RIGHT. After officially the longest ever gap between posts on here and a yaaaawning fallow two weeks nervously unchained from the secure laptop with the atomic codes, I’m back at work and wading through soul destroying pages of e-mails, google docs and memos and catching up on all the office gossip: fights, affairs, transfer demands etc.
So, what have I missed? Obviously the long waist high wade through a lake of treacle that is trying to make contact with the Venkeys over Jordan Rhodes. And obviously a string of red hot rumours that flared and faded as quickly as a flurry of hastily changed bookies odds. And obviously a long wait for the red tape over Stuani’s international clearance to be slowly unravelled by the “Manana” man. And obviously the twitter-storm rumour frenzy surrounding out of favour (and out of shape) Lee Tomlin’s sharp exit before the Getafe game as he was named as a sub, an incident that is no doubt being called ‘TummyGate.’
But apart from that? Nothing. As far as it is possible to have ‘nothing’ happening in the emotional hothouse of football in the viral age. I have felt the tangible ripples in the ether from afar as every so often the twitter notifications on my phone started beeping as frantically and rhythmically as a Depeche Mode gig. Except these days people don’t Enjoy The Silence. These days ‘nothing’ beats out an overture every bit as insistent as ‘something’. Social media will not tolerate ‘nothing’ and the vacuum is filled with thinking aloud and posting a lot of unfiltered streams of consciousness. (At this point English students may be having flashbacks to ee cummings. Good. )
We need a modern transfer window reworking of the cynical but perceptive seventies office observations that formed Parkinson’s Law: just as work will expand to fill the time allowed for its completion so football gossip will expand in cross referenced detail and colour and momentum and an all consuming importance until it completely fills the vacuum between actual events until it crashes and burns under the impact of actual evidence. Still, panning for nuggets of gold gets us through the harsh summer Dark Ages.
But enough of that, BORO ARE BACK. BORO ARE BACK. Woa-oah. Woa-oah. Yes. Football returns on Saturday. Or Sunday for us. So let us brush aside the debris of the close season speculation and turn our attention to the new season. It is time to nail your colours to the mast and predict how it will all pan out. Pre-season prediction are of partly a scientific analysis of a wide range of variable and partly an exercise in projecting your own hopes and fears and inate world view onto a blank sheet of paper but the law demands it.
So, where will Boro finish? And who is going up with us? Who will get the goals? Who will be the key performers? Who will be the breakthrough act? Who will be the surprise package? Where are the potential flaws in the plan? What are Boro’s strengths and weaknesses? And who are our chief rivals? All the usual questions really – but now here’s your chance to display your pundit credentials and map out how you think Boro will do. Make your predictions loud and proud and we will all look back at this in May and laugh in a champagne haze. Or drunken fury and rampage of recriminations.
For my part, I’ve been rashly predicting since the night of our Wembley freeze that this season we will “piss this league”, which is a writers’ technical term and not a profanity. No sirree. But I swear down dead I believe Boro will be promoted automatically.
Tears of heart-ache at Wembley. Tear of joy next May?
The team fell just short last term: three places; five points; a handful of goals in two or three games; 90 minutes. However you want to quantify it, the gap was agonisingly narrow. A toddler could step over it. And for me, the past 18 months of steady, incremental, meticulously prepared and professionally planned improvement suggests Aitor Karanka has the ability, the drive and the nous to bridge it.
And, crucially, he has been given the resources to strengthen the squad in the areas it was lacking last term. The summer shopping – which hasn’t finished yet – has been geared to adding pace, power, punch and creativity at the business end of the pitch, to add goals. Last season’s first Karanka squad radical reboot transformed Boro with a relatively modest outlay and improved a middling side dramatically. Boro were 21 points and eight places better off in the gaffer’s first full season. This term, although the slope gets steeper closer to the summit, Boro need a far less dramatic improvement. For me, Boro will do that.
On balance getting into the play-offs last term from a low base was a success. This season that would be a failure. But Boro are bringing in players with a winning mentality and proven quality in key areas and making sure the base remains solid as a rock. Boro should be just as mean at the pack but be far more inventive and prolific up front. If it all goes to script the newly beefed up Boro will be title challengers again – with added oomph.
Verdict: get ready to saw the top off the 263: We’ll need it for the victory parade.
Now over to you….