parnaby (if it wasn’t for his personal circumstances), Haroun, Park, Halliday, Jutkiwicz, Luke Williams. Few of these will be attractive to other clubs and are unlikely to attract fees. It won’t necessarily be straightforward to ship them out and AK will do well to move on half of them.
    Thinking ahead to the summer clear-out, although his injury record has been much better this season, I suspect Woodgate is past his sell-by date. Also, if he hasn’t rediscovered his form by then, then time must be up for Rhys.
    It will obviously depend on who is brought in but I would hope that Konstantopoulous, Richardson, Friend, Smallwood and Main can be improved on. If enough quality has been imported there must also be question marks against Steele, Whitehead and Emnes. Despite his recent excellence, there is the suspicion that Ledesma will not sustain that form, which seems likely to see a parting of the ways.
    The fact that I can see only around nine players being confident of being here next season reflects my rating of Mogga’s squad. If AK is to produce a promotion push for 2015, that is the kind of surgery that is likely to be needed.

  7. Six to eight? Hah! I suspect Señor Karanka has much larger numbers in mind. It would be easier to count the ones worth keeping. I’ll start his list for him.
    Sorry Señor, that’s as far as I can get.
    **AV writes: If you assume he wants to bring his own players in (and he does) then a lot more will need to leave from this squad to get down to 23.
    There are eight out of contract in the summer. – Leutwiler, Luke Williams, Richardson, Parnaby, Smallwood, Gibson, Haroun, Ledesma – and right now I can only see Gibson definitely being kept on with Smallwood and Ledesma as’ maybes’ if they can consistently do what Karanka wants.

  8. Since we know that Kenneth Omeruo has represented Nigeria at full international level in important games, then perhaps we can assume he’s not the ‘work in progress’ akin to other previous young loan signings.
    So if he lives up to his billing then he could well be an important player this season – the only initial worry as Len has highlighted is his match fitness and lack of Championship experience.
    Given that, maybe it would be wise for Karanka to give him few games at right-back before throwing him in at the heart of defence – having said that Ayala was started in the centre despite also having very little game time.
    I’m not sure where that leaves Ben Gibson but he would have faced the same scenario if Boro had signed a pointy shouty hardened centre-back instead.
    Personally, it sounds like Gibson has shown enough presence and leadership on the pitch to be considered a starter with Kenneth – I know Len has been closely following his progress since his loan period and believes the lad can deliver.
    At the end of the day (as the football cliche goes), a manager’s job is to get results. So if Karanka thinks Kenneth is the best man for the job then he will play – he won’t pick anyone just to please his peers as he’s got his own future and reputation to consider.

  9. We all know loans are a fraught business, all the clubs do is make a judgement and hope they get it right.
    If all the other clubs are doing it then you are faced with little choice

  10. So no Kenneth even on the bench. As I am away only caught the last ten minutes so don’t know if Kenneth was injured.
    If the fact he is there is making the rest defend for their lives he is well worth the investment.
    Maybe Aitor isn’t daft and is making sure he is ready if and when drafted in.
    **AV writes: The gaffer said Kenny was fully fit but that the lads who were in the defence now were playing well and deserved to keep the shirt. Excellent motivational mind games to establish 1) the new boy won’t just waltz in no matter what club he has come from; and 2) only performances will keep you in the team.

  11. Re Jay O’Shea,
    I was disappointed he didn’t make the grade at Boro. Watching him as a teenager playing for Galway United, he was streets ahead of those around him. Shame.

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