Patience is a virtue: That should be the new club motto. Certainly when the transfer window is open.
Boro’s shopping strategy over the summer has had the stony-faced intensity of World Staring Out Championship final. They have pitched the project to their targets, courted them, flattered them and sold them a vision and a role in it. Then they have made their offer – fair, firm and final – to the other club.
Then they have dug in and waited. And stared. And waited. And stared. And waited. Until the opposition cracked, broke down in tears and agreed to every demand.
Boro have played the long game and been successful in their slow and steady courting of Jelle Vossen, Patrick Bamford, Adam Clayton and Kike Garcia in a productive summer.
It has been fascinating to see their fully-focused and ruthless approach.
At times in the past the recruitment policy felt like a month of window-shopping at Harrods and Harvey Nics followed by a frantic late-night trolly dash round Asda.
Now it is a painfully long process starting with months of in-depth scouting and analysis on how and where they would fit into the team, followed by a hard sell on the football side to the target and a some hard-ball talk with his club.
It is a persistent, methodical, determined and diligent approach to the transfer market that has certainly paid dividends this summer.
Boro have got all priority targets the manager set out in May – and got value for money too.
Belgian international schemer Vossen finally arrived at Boro on deadline day after an dogged 18- month pursuit by the club by the scouting staff and two managers.
Boro have played a blinder in that chase. It has been an object lesson in the new determined, and slightly devious, approach.
They declared their hand on Vossen over a year ago and he almost signed on deadline day when Tony Mowbray was still in charge. He had visited Rockliffe and been impressed by the training set-up, the people and by Steve Gibson’s ambition.
That deal fell through. He was on his way to Teesside when the Genk hierarchy were spooked by a rival bid from Cardiff and changed their mind. The Cardiff bid later fell through… but it had sowed the seeds. Vossen had set his mind on Boro.
Boro lodged an inquiry and said they were keen – but only at the right price. They valued him at less than £4m. Genk wanted more than £6m. Boro walked away and told the Belgians to get in touch if anything changed.
Genk then tried to get other clubs involved in an auction – Olympiakos and Feyenoord were keen – but to no avail. The player rejected a chance to talk to clubs and waxed lyrical in the Belgian press about the challenge of England and even said as much on his club’s own website: He wanted to go to Boro.
That sparked a tongue in cheek #FreeJelleVossen campaign launched by Boro fans to free our hashtag hostage from Genk where he was portayed as being held against his will as a prisoner of conscience.
On his arrival he even mentioned the campaign. It was surreal and light hearted but the overt flirting by legions of Boro fans will have made him felt wanted and reinforced his determination to make the move.
But while all the noise was going on at the Genk end as their suits looked to sell the player and managers and chairmen came and went and mooted moves fell through, Boro left their offer on the table, kept their heads down and got on with their other business.
In the past the reaction to being rebuffed would have been to pile more money on the table to push a deal through – a course many fans were urging – but not now. They just waited and worked on alternatives and lined up a Plan B.
After months without movement, Genk were facing the prospect of going into the season with an unhappy player while new boss Alex McLeish needed funds to reshape his squad, and eventually they called and asked to talk.
So ruthless Boro have got another priority target – and on very advantageous terms.
Vossen is arriving on an initial year’s loan for a fee of around £1.2m – a bargain – with an option to buy at a fixed price next year. If Vossen is a hit and Boro are promoted and exercise their option, the overall package will come to £4.75m – a bargain.
And the club will have effectively pushed the bulk of the cost into the next accounting period for Financial Fair Play. That is a great result.
Boro have played the long game all summer and are getting good at it now, although frustrated fans have gone through agonies when the twists and turns of a deal has gone public.
But the signing of Kike was equally drawn out and methodical. Aitor Karanka had to “persuade” the striker he would flourish in England and was a perfect fit with Boro. He took six weeks and several visits to sunny summer Rockliffe with his agents and family and a lot of long chats about football philosophy and his would-be starring role in Karanka’s team to convince him that Boro were a better bet than his Spanish suitors.
On the surface were drawn out “sagas” but while supporters fretted, Boro remained calm and confident throughout. They had done the groundwork, sold the Karanka ideology to their targets and broadly agreed the terms with the clubs. The rest was just waiting for the usual kinks and wrangles to work themselves out.
In both cases, while fans had the jitters over imagined cock-ups and conspiracies, the club remained relaxed. Karanka – who doesn’t talk about other team’s players – went as far as giving Bamford a 20-goal target for the season.
But a lot of Boro fans would have given up on them, blown them out for asking for time to think. Some got in a real paddy with Bamford on Twitter and made their point forcefully, if not diplomatically.
How dare he want to mull over a move to mighty Boro at a pivotal point in his career! And how soft were the club to let him take the Micky like that? We should tell him to sign on here and now or leg it! Or words to that effect.
But it doesn’t work like that. Just because we, as fans, would walk over broken glass to play for Boro doesn’t mean players with no affiliation would.
Professionals are pragmatists and their primary concerns are: Will I get a game? Will it advance my career? Will I win things? Will I get more money?
Football is a precarious business. One bad choice, one injury, one high-profile mistake, one personality clash with a manager and you can be sidelined and a has-been before you know it. There is always a lot to mull over.
And even when things are largely agreed the party-of-the-third-part, small print needs closely scrutinsing by agents, lawyers, tax specialists and sometimes needs translating and the overseas financials need clearing too.
But patience is a virtue. We have said that several times this summer. And, boringly, it remains true.
Fans may not like that. The very concept is sharply at odds with the now, now, now immediacy of the modern world. But no matter how instantaneous the internet has made information flow and “buy now” transactions take place, in real life the wheels of some things still turn at a mundane pace.
Good. This is spending they must get right. There is no gift receipt.
In the Championship with gates down and the FFP rules tightening quickly, cash is limited. And Boro are in competition with bigger clubs with bigger budgets and Premier League parachute payments that mean FFP has no impact on them.
Boro have to get maximum bang for their buck so have set out to get their transfer done methodically and properly rather than quickly.
You can always solve a hold-up by throwing money at it – but Boro don’t have that option any more. And even if they did, it doesn’t always get results. We know that only too well.
A more measured style means transfers are a year or more in the making.
Vossen has been a target for a year. Kike since March. Bamford since January. Clayton since May. Nsue and Abella were watched last term. New boy Yanic Wildschut said Boro were watched him two years ago and he knew of Boro’s revived interest months ago.
So Boro are taking their time on signings in what can be a very difficult and complex market. But that means they are thoroughly researched: they know exactly how the player’s skill-set will complement the team, what their strengths and weaknesses are, what systems and shapes and tempos they are suited to, how much they will cost, when they may be available.
And there is plenty of time to work on a shrewd deal that is value for money for the club. Bor now angle for short term deals with extensions in the club’s favour, with bonuses based on productivity and the fee broken down into a payment schedule that fits the new FFP accountancy regime and sweetened with add-ons based on promotion – that is, payable if and when Boro are in a far better position to pay.
For Boro it means more panic buys. No more internal exiles on £30,000 a week for a season of simmering, no more toxic bumps in the wage bill hampering the manager and the club.
If Boro are to get promoted in a Championship distorted by parachute payments they have to make every quid count on the pitch. They have found away of doing that. Although, of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
Now it is down to Aitor Karanka to shape his Conquistadors in a potent force.