You may have been left slightly underwhelmed by the final day. You may be frustrated that Boro didn’t sign a Galactico after all the tabloid title tattle. The sole deadline day arrival was former Barcelona winger Adam Traore from Aston Villa.
But Boro have had a shrewd and successful transfer window: they have signed 11 senior players, have got value for money and, in the main, got them in early.
Look at the crazed closing hours trolley dash at the soccer supermarket and the hyper-inflated prices for average players you have barely heard of and think how much Boro saved by doing their business early.
Prices in the past few weeks have doubled… trebled? Quadrupled? Certainly rocketed beyond reason as clubs throw the mountains of cash from their new TV deal around like drunken sailors on shore leave.
There was no record shattering final splurge for Boro and that may leave some supporters anxious, especially who think last gasp, over the odds panic buys are a sign of strength rather than bad planning.
But although they never pushed the hysterical android scoop-bot Jim White into over-drive, the Hurworth hierarchy can be quietly satisfied at their recruitment over summer as a whole. They drew up a list of realistic targets with the skill sets they wanted and got them at what now look like bargain prices. Alavaro Negredo, Gaston Ramirez, Viktor Fischer, Antonio Barragan, Bernardo Espinosa, Adama Traore and Victor Valdes have arrived at Boro for a collective price of less than the £10m Burnley paid for Jeff Hendrick.
In fact, only Dutch anchorman Marten de Roon, a £10.8m buy from Serie A side Atalanta, cost serious money – and that looks like loose change now as the league’s billion pound barrier was shattered.
That doesn’t mean the club have scrimped. Boro were among the six lowest net spenders (not that is a bad thing) but there has been a massive investment in wages as the club look to compete in the big league.
And the real bottom line is that Boro have come out of the window looking stronger in every department than last season.
They were already a solid team, well organised with a functional system that everyone understood and worked hard to apply. Now they have brought in players that suit the shape and can hopefully make it more effective – and trimmed a lot of players who were never going to cut it at the higher level.
And the two significant departures who may have still had hopes of playing a role – Adam Reach and Albert Adomah – both brought hefty fees. Reach, who hasn’t played for Boro for a year, cost Sheff Wed a £5m initial payment with clauses that could take it up to £7m. Adomah, who rejected a new deal at Boro last week and has only a year left on his contract, went for a reported down payment of £3.5m with clauses that could push the final figure above £5m. And isn’t the sort you could force to stay and play. That’s Good business.
However flat you feel at not being centre-stage on the Jim White show, over the summer as a whole, the manager has increased his strength in depth and tactical options while raising the level of competition and quality in the group. And they have had most of the squad together for a long pre-season to integrate new faces with the veterans of the promotion campaign.
Yes, you can nit-pick over the failure to make a marquee signing as Boro have done after previous promotions. We may be short of that one quality attacking midfield player that would complete the jigsaw. But the landscape has changed. Competition for that quality is far more intense. It is not easy to get every player you want. Every team in the Premier League can compete on fees and wages – hence the crazy money spent in the past 72 hours. And you can’t buy someone for the sake of it.
Building the perfect Premier League squad may take more than one window.
So Boro deserve credit for doing the bulk of their work early and under the radar. And while we will only be able to really judge the new signings once the heat is on, on the face of it Boro look stronger across the board.
It is easy to criticise Victor Valdes or Brad Guzan for conceding on their debuts; keepers are sitting ducks for snipers. But there is no question that the current group being used, those two plus Dimi Konstantopoulos, is better than the Dimi, Tomas Mejias and Michael Agazzi unit in the squad last season.
And the defence has been beefed up too. Calum Chambers is an England international, Antonio Barragan has looked excellent in three roles, Fabio can play in both full-back slots and Bernardo Espinosa is winning rave reviews for his displays in the reserves as he battles back to full fitness.
Throw in Ben Gibson, Dani Ayala and George Friend from last term’s rigid rearguard and that is a mean looking back-line.
Ditto the engine room: Marten de Roon was the top tackler in Serie A last season with Atalanta and adding him to the mix of what was already a an industrious and effective unit is a is big plus for Karanka.
Further forward Boro have signed Viktor Fischer and Adama Traore for wide roles in place of Albert Adomah (neither Adam Reach nor Muzzy Carayol were active squad members last season) and brought back Gaston Ramirez on a free in therole. That department may seem a bit light on numbers and an injury could cause problems while the widemen who have come in are ‘unproven’ – or ‘projects’ to use the Teesside codeword – but they come highly rated and hungry and with something to prove and if they live up to their potential they could have a big role to play in what will be a challenging season.
And they will be fighting for places along with Stewart Downing and Cristhian Stuani as well as possibly Fabio and Emilio Nsue while Adam Forshaw, Downing and at a push David Nugent can slot in at No. 10. There are options.
Up front the arrival of ‘the Beast’ Alvaro Negredo from Valencia adds penalty box physicality and a deft touch (for a big man) to the intelligent movement of Jordan Rhodes – yet to be unleashed in the Premier League – and the nous and work rate of David Nugent.
Plus, don’t forget Boro have been successful in the other crucial aspect of the summer signing scrum: they have held on to all their core players – and signed a host of them up to extended new deals: Gibbo, George, Forshaw and Fry have signed already and Adam Clayton can’t be far behind. Albert opted not to join that group. Over the summer Boro have given short shrift to inquiries for a host of player. They are not a selling club.
Remember the dark fears back in May that the big boys would harvest the promotion team, lure away our heroes. The tabloids were full of stories: Gibson to Everton; Ayala to Newcastle; Rhodes to every ambitious Championship side with a war chest that big clubs were coveting George and Clayts. None of them have left. That is a signing success too.
Of course, Boro are not the finished article. They will still be well short of the high quality bar set by the elite clubs and will also be behind middling clubs who are four, five, six, seven years ahead of Boro in terms of investment in the squad.
But they have strengthened in every department, brought in quality and options and have given themselves a fighting chance to not just survive but flourish.