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?”