Players Pick Targets For Prudent Boro

JUST as thoughts turn to the summer shake-up, the PFA have published a handy bargain basement shopping list.
At their annual penguin-suited back-slapping beano and beard-fest, the professionals in each division have voted for the best of their peers and their toughest opponents over the course of the campaign. And the players have handily even arranged them by position.
For a prudent club looking to cherry-pick cheap talent from the lower tiers that’s practically a catalogue. The only thing missing is a price guide.

But forget the glossy sexy football big brand product at the front. We can’t even dream of anyone in the Premier League team. Those days are long gone.
Any Boro fans who think we still we have a Harrods loyalty card are deluding themselves. We aren’t quite at the food bank yet but the gap is now massive and even a competitively resourced Championship club like Boro are strictly high street value brand.
Even the bottom shelf of the top flight is well out of reach now. Even if we could afford the fee (we can’t) the wages even for a journeyman bench-warmer are prohibitive. We can’t even afford Sunderland players!
And we probably won’t even be buying anyone from the Championship line-up either. Wise up – they are all well out of our belt-tightened austerity price range now too. Most of the coveted players in the Championship select XI are Premier League bound – either because their team has won promotion or because the big boys are already in advanced contract footsie.
Leicester trio Kaspar Schmeichel, Wes Morgan and Danny Drinkwater would walk into the Boro side as would Burnley men Danny Ings, Jason Shackell and Kieran Trippier.
But they will be in the top flight next term so, even if they were realistic targets last summer – and Boro had a nibble at Ings – are now unattainable. For Boro anyway. Although some established Premier League side may be lining up a summer hijack.
Derby duo Craig Bryson and Will Hughes may make it up through the play-offs. But even if they don’t they will no doubt be nailed down to new contracts as their clubs beef up for another crack and to fend off the vultures, or they will snapped up by top six rivals with more cash or those that come down as a bulwark against culture shock.
Boro could probably afford left-back Aaron Cresswell from cash-strapped Ipswich but if he was up for grabs there would other, richer suitors. Even if he didn’t go to the Premier League there are clubs in the Championship – or joining soon – that could out-bid and out-pay Boro.
And Ross McCormack? That boat has gone. Boro were teased and strung along during a behind-the-scenes Elland Road power struggle last August while his agent neatly played both ends off against the middle.
Steve Gibson was ready to max out the credit card and sanction a £2.5m package back then. But McCormack has rattled in 25 goals this term in a poor side, has attracted Premier League interest (he snubbed Cardiff on deadline day but was set for West Ham had time not run out) and his price-tag and wage demands have probably doubled.
So Boro will be flicking through the pages towards the back and looking down.
Aitor Karanka will be casting his data-based scouting net far and wide across Europe this term looking for technically adept unpolished diamonds while fledgling link-ups with Atletico Madrid and an informal relationship with Jose Mourinho could also bear fruit.
But Boro are also keen to bring in a new hard core of physically and mentally strong used to the demands of the English game and who are fit for purpose in Karanka’s high pressing, high-intensity 4-2-3-1 formation.
They want players who are hungry for success, who will sit nicely in the squeezed wage profile and will who have a Moneyball resale value a few years down the line. That means more signings like Mustapha Carayol, a £200,000 buy from Bristol Rovers and £100,000 bargain George Friend from Doncaster,
At a push there may be a few strategic well-wadded dips into League One in the manner of the £1m paid out for Albert Adomah and the £1.5m invested in Lee Tomlin.
Which is not a bad thing. The last batch of big-money signings – Scott McDonald, Stephen McManus, Kris Boyd et al – didn’t exactly set the world on fire did they? And worse, they became a massive financial bind on the club for years.
In contrast the more humble incomers have been among the better performers this term and have offered a hint of optimism for next season. And good value for money, which is vitally important. Under Financial Fair Play the total outlay – fees and wages – is strictly limited so clubs like Boro have to get more bang for their buck if they are to succeed..
And there are some good players down there. There is a very good record of players who make the PFA League One team of the year stepping up a level. Or two.
The team is worth looking at in detail. If not by us certainly by Gill Gill and his crack team of Wyscout analysts. It is picked by their peers, blokes who play against them week in week out and who know exactly how good they are, how consistent they are and how good they can be.
A quick glance show some promise. Experienced shot-stopper Carl Ikeme we know. He kept five clean sheets here on loan three years ago now and still has a fan club.
At the back the XI includes right-back Sam Ricketts who won the Championship play-offs with Hull and played at Bolton before he moved to Wolves last season and Harry Maguire of Sheffield United, an England Under21 international who is in the divisional team for the second year running.
The midfield has a couple of starlets who have been at bigger clubs as kids but now finding their feet – Brentford’s Adam Forshaw, once of Everton and Geordie Ben Pringle who was at Derby – plus a couple who have been about a bit like former St Etienne man Bakary Sako.
And up front – where Boro are lacking most and where the bits of the jigsaw are hardest to get to fit – the team features Britt Assombalonga of Peterborough United who has rattled in 30 so far this season (a lot of them playing just in front of Lee Tomlin) to get top flight clubs sniffing around and Callum Wilson of Coventry City who has bagged 20.
They have got to be worth weighing up. I’d be staggered if Boro haven’t watched them all a dozen times this season and if there isn’t a massive data-base on them, specialist reports on every possible attribute and psychometric profiles too. After all, the League One PFA team has proved fertile ground for future stars in recent years.
Last year’s team included three who were a key part of Bournemouth’s play-off push (Simon Francis, Matt Ritchie and Charlie Daniels) while Luke Murphy made a lucrative move from Crewe to Leeds to play second fiddle to McCormack.
The year before the XI included Blackburn goal machine Jordan Rhodes, then at Huddersfield, and perennial Boro-botherer Steve Quinn who moved up from Sheffield United to Hull.
In 2010-11, the League One team included Adam Lallana and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain of Southampton, both now hot properties in the Premier League, plus defender Gordon Greer of Brighton and then Peterborough man Craig Mackail-Smith, now also a Seagull, both of whom we’d probably be keen on but can’t afford.
The year before that, 2009-10, the League One team would have provided equally rich pickings: Wes Hoolahan (Norwich) Grant Holt (then Norwich, now at Villa but on loan from Wigan), Robert Snodgrass (Leeds), Rickie Lambert (Southampton and England) and, er, goal-getting midfield man Nicky Bailey and marauding full-back Frazer Richardson, both of Charlton.
There is raw talent there waiting to be polished and improved at well-run clubs with a perceptive manager looking to build a team. That could be Boro’s best way of short-circuiting the restrictions of Financial Fair Play. It is the most effective way forward.
Shopping from the lower shelf is the only viable way of rebuilding on a budget.


17 thoughts on “Players Pick Targets For Prudent Boro

  1. When Rogers took over at Liverpool he signed Joe Allen. He wanted to play this possession type fifteen passes before you get to the halfway line game. They where pathetic,in fact I think they dropped into the bottom six at one point.
    Now I don’t know if someone had a little word in his ear or he realised a different approach based on players available but they changed to a hit the strikers early type. Now their two front men interchange, they keep moving and make it hard for defenders to mark them out of the game the top two can drop and become midfielders allowing a midfielder to go past them,
    Whats this got to do with Boro?
    I think Karanka was what we needed, someone with credibility and a disciplinarian. I also think there is more work needs to be done on that front. If he can really get into their heads the discipline and physical needs required,we may not be too far off. Its all ifs
    Some fringe players have to go,if only to free up some salary space, I’m not in favour of loanies unless your talking outstanding talents that do make a difference, I think we need two fullbacks and two strikers,
    But what I wanted to saywas,I would like Karanka to tweak it a little bit a la (Rogers),
    lets suppose we sign no one,lets look at the squad with all it frailties and we had very few injuries as Burnley had this season.
    Let’s say Karanka got into Emnes head at last. I could see Emnes up top (burning speed), Tomlin in the hole next to him,you’ve got Adomah,Buttrfield, Carayol,(movement) you’ve got Rys Williams,Leadbittter (anchor mifielders) you’ve got pick one. Ayala, Gibson, Woodgate to come back, Goalkeeping isn’t a problem,
    So for me,the foundation is there, if Karanka tweeks it a little a bit more like stretching the field at times ,we have chance. 12th place is not good enugh,but like I said its all IFFS

  2. Interesting read on Aitor’s views on the number 10 role naming Tomlin, Butterfield, Ledesma and Luke Williams. I doubt anything is cast in stone but you would suspect they will be staying unless someone better comes along.
    It does appear there are no favourites, do well in training and you will get a chance.
    I was pleased to see Adam Reach get a game, it is a shame Richie Smallwood isn’t back but he seems to have done well.
    The difficulty over the summer will be getting players who will improve the squad bearing in mind Aitor doesn’t like working with too many players.

  3. GT –
    Most teams play a similar formation to ourselves, interesting analysis by Carragher about Liverpool.
    They want teams to go at them so they can counter attack, it was up to Liverpool to cope with parked buses, Liverpool had done it often enough so shouldn’t complain.
    You right about the attacking players but even those with top players struggle. Liverpool and City home to Chelsea, Bayern at home to Real Madrid.
    The key is probably consistency of those attacking players.
    To finish, a good article by Martin Samuels about Jose and Chelsea. If it was so easy to become defensively sound why haven’t Norwich, Fulham, Sunderland and Cardiff done it?

  4. If Karanka is willing to move away from his target man up front and go for more of a pace-and-movement front four – I hope he is – then Assombalonga makes a lot of sense if Peterborough fail to get promoted.
    He looks ready to step up a level and would surely see a move to us as a career step forward. That Assombalonga already knows – and had a very productive partnership with – Tomlin is a great bonus.
    Competition for him will be stiff, but I would think that £2.5m would be enough. If we can get £1m for Jutkiewisz and move on Emnes then the savings on their wages would surely make up a fair chunk of the difference, if not all.

  5. Really important window for Boro. Do we stay as the middling champ team or can we finally push on and find that extra consistency and goals we urgently need?
    AV wrote: “But Boro are also keen to bring in a new hard core of physically and mentally strong used to the demands of the English game” – Sounds like TM’s and SG2’s “Men” that we are after still.
    AK has already said he will alter the profile of guys we are targeting based on his experience of this league. The young, Spanish show pony’s are off the list and seasoned workhorses (ney, donkeys – boom boom) are back on the list.
    For me it’s simple. We need a 20+ goal man and a 15+ goal man.
    Graham is being touted a lot in the papers. 5 in 16 is good but could be better for this level but its ok for his time at the club and past form. A brace against Yeovil would make his record very respectable but short of the 10 I thought he would need to push us into the play-offs.
    Tomlin is starting to bag a few more. I hope this continues.
    I think we need some more wide coverage with MC picking up one bad one injury a year, Adomah will need a rest. L Williams needs to have a massive season or start to look elsewhere for his career. Ledesma – hmmm – maybe he is a cheap option but he doesn’t perform week in week out.
    The defence also needs some work. Woodgate has 23 starts to his name which isn’t bad, but how many did he come off early with a niggle to scupper future sub plans?
    R Williams- time to sell i think. not fit often enough, costs a lot, has he really offered value the last few seasons? Burnley will spend some promo money on him.
    Plus another LB is needed to help out Friend, if Gibbo isn’t considered a LB anymore.
    Get value for Jukes, and Emnes, scraps for the other loanes. Couple of defenders, one or two wingers, two forwards – must be goal scorers and we could be in with a shout.
    AV- will the club take the Varga option? The deadline looms apparently
    **AV writes: I think they are keen. I’ve never seen it officially quoted but I think the agreed fee was 600,000 Euros. Looks good value for money for a solid if not spectacular player that had been one of our most consistent performers.

  6. AndyR –
    Don’t forget the four up front still have a focal point, Benzema at Real for example, who ever Jose chooses at Chelsea, Sturridge at Liverpool.
    His job is to move the defenders about, link up play. Ideally he should be pacey and interchange with the three three behind him.
    Our problem is not the system, it is only a tweak on what we call 442 after all. The problem is the quality and consistency of the players we have available.

  7. Talk on this, and the previous bit, of the desperate need for a 20+ goals a season player.
    Since our relegation in 2009 the Championship has been won by Newcastle, QPR, Reading, Cardiff and Leicester. Five different teams. Total number of 20 goal a season players? None, unless Nugent scores at the weekend.
    Not sure what that tells us apart from, contrary to popular opinion, you don’t need a prolific striker to thrive at this level.

  8. Paulista –
    Correct. Our problem is that we don’t have strikers capable getting near twenty.
    The number from Adomah is respectable and Tomlin has scored 13 this season.
    If both replicate that next season plus you get 15-20 from a striker, throw a fair share throughout the team and that will get you close.

  9. Ian –
    I think the type of player you have available counts too.
    I like Danny Graham and would happily have him back next season but we can’t ask him to be “pacey and interchange with the three three behind him” because that’s not his game.

  10. Interesting article, AV. Quite agree with you that we cannot afford a PL player. But still good to realise that we can buy one or two £1.5m players a year.
    So a lot will depend on Emnes and Juke returning as this could save some money on salaries. Also Rhys could still stay as he needs to prove his fitness before departing – but he could leave on transfer deadline day in Autumn.
    What do people think about the Guisborough Town striker, Danny Johnson? He scored – his 57th this season – at Riverside in the North Riding Senior Cup final yesterday. Gary Pallister was a gem from the non-league – so is Johnson worth a try, anyone?
    Up the Boro!
    **AV writes: The gap between Northern League and the pro game is MASSIVE. Every division up is a fraction of a second faster and the players are technically 10% better.
    It is a very long time since anyone stepped up in this region. Michael Mackay was a red hot property, a goal a game striker with Consett a few years back. He went to Hartlepool and just didn’t do it. I mean, Kris Boyd….

  11. When it comes to choosing players for next season the most decisive attribute may well be personality.
    We need a couple of players on the pitch who drive the team forward when it matters, since when it came to the crunch against Millwall and Reading the team just froze and didn’t show up.
    This may have ultimately cost us a playoff spot as if Boro had been up for these games the table would now look like this:
    6 – Brighton – 69 pts +14
    7 – Boro – 67 pts (+14 minimum)
    8 – Reading – 67 pts (+11 maximum)
    9 – Blackburn – 67 pts (+7)
    Just to note: As Boro currently have +9 goal difference we’d get back the -3 from the two defeats (0-2, 1-2) and get a minimum of +2 from two wins – likewise Reading would lose their +2 and get a minimum of -1 if we’d beaten them.
    So we could have gone into the final game knowing Brighton would need to win at Forest if we beat Yeovil.
    Anyway it didn’t happen and it shouldn’t have been so meekly given up – it’s all very well having skillful tidy players but when the pressure is on, the game is probably won in the mind before a ball has been kicked.
    Though overall I’d say Karanka has moved the club forward but assessing the type of players we need will be critical this summer. Pace and skill are useful but as Emnes has shown it doesn’t always give you the edge.

  12. Good comment Werdermouth. If anything, personality should come first.
    As you say, a player can be wonderfully gifted but not make the grade because he lacks resilience, confidence, determination, obduracy (in a good way) and the right balance between single-mindedness and team spirit. That is usually the missing X factor in youngsters who fall by the wayside.
    In wonder whether that’s the penny that has dropped for AK in his change of mind regarding the kind of player needed for this war-of-attrition called the Championship?
    Thinking back, that was the main reason why nearly all of Strachan’s signings failed. Apart from most of them not being good enough technically, many were not the right characters.

  13. Paulista Park:
    There are lies, damn lies and statistics!
    No Championship winning team has had a 20+ goal man – that surprised me.
    What you failed to mention is that most seasons the team that has finished second does have a 20+ goal man and this year Burnley have 2 players which have done it.
    Holt Norwich
    Lambert Southampton
    Hull – DNA (but there were 6 guys that season who did manage it)
    Burnley – Ings AND Vokes (7 guys in total with more possible)
    There are at least one or two 20+ goal guys in the league most seasons, with more over the recent seasons. We haven’t had one in years. Getting an 18 goal front man would be great, 20 even better.
    A 20+ goal man does buy you half a ticket to the premier league.

  14. **AV writes: The gap between Northern League and the pro game is MASSIVE. Every division up is a fraction of a second faster and the players are technically 10% better.
    It is a very long time since anyone stepped up in this region. Michael Mackay was a red hot property, a goal a game striker with Consett a few years back. He went to Hartlepool and just didn’t do it. I mean, Kris Boyd….
    Out of interest, would we expect our Academy to beat a Northern League side? Not trying to be controversial, just intrigued at your professional view of up and coming players at one of best academies versus non league.
    **AV writes: Boro played and Academy side. Most were under 18. Some younger than that, They were playing against a team of adults, generally five or more years older, a stone or two heavier in the challenge and a,lot more experienced if generally less technically adept and generally not as fit,
    It was a very close game. The first half was very close but Guisborough went ahead with a goal that would be a foul on the keeper 99% of the time in a pro match,.Boro battered them in the second half but couldn’t break through.
    I wouldn’t be scrapping the Academy and signing the Priorymen on that basis.

  15. AV –
    Thanks, I suspected as much but know nothing about Guisborough Town.
    It sounded like many a match between the big boys and minnows. Written up as a great performance by the underdog but in many cases they got lucky.
    A classic would be our defeat at Burton where even the locals couldnt believe they had won after being outplayed for 85 minutes.
    Have a good trip to the west country.

  16. lkeme 3 seasons ago! Are you sure AV? If so, where did the last 2/3 years of my life go? Frightening!
    Buy this one, buy that one, rummage around the bargain basement cheapies( not that the professionals would thank me for calling them that). Then, come up with the complete mix & hey presto it’s Premier League dream time for us all.
    lf only it were that simple!
    Cast yer mind back AV to how the ‘Legends’ of the game achieved success AV. You know who l mean; Old Big ‘ead, Jack et al,. They got a few stars in the making alongside underachievers & convinced them they were world beaters- & thus the performance of the whole exceeded anything an individual could dream of.
    However, for that you need a great leader who believes in the vision he propagates – where we gonna find one of them then?

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