Aitor Karanka: A Century Of Steady Progress

KARANKA: the first 100 games.

It is the vogue in political reporting to assess strength of a new President or Prime Minster by the impact of their opening 100 days in office.

That is when the framework of any new policies can be seen, the road map to the future is laid out and the clear philosophy of the new administration starts to emerge. The energy and zeal of the first 100 days is also when the trappings and personnel of the previous regime are removed and key appointments made. Out with the old and in with the new.

It is a time of possibility and hope and if the new man catches the zeitgeist it can fire the imagination.  First impressions last. That fresh and open minded phase is when images are fixed and it is hard to win the hearts and minds if you don’t do it then.

So which that broad sheet think piece perspective in mind, let’s look back and review the impact of  Aitor Karanka’s first 100 games in some of the key areas: defence, employment, foreign policy, economics, education and law and order.

Aitor Karanka swept into Hurworth in November 2013 with the season and the club on the cusp and the once powerful Mogganaut spluttering in a lay-by.

 The Tony Mowbray era had started with emotions high as the local hero returned with a whiff of Holgate Bovril to repair the damage of the Gordon Strachan Caledonian cul-de-sac. The Great Tartanisation had failed and Strachan had spent all the money and left the team demoralised, low on quality, unbalanced and heading for relegation.

Mogga: arrived on a wave of emotion to fix the damage of Jockification 

Mowbray did some important work behind the scenes, balancing the books, rebuilding the infrastructure and the fractured relationship with fans as well as signing some good players who are still in the first team now.

But on the pitch it didn’t quite gel.  The first year there soaring hopes and significant progress as Mogga reorganised, re-energised and got the team performing. But as time wore on the side lost momentum and twice fizzled out in the final straight. There was no fixed shape or system and quick-fix signings were hit and miss while he was hampered with the toxic legacy of the Strachan years in the wage bill and on the training ground.

Then after his one summer of spending his side stalled at the start.  It was “his” side for the first time and while they could score  they couldn’t defend. They couldn’t hold on to a lead. Self-inflicted goals were flooding in and there was no confidence in the team or in the crowd that they could get a point even with a two goal cushion.

A sad end came swiftly.

Enter Karanka

The Spaniard came in with an interesting background in the Spanish FA youth set-up and a spell as Jose Mourinho’s assistant at Real Madrid but no experience in the top job. It was a risky appointment but he came with a pedigree. He had the option of joining Premier League  Crystal Palace but preferred the project at Boro and saw more potential.  

And he set about establishing his authority and ideology quickly.  Aitor soon defined his image: a disciplined uber-coach with a definite shape, system and philosophy who demanded everyone in the club subscribed to a culture of excellence.

It was my way or the highway and those that didn’t buy fully into the project – on or off the pitch – were quickly weeded out as he started to reshape the club in his own image.

                  Aitor and Leo:  Architects of the Spanish revolution

Karanka swiftly set about building his own loyal power-base and command structure.

Within days his backroom staff arrived at Rockliffe, speaking Spanish and carrying laptops: analysts, fitness and conditioning coaches, a wild looking goal-keeping coach/cheerleader.

The old apparatus was dismantled and Mogga’s men left quickly. The coaching staff were dismissed, the entire training regime radically restructured and  youth team boss Jamie Clapham was initially made assistant – taking a leaf out of Jose’s book an appointing a domestic sidekick who knew the nuances –  but he was then equally quickly edged out when it became clear he wasn’t on the same page tactically.

Former assistant Mark Venus, briefly caretaker boss, was left in limbo for six months before he too was cut adrift.  He had been promised a role of some sort but was kept at arms length from the team and estranged from day to day involvement. And as time wore on new sports science, medical and scouting departments were established.

Karanka quickly set out his methodology and ideology and soon the key policies of the new administration  became clear.

Defence was key

That was true on day one and it holds true now.

The new boss – a Champions League winning centre-back with Real Madrid – made no bones about his emphasis on a rigid rearguard, high pressing and he demanded collective effort and non-stop industry from the front to stop the opposition.

The fledging work on defence policy then is bearing fruits now 100 games on with Boro – who the best back-line in the Championship last term – having the most miserly record in all English football in this campaign with just six goals conceded in 10 games this term.  In his first 100 games, Karanka’s side have kept 45 clean sheets, which is incredible.

                     Klean sheet Dimi-God, in front of a rigid rearguard. 

That fundamental shift in emphasis came at a price in the short term though as the goals that had flowed freely under Mowbray – at both ends – quickly dried up. In fact, as the new outlook took a fierce grip Boro went through a Biblical spell of goal drought that tested fans’ patience as a run of six clean sheets at home overlapped with a club record run of seven-and-a-half games without scoring: 12 hours and 14 minutes of goalless grind.

Karanka wanted his ideas and shape to be ingrained in the team and preferred high-tempo front men ready to press high and chase down defenders and run and run rather than more natural strikers who may have more technique or trickery and instinct in the box but lacked the work-rate he demanded. So it was Curtis Main and on-loan Danny Graham ahead of Marvin Emnes and Lukas Jutkiewicz, both soon farmed out on loan.

And that policy remains, although there has been an upgrade of the component parts with tireless David Nugent his first choice frontman now.  Of course, Karanka, has the luxury of now buying players like Nugent, Stewart Downing or  that suit and improve his team.

The economy

There is no doubt his regime has benefited greatly from an economic boom over the course of his first 100 games, a statistical breakdown of which you can read here .

The significant market muscle brought to bear by the chairman – a net spend of £12m this summer is a massive statement of intent – will decide exactly where Karanka takes the club from here. It gives him a huge advantage in trying to achieve his goals and you can forgive Mogga a pang of regret at not having the same resources available.

Steve Gibson
                           Steve Gibson: wielding market muscle 

But the fact he has transfer clout now shouldn’t be allowed to disguise the excellent job of underpinning on the cheap he did in his first half season.  It was not cash that transformed the unbalanced team in his first few months. There were a few loan tweaks, yes, Shay Given, Kenneth Omeruo and Danny Graham played important roles at various points as the season unfolded, but it was tactically and mentally that Boro changed.

Last summer’s relatively modest spending moved on from a quick-fix framework to having a promising look of solidity but was again largely dependent on loans on key areas.

Now Karanka has made some massive investments in squad infrastructure in a bid to make the Great Leap Forward that will determine his legacy.

Foreign policy

There was some initial raised eye-brows and concern (some of it couched in mildly xenophobic terms about being ‘swamped’) after his early hints he would bring in hot prospects he knew from the Spanish big boys’ B teams.

It was assumed that Boro would tap into the Spanish market and indeed Damia Abella, Emilio Nsue and Kike arrive din his first full summer transfer market. But the boss is a pragmatist and he had quickly realised that youngsters, no matter how talented, would be mincemeat in the attritional physicality of the Championship and mooted moves for teenage talent in Spain were swiftly shelved.

  There’s a Spanish accent in the squad. Kike and Carlos hablas Espanyol.

But that didn’t deflect him from recruiting players he knew. So long as they added to the skill-set and met his exacting standards  and he thought they could bridge the culture gap. And so the Riverside has quickly taken on a distinct Spanish accent with more than enough players to add a few more verses to the song: Kike Garcia, Dani Ayala, Tomas Mejias, Cristhian Stuani, Carlos de Pena and Fernando Amorebieta while if Diego Fabbrini is in the musical mix despite being Italian, so why not Michael Agazzi?

Law and order

This is always a political hot potato in the first 100 days of any administration and Karanka has not ducked the issue.  In fact, his no-nonsense approach to professional discipline and the absolute demand for excellence has been central to imposing his ideology on the squad and throughout the club. Everyone has heard the tales of scouting reports being sent back for spelling mistakes. The bar is set very high at the club.

But there have been plenty who have suffered for not buying into the ethos, for cruising, for not continually striving to improve, for questioning the direction of travel or for being seen to cross the boss and his zealous approach.

And if you are not on the same page as the boss on the big issues of tactics and training and selection then chances are the tale will not have a happy ending.

 Jason Steele and Craig Hignett have been at odds with the boss 

Jason Steele was frozen out and moved on after a first day keeper clanger and not getting on board with the regime change. He was injured and missed the cultural shift in training and never really got to grips with the new regime;  Craig Hignett left because he wasn’t singing from the same hymn sheet amid lurid tales of a bust-up;  Muzzy Carayol was publicly blasted for “a bad attitude” and dropped then after his injury struggled to prove he had bought into with the new ethos;  light-hearted Kei Kamara was doomed from the off after turning up at work in his Tigger onsie with a film crew in tow; and Albert was put on the naughty step after a frank exchange of views and a transfer request and while he is back in the fold you imagine the issue is not forgotten..

Many bosses, and some very successful ones, have the same hard-line approach. Tough discipline doesn’t always work in football (and less so in real life) but if the personality blend is right, the squad is receptive from the off,  if the ethos is supported higher up,  if results go well and a sense of progress on and off the field is evident, then it can underpin great success for a club. It takes all the ingredients to make it a work.

Right now, that seems to be the case.  Crucially the players know where they stand, what the demands are and understand what the sanctions will be.  And if things are going well, they respond to intense training and demands for high standards and success.  Every time you ask the players they are buzzing over their working environment and while Aitor is a tough taskmaster they all appear sincere in their praise for his training and vision.

Northern Powerhouse

There is no question that many key Boro players have flourished under Aitor’s administration with Adomah and George Friend probably the best examples of that incremental improvement.

That has been the real secret of success. Slow, steady, progressive incremental improvement. And not just by individuals but also within each unit, between each unit and the team as a whole. The team, the squad, are mentally and physical stronger and are tactically coherent. Every team at every level plays the same style.  The backroom is scientifically sharper, the medical and conditioning staff better and preparation for every game is meticulous. There is an energy about the club that can only bode well.

Aitor Karanka is in the process of creating a club with a strong DNA and a culture of excellence and hard work that everyone “from the chairman to the tea lady” shares and contributes to.  That was the chief plank of policy laid down on day one. Now 100 games later we are seeing the fruits of that.

Who knows where we will be after 200?

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141 thoughts on “Aitor Karanka: A Century Of Steady Progress

  1. Back to footie – Kloopski & Co have just been installed at LFC. ln his inaugural address he stated he demands players a) do as he tells them, period b) play creatively when in possession but an intense pressing game is essential when not c) big money players are not essential but the motivation to play for the club is.

    The message sounds familiar does it not!

  2. Well excuse me for not living in the County. And as for living in the moment, is this the bloke plugging old pop on BBC 4.

    You keep that Teesside chip on your shoulder that is there from birth and associate yourself with the depravation, wear it like a badge of honour.

    I prefer to associate Middlesbrough with Yorkshire. As we are to be a stage in the TDF I’m sure it will show some of the more urban and delightful areas.

    **AV writes: LOL. Keep your flat cap on. Yes, I may be plugging old pop but I’m not arguing it is still in the charts or saying everyone else should still listen to it. I enjoyed dancing to it but I know it is firmly in the past. Time moves on. It’s all R&B, jungle and dubstep downloads these days.

    1. I think that is the answer certainly for emigrants like us, its the Teesside chip that defines us and Boro. I like that!! Maybe its in our brains too!!

    2. Yes, I was spluttering into my cornflakes this morning, nothing personal intended.

      I still believe that Teesside and Teessiders always has that air of negativity. This makes us an easy target for the media, whether it be disparaging TV shows or lack of government funding.

      I personally think we should hitch our wagon to N. Yorks and leave the N.E. Powerhouse to the Geordies and the Mackems.
      We will always be third in the queue behind them.

      We need to be realistic, Iron and Steel are also history on Teesside, time to move on.

      We need to reinvent the area, the people need to galvanise themselves and stop feeling sorry for themselves.

      **AV writes: Well I agree with the last bit. We need to collectively rewire ourselves for success. We need to take ownership of our positives and shed the self-defensive armour of negativity and cynicism. That is one of my constant themes in articles that get me denounced as a foam fingered “ra-ra.”

  3. You Yorkie militants must be daft. AV has got you jumping through hoops on this, Everytime it comes up he casts his hook and you bite and start proving how Yorkshire you are. Its like listening to the Monty Python’s sketch: “I got up at 11 o’clock at night before I went to bed and WALKED to Stokesley with my birth certificate… “

  4. Neil M

    Are you stalking me? How do you know what time I get up?

    I must admit I think it is the other way round, I don’t mind Teesside, I am all for however people see their identity.

    North Yorkshire has always been an area, Middlesbrough has never been accepted by Tyne-Wear as being part of the North East. They have been warring for too long amongst themselves but will carve up any resources available.

    We never belonged to the West Riding, same with the East. Each of the Yorkshire Ridings was it’s own distinct area.

    It will change again, it already has with different groupings. Vic is right who knows what people be saying when he keeps on about it being Teesside in 40 years time. He will even be posting that yes, the labour party were actually in government many years ago.

  5. Good article. It has been a productive 100 games and there has been a sense of steady progress throughout Aitor’s tenure. I don’t think the team is quite the finished article yet but it is not far short of a genuine title challenging side. Hopefully when the new players bed in fully and really start to click then we will be leading from the front and will sustain it.

    The points that AV raises about Aitor’s methodology I think have been evident since day one. That the players had adopted the approach bodes well for the rest of the season and beyond. I don’t want to get ahead of myself but it is because of Aitor that I am confident that should we go up will will not just survive but flourish. I think he will be ruthless in cutting adrift the players who are not up to it and I think Gibbo will fund him getting the ones he thinks are. But let’s get this season out of the way.

    BTW AV, although born in Boro back in the day I always think of myself as a Teessider. Living down here I often have to explain where I am from and never once have I said ‘Yorkshire.” How you put up with Cleggy and Compo banging on I don’t know.

  6. Put me out of my misery. I have never thought about this till now. My passport says Stockton. I was born in Norton, later emigrated to Normanby then Acklam, does that then not make me a true Teessider?

    **AV writes: Do YOU think you are a Teessider?

  7. Oddly enough exile so am I, I think of myself as a Yorkshire man and Teessider, nothing wrong with that. At games I don’t do a Corbyn and stand looking straight ahead when the Tee, Tee, Teessiders chant goes up.

    You can be a Mancunian and Lancastrian, especially if you come from Surrey!

    Multiculturalism rules ok!

  8. Talking of Middlesbrough, it is a long old haul from Washington, not the one up the road, back to Rockliffe for Albert, Ghana play on Wednesday night, Thursday morning in our time.

    Stuani plays Tuesday night in Montevideo. A day earlier but farther away.

    As there are few scheduled flights to Middleton St George from those destinations, it is hard to see either player doing much this week in terms of training.

    Kalas and Nsue are also away, is Nsue injured as he pulled out of the Equatorial Guinea squad?

    1. Are we nearly where Alan, Yorkshire ?

      As with GHW, whenever I am asked about here I come from I reply “Middlesbrough” and I am proud of that, I am also proud to call myself a Yorkshireman and a Teessider, neither of which I consider to be incompatible with the other, nor with being from Middlesbrough. All of these thing help to define me and where I am from and all are true and valid.

      As it is, the unitary authority that is the Borough of Middlesbrough lies in the modern county of North Yorkshire, created in 1974 and comprising the old North Riding of Yorkshire, with a large part of the old West Riding, some of the old East Riding and all of the old County Borough of York. Politically the unitary authorities (such as Middlesbrough and Redcar and Cleveland) are independent of the county in which they lie, but for ceremonial purposes these are still considered to be part of North Yorkshire.

      Curiously the Borough of Stockton on Tees (also a unitary authority) actually lies in both North Yorkshire and Count Durham, so for ceremonial purposes the traditional and natural boundary of Yorkshire that is the River Tees continues to be the boundary.

      If anything I think it is a little sad that because of political juggling with boundaries there are different generations from the same area that don’t share the emotional or cultural ties with the names given to the region over the years. I think we should all celebrate the genuine ties that are all of our heritage.

  9. Going back quite a bit in this thread to an earlier contribution of Pedro’s (which I wasn’t going to comment on but, hell, time is dragging) – Spaniards don’t have kettles? For me, that was an insight of much the same order of magnitude as Paul on the road to Damascus. So that’s why I always have to boil a pan for a cuppa.!

  10. This blog is amazing.

    Occasional trots on north-eastern non-league football and notalgic reminiscing about old Teesside buses, pubs and people would be considered radical and an innovative departure on most footer blogs. Not here – just standard fare here.

    Where else could you find informative discussions on regional & international Spanish etymology (with contributions from across the globe); a smattering of European geography; and, latterly, erudite debates on regional boundaries and resulting cultural differences? Never mind MBAs, this is the place to learn ‘proper stuff’.

    Occasionally we even squeeze in a snippet on the Boro.

    **AV writes: Snippets on the Boro? Nah. It’ll never catch on.

  11. If asked I always say I’m from Teesside, cause I am.
    I love North Yorkshire , fantastic scenery, history , walking country etc. York is a great city, I love it’s history. But I’m from Teesside.

    As for the regeneration of Teesside, yes Teessiders need to get stuck in and reinvent themselves and start telling the world it’s a great place to set up business and to live. What Teesside needs is a leader with a vision for the area.

    I’m sceptical about the ‘Northern Power House’ concept, it sounds like a sound bite to me. But if it does come to pass, someone on Teesside needs to be shouting loud otherwise the investment will go elsewhere, at the moment Teesside is perceived as a small player compared to Manchester, Leeds and even Hull I think, Teessiders need to change that perception.

    Easier said than done of course.

    1. Agree with all of that Nigel, my thoughts entirely. As the Mother in law says you cant face the future looking backwards!

  12. I loved all the comments about AK coming in and instituting a reign of terror. Try looking at it from his point of view. Its his first morning on the training ground and 12 players are waiting for him in the dressing room. He asks about the missing and he is told that its Ok, theres a reason for all the absentees: two never get in before 9.30 because it does their head in. Three more take their kids to school because it gives their wives a lay in. Two get a lift in so that’s difficult, and three told the club before they signed that they preferred to start training about 10am. Whilst he’s listening to this tale of woe he watches one player writing out his bets for the day as another says he must be away before 11 or his wife will kill him. As they take to the pitch he watches them split up into groups, a group of old timers start having a chat whilst idly playing a bit of (gentle) head tennis, meanwhile some younger players are practicing 50 yard shots. We’re lucky he stayed.

  13. NikeBoro,

    You are so correct. Our kettle gave up the ghost a week ago after twenty years, they don´t make em like that any more, and you would not believe the carryon to find a replacement that was acceptable to her eye.

    The Spanish use a pans, microwave, and of course coffee machines.

  14. Deep thoughts ” The reason we are still second is because we created a big enough gap on the others”
    And that’s the key

  15. I tell people I am from Middlesbrough and add for the Aussies where the steel for the Sydney harbour bridge came from and where Captain Cook was born.
    The North east and Yorkshire after that if I need to elaborate further. The Yorkshire bit they like,they think we are more like Aussies straight and no Bull****.Salt of the earth..

  16. If George is right and (as a number of contributors on here keep saying) we are going to “smash” teams when the new boys are bedded in, I can’t wait.

    He did, however, accept that we need to take points off our rivals to improve on last year’s showing, which is absolutely right. All points acquired are welcome (and necessary) but those taken from your rivals are precious, so let’s hope that the return fixture with Reading sees them go home pointless and that we succeed in addressing this aspect with similar fixtures this season.

    Is it Saturday yet?

    UTB

    1. Grim indeed Ian. I suppose the decline in the UK Steel Industry would, inevitably, lead to a major casualty at some point. Shame it had to be Teesside but that stems from illogical decisions taken in the past (by British Steel, Corus and Tata), taken, I believe, for political expediency, as the outcry would have been greater were it to have happened in the other major Steelmaking areas. The Northern Powerhouse is crumbling before it has got off the ground.

      1. It would be nice to see some one in power in this area quietly announce that they were going to get some European money to demolish the entire area occupied by the plant and it’s ancillary equipment and landscape it all, because this monster was built to run continuously and make an enormous amount of money. Anything less was a disaster and a sure road to bankruptcy.

        I think this is the third close down, but it was a death foretold, in x years another chancer will see a chance to blag a few million off the government to start it up and the merry-go-round will be off again. We will never know how many possible start ups we have missed because of that monster in our midst.

      2. Slaggy

        I believe it goes all the way back to the mid seventies. No one comes out of the business with any credit. This is non political because I now live away so this is a view from afar.

        In the mid to late seventies the chairman of British Steel went to the government led by the Dockers threepenny piece – 50p as we know it, known as Harold Wislon, two faced and many sided. The aim was that now we had three new facilties at £1billion each coming on board there was a need to reduce the work force by 40-50,000 because of the new efficiencies.

        Never happened for political reasons and the decline started in the late seventies as the world steel industry went belly up. The emerging nations were expanding their production, bigger producers had more local markets, the spiral continued.

        More worrying is why as this was happening was nothing done? What happened to the regeneration of Middlehaven? Thatcher wasn’t in power all those yours, many years were under Labour so what on earth has happened in that time.

        This isn’t a political point but the question has to be why is there so little inward investment.

        Capital industries are not the way forward, they have largely left the UK.

        Why were North Yorkshire/South Yorkshire ignored?

        If anything of this is factually wrong I apologise but it cant all be the fault of a Bag Lady or the Blair Witch project. Osborne and his mates (many in the labour party) wont sort it nor will an Islington Socialist, labour leader who went to private school, worked as a politician for forty years and thinks Colchester is in the North East.

        I am truly angry because I see what has happened in the East Midlands!

        **AV writes: Steel is a crucial part of the mix of any modern economy. Which is why Italy, Germany, France, Holland and Sweden support their own domestic steel industry, no matter how cheaply China or Korea can produce it. Unfortunately we have had series of short-sighted governments who see only the bottom line and not what may be coming over the horizon.

  17. Sorry if the above post sounds like I don’t give a hoot about Scunthorpe and Wales. I don’t want to see anybody cast on the scrapheap. The frustration is borne of the fact that Teesside was the most efficient steel producer with the best facilities, its own deep water port and the economies of scale derived from having the largest Blast Furnace in the UK (in Europe when first built).

    To have gone from the euphoria of the building of world class facilities in the seventies to extinction in 40 years is just hard to take.

    I feel for all those affected.

  18. Just read ghw on players seeming to be athletes before they are footballers. I don’t think they have any choice in the matter. If you are a young man with real talent and a good level of fitness and a bit of size about you, you may get your chance at the top but you will get the most almighty shock because quite large players can and will get their entire bodies into the air and directly above you and guess who they are going to land on and surprise surprise it is no foul. This tactic is of course quite deliberate and planned on the training ground. So the message is be an athlete.

  19. Ian –

    I may be biased in my assessment of the situation. I do, however, agree with yourself and Plato that governments of both persuasions have failed to address the need to replace traditional industry in areas such as ours.

    1. And therein is problem with the UK political establishment: more interested in maintaining a status quo which keeps one or the other of two political parties in power on an electoral minority, which in turn focuses their activity and policy on winning power and then retaining power for themselves, rather than being truly accountable to the electorate as a whole, and so to act in the best interests of all of the people rather than just the party.

      It strikes me that of all of those European nations mentioned that are wise enough to support their domestic and core heavy industries each, except France I believe, has a proportional electoral system.

      I do wonder about the future we will be leaving to our children, and their children if (when?) service-based and (especially financial services) “industry”, and the footloose flat-pack assembly lines that make up much of the modern manufacturing sector, eschew the UK for cheaper parts of the globe to operate in.

    2. I may be biased in my assessment of the situation. I do, however, agree with yourself and Plato that governments of both persuasions have failed to address the need to replace traditional industry in areas such as ours.

      Slaggy, do you consider Durham and Tyneside as “areas such as ours” because they have done far better than us in terms of diversifying away from their collapsed industries of coal and shipbuilding. We lack their inward investments from regional admin centers, light engineering industry, warehousing, service industry, automotive manufacturing, insurance/banking etc etc.

      You only have to see the number of 0191 numbers on the side of lorries, white vans etc servicing the private and public sector on Teesside to see why we are one of the weakest economies in the U.K.

      They recovered, by and large from the collapse of their traditional industries we did nothing about our demise.

  20. Slaggy

    Vic highlights the fact other countries support their steel industries one way or another.

    You either do that or work to create something different. We appear to have done neither.

  21. Given the continued International break (no we’re still not there yet), I was pondering to which cultural norms the club now operates since the management team is of a different nationality than that of the country to which it belongs. Indeed are individuals prone to over-react to situations dependent on their personal cultural perspective rather than what are the norms to which they find themselves within.

    For example, I found it a bit ironic to hear that apparently it’s taken a Spaniard to enforce punctuality at Boro as my experience (back in the day when I had a Spanish girlfriend) was that there existed no concept of needing to arrive on time when Spanish people arranged a meeting. It was generally agreed among Spanish people that you added about an hour to the agreed time – a cultural concept that once you’d experienced several times you had to eventually move to if you wanted to avoid the stress of constantly checking your watch and being the odd one out complaining ‘what kept you’.

    Though the Spanish are pretty punctual compared to the South Americans I know who normally will only start getting ready to go out once the time of the agreed meeting has been reached. So I’m wondering if Karanka (being a man of meticulous detailed planning) considered calculating different starting times for all the different nationalities to ensure they all arrived in unison at 9am.

    I imagine after trying to Google the cultural time-keeping patterns of Italians in relation to the Ghanaians he probably gave up on this aspect of micro-management and decided that draconian measures of ensuring punctuality would be the best solution – though it’s perhaps debatable whether as a Greek (who treat time as a malleable construct and normally consider being 30 minutes late as being punctual), Draco the man would have placed importance on such matters.

    On the subject of Greece, I suspect from what Nikeboro wrote even Paul (no doubt with his travel kettle in his bag) on the road to Damascus wasn’t too overly concerned about arriving late. Besides is there really any point in carrying a travel kettle all that way to make a decent cuppa if you have to then use the local UHT milk – far better to have it black (BTW the German way of making tea) than experiencing that cultural clash of a beverage. Though to be refreshing it would have to be a light Darjeeling rather than the heavy industrial tannin-rich varieties such as PG, Tetley or Yorkshire Tea.

    Incidentally, should people from Middlesbrough contemplate drinking Yorkshire Tea? not that I’m aware of any tea plantations in Yorkshire but in the absence of Teesside Tea (or should that be T-T- Teesside Tea) what are the options for those who consider all thing Yorkshire an anathema – perhaps they’ll need to search on the internet (but obviously not on that Yorkshire broadband one)

    Anyway, what I was going to say is that when it come to Mr Karanka I get the feeling that he’s probably unlikely to utter the word ‘mañana’ if asked when he’d like something done!

    Well hopefully that’s killed off a bit more of the International break for those who made to the end of this post!

    **AV writes: Please adjust your watches. The club now runs on Aitor Standard Time.

  22. Werder

    When Aitor goes to theme parks with his kids do you think he times the queues to check if the ’15 minutes from here’ signs are accurate?

    On our first trip to Greece some forty years ago we spent a lot of time in Athens. We were told that the Acropolis was largely destroyed when it was used as a munitions magazine and Turkish shell landed in it.

    It didn’t take me long to wonder if all these ruins in Greece were not ruins after all but never finished. It is our favourite place to holiday, love the people.

    Four more sleeps.

  23. Actually Americans don’t need kettles, as they take their Tea iced.

    Arabs take their tea making very seriously indeed, when I asked for milk and no sugar (they use industrial quantities of weapons grade sugar as a sweetener) I was met with a look of such horror you would think I had asked them to slaughter their first born.

    Don’t get me started on the Indians.

    1. Indians use carnation in their tea, that’s why I started drinking it black, to make sure I could see the bottom of the cup

      1. I’m not completely sure if I heard this correctly, but some Indians actually believe that you should add the tea to the evaporated milk (rather than the other way round) if you want a long-lasting beverage – I think it’s often referred to as tea-in-carnation… sorry, still four days to go!

  24. GHW

    Went to Croatia when it was still part of Yugoslavia and Tito still alive. We stayed in Hotel Rovinj which was in the town of the same name. Very picturesque Venetian sort of place.

    They made the worst cup of tea in the world, the couple on the next table were from Luton and she had a grating, high pitched Luton accent. In the end I adopted my best diplomatic Middlesbrough attitude and suggested to her that don’t drink the tea if she didn’t like it, you don’t come abroad to be at home.

    Went down like a lead balloon.

  25. Nice post, Werdermouth.

    I’ve always been curious as to what kind of Culture Club the Boro now is?

    Is there an insistence that English is the language of the dressing room and the coaching sessions, for example. Or, given the number of Spanish speakers, is the language used the one deemed most effective for each situation?

    Does Karanka insist on the systems and styles of management he has brought with him from Real Madrid, or has he made concessions to more British, or Teesside ways of working?

    Such questions are much more important than they may at first appear to be. For example, when AK speaks to his goalkeeping coach on the bench what language does he use? How does he ensure that others are not excluded? What steps are taken to ensure that cliques do not develop around nationality and language use? And when AK has a one-to-one with another Spanish speaker what language does he use?

    I don’t know the answer to any of these questions, but I have always been curious about them, because this is the first time we have had a Spanish manager and so many Spanish speaking players. So these kind of issues, which are a real minefield, have never been quite so relevant to the Boro. I’d be interested to know more about the kind of strategies that the club uses to minimise the possible fall-out from these kind of possible culture clashes.

    **AV writes: Aitor told us he always “tries” to use English in squad situations, meetings, training etc but it is probably instinct to go native in high pressure situations on the bench. Some of the Spanish lads have poor English (Kike has mastered swearing and basic instructions but not a lot else) but a few others are very good so I am sure they help each other out. Specific detailed instructions in training and before substitutions are passed on by coaches so I suppose Leo gives the Spanish lads theirs. The players get tailored language-specific pre-match visual packages for their I-pads too. I suppose having a clutch of people with a shared language is better than than having half-a-dozen different ones.

    1. I know from a friend of a friend that Rafa Benitez at Liverpool insisted that everyone spoke English at all times, even when two players of the same nationality were speaking together.

      Don’t know how the Scousers in the team managed mind!

      1. Thanks for that, AV. Vey interesting, and quite tricky to have at least two different languages and mini-cultures going on at the same time.

        As MB says there was an all -English policy at Liverpool. It was the first major decision made by Houllier, who did, of course, speak better English than any of the other Premier League managers,with the possible exception of Wenger, at the time. Benitez, though much less fluent, carried on the same policy. That would not have stopped sub-groups forming within the club but it would certainly have contributed to a greater sense of cohesion.

        In the more distant past, of course, Jan Molby didn’t bother to learn English. He just spoke unadulterated Scouse from the word go. Nothing could have been better designed to endear him for life to the natives.

        **AV writes: Jaime Moreno spoke broken English with a distinct Teesside accent.

  26. Smiled at the worried enquiries about the use of different languages on the training ground. As far as I know English is in the minority throughout English football and has been for a long time now. In any case the players had far bigger worries when AK showed up, for starters, and lets take them in order.

    One, turning up on time for training. Two, getting properly fit, a strange concept to most of them. Three, being taught tactics, really weird. Four, being expected to win matches, this did their heads in, trust me. Five, being expected to carry on winning matches, like forever, this even when they had won like two already. Six, being made to play to their best form, every time they took the field, and I do mean as an individual, this was a complete shaker and completely foreign to their nature. Seven, being made to toe the line whatever that line may be, devastating, what’s the world coming to when jack the lad can’t say whatever he wants regardless of any individuals feelings and we won’t even talk about the clubs feelings.

  27. The answer about Benitez is that he also said he wanted to clear the scouse influence from Liverpool.

    That achieved two aims, it improved the English spoken at the club and split the juniors from the first team squad.

    I am pleased that Aitor makes the players travel to the game together, I would be upset if there were the cliques that existed at Arsenal.

    Poor Steve McMoses trying to reconcile ‘Je ne sais quoi’ with ‘I divnt kna’! I suppose Magnificient covers many eventualities. The rest can be covered by ‘on another day’.

    They can always look at the geese.

  28. On politics its one big game. The bottom line is, just like any business, you have to be at the table to get your voice heard. You also need a strong aggressive MP. Bottom line is if you keep voting for the loser, you’re on the outside looking in. It may not be good cricket but forget who your great grandad voted for, look to see who the obvious winner is going to be.

    Have we got a game this week?

    COB

  29. Werdermouth at 7.09 p.m.

    I think that 3 very funny jokes in one sentence deserves at least some acknowledgment.

    So…”Ooooh, Memsahib.”

  30. Good piece by AV about Bamford on todays notebook. I think the majority of posters doubted it would work at another top flight club at this stage of his career. He isn’t a typical line leader, he is hard to define other than he will score goals.

  31. Just completing the boro alphabet

    E: Ego, if they had a bit more ego they would win these tight away matches by sheer cussedness, and these are the results that make the difference. Consider Bournemouth coming to our place last season and shutting up shop. A win would have made a three point swing.

    J: Justice. Referees showing some justice for a change remember Leeds one bicycle kick from Albert/ and one case of assault and battery from Blackburn, that will be five points thank you very much

    Q: Questionmark. Have they answered the slight question mark over them from last season? Yes so far. Better points- goals-defence-wins-defeats-draws

    T: Tension. have they dropped the level of tension.in the.fans-no but they have certainly upped it

    X. X-Rating: for the level of optimism and excitement at the club

    Z: Zero. For the fans level of disapproval

  32. The ” good news” on the unemployment figures will be rapturously received on Teesside.

    Just underlines where, as we said yesterday, successive governments have let down this area. We can only hope that something is done to fill the vacuum left by the demise of the Steel Industry, otherwise the future prospects for the younger generation looks extremely bleak.

  33. Now we come to the down side of every disappointing result. The next match becomes very important indeed, win it and the sun is shining, lose it and, oh dear, let’s pray.

  34. As always this blog continues to surprise, stimulate and entertain. We’ve just returned from a week in the mountains in Murcia, about eighty miles from Murcia itself, otherwise known as Kike country.

    We didn’t get to a ‘big’ game but we watched two teams playing under floodlights while we waited for our Spanish friends child to finish his football class.

    The players were in their late teens and I am sure I saw a Graeme Souness doppelgänger. A slightly afro haircut, he stopped with his foot on the ball, looked up and sprayed a long diagonal pass out to the left that ended in a goal for his side. A member of the opposition tried tried to ‘straight arm’ him and he just stepped back and dropped him, without moving it seemed, but he was ten paces away when his attacker hit the deck and the ref turned around. I’m sure I could smell Bovril. Anyway it was a little bit of magic.

    Meanwhile some great comments and great entertainment to return to and read. Good to be back.

    UTB,

    John

    PS I should have got his name…

  35. Len ‘-

    Does AK make concessions to British/Teesside ways? Sorry about the delayed comment but I can’t help it. I would hope not.

    I, for one , was sick of constant blunders in every facet of the running of this football club. Transfer market? No idea. Building a team, even less. Controlling the staff, give me a break. Even finding a manager, pitiful. Even recently we have had an assistant blithely explaining to the world that he disagreed with the manager as he made his exit stage left, the jury is still out as to what planet he was on.

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