Swans Song Strikes Chord With Boro

By Anthony Vickers on Feb 26, 13 02:24 PM

SILKY Swansea's League Cup Wembley triumph over plucky Bradford should have struck enough notes with Boro fans to score a symphony .

A requiem dominated by slow mournful strings so sad you could cry maybe - but ending with some flashing uplifting swirls of hope, redemption and resurrection too.

It should have echoes on Teesside, and not just because of lingering poignant daydreams of our heroes' three handled trophy triumph in Cardiff in 2004, the shining silver memory that will protect us and keep us warm through the new Ice Age of austerity.

There are some sharp lessons to be drawn from the current status of both clubs and their turbulent back-stories over a dramatic decade.

Bradford first. Having been relegated from the Premier League with a millstone wage-bill, the legacy of the crazed shopping spree in "one week of madness", the Bantams plummeted through the divisions, through a series of fire-sales and through a series of winding up orders, owners and administrators.

The club, as so many who fall off the cash bloated gravy train, went into a financial free-fall that so very nearly ended in extinction. Players were sold at massive losses, shipped out on loan and desperately paid to leave as their salaries crushed the life out of the club. Stop me if you've heard this one before.

After rejoining the club from a loan spell at Boro, Benito Carbone was begged to rip up his contract with the then chairman showing him the books and pointing out that if he held them to his contract the club would fold. The honourable little Italian agreed. Not many others would do the same.

Look at Portsmouth where some key players - already multi-millionaires - engaged in an undignified protracted squabble with administrators over loyalty bonuses on the steps of the High Court, taking the club right to the brink.

Bradford had over-spent and didn't slam the brakes on quickly enough. Neither did they have the protection of a well wadded human shield in the boardroom. Most clubs don't. In many clubs the owners and directors who had overseen the meltdown were away from the scene far quicker - and with more money - than the players were.

History shows that sides relegated from the Premier League generally gamble and try to keep their expensive squad together - and maintain their toxic wage bill - in a bid to bounce straight back. Boro did.

If you succeed, as Newcastle, West Brom and West Ham have done in recent years, all well and good; the intravenous cash flow resumes and you can clear the debt. Hurray! Trebles and wage rises all round!

But if you fail....

There is a long list of clubs who didn't go straight back up. Almost all of them imploded in the two years that followed as the economic logic of vastly slashed income and a legacy of failed players on enormous wages that made them impossible to sell hit home.

Leeds, Forest, Southampton, Charlton, Coventry, Sheffield Wednesday and United, Portsmouth, Norwich, Leicester, Charlton - all were plunged deep into a bleak crisis.

Most went down another level before bottoming out. Most ended up in administration. Most went through several changes in ownership. Most lost control of their ground - the only concrete asset - as the deeds were shuffled around in a Byzantine paper trail offshore by speculators and chancers and banks.

While some are now 'healthy' most are now in the hands of foreign 'investors' shrouded in various levels of mystery who have generally borrowed the money for the takeover against the collateral of the club and who make no secret of their quest to get the Premier League to make a profit. Some are taking salaries, paying dividends to themselves and charging for unspecified services carried out by their other companies. Many are exporting matchday income abroad and funding day-to-day running through borrowing which is being piled up on the club for future owners to deal with.

People will point to the success stories: Southampton say. But to get where they are the Saints have gone through two administrations and a complex reverse takeover by a carehome company that almost dragged the club under went it collapsed. They too are now owned offshore and have funded their successive promotions with borrowing - how do you think they managed to pay for Rickie Lambert in League One? - that they gambled on paying off on promotion. Others - Leicester and Cardiff, Forest and Hull, - are following the time honoured route pioneered by Birmingham and Portsmouth.

That is a gamble, not an a full costed model of long term planning.

Most of the clubs who fell out of the Premier League and didn't go straight back up drifted in the wilderness for frustrating years. And most are still in dire straits now with pressing historic debts or lease payments eating into meagre incomes from lower crowds with lower expectations. This legion of the damned numbers a third of the Championship.

Bradford took that route to the extreme and crashed straight through to the fourth tier and twice flirted with winding up and lost control of their ground. Coventry and Posrtmouth are not far behind them. The Bantam Menace fairytale run to the final is the heartwarming story of the season - but their's is a cautionary tale.

And, without being overly dramatic, there but for the grace of Gibbo...

Boro were sane enough not to gamble. Shrewd enough and determined enough, and possible they luckily had the corporate structure to allow them to take radical evasive action with prudent and pronounced cost control: player sales, contracts run down, wage cutting, first rescheduling and then paying off debts to the banks, freezing recruitment, redundancies behind the scenes at every level. It is a scenario that has been played out in many firms in many industries in recent years. Not least my own.

Football clubs are not immune to the vagaries of the economy and if outside the cash bubble they need a clearly defined model to survive and grow off the pitch - and a clear vision of how to prosper on it.

Which brings us to Swansea.

The swash-buckling Swans' League Cup win was well deserved and rightly acclaimed by public and pundits alike. They play a high-pressing, positive and dynamic game built on ball retention, fluid movement and quick passing, a 'Swanselona' style that is adored by the purists and pragmatists alike. Not only is it good to watch, it gets results.

And, of course, that is exactly the ethos and philosophy that Tony Mowbray espouses too. Who doesn't these days.

But while cavalier Swansea may be 'this year's model' for aspiring clubs eager to break into the Magic Circle, they didn't get there overnight. This year's model isn't off the peg.

Far from it. A decade ago, when Bradford were putting their neck in the noose in the Premier League, the Swans hit rock bottom. They were 92nd in the pecking order, crushed by debts, tumbling crowds and a crumbling old Vetch Field ground and an inept team had a very gloomy immediate future.

What has happened since is an admirable template for a successful and sustainable football club in a small town.

Their success on the pitch is to be lauded, but it is the result of a slow and steady construction of the foundations of a new club from the bottom up.

It has taken patience, persistence and a steadfast belief in clear footballing principles and tight budgetary control, a strategy endorsed by the well run and widely respected Supporters Trust who own 20% of the club they helped save.

It has taken a lot of hard work off the pitch - and some luck, this is football after all - to foster a footballing philosophy and some astute work by the chairman Huw Jenkins to recruit the key personnel that buy into it and to create a financial model that supports and works in harmony with it. It is an holistic approach .

Starting in the fourth tier and stabilised under Kenny Jackett, Swansea's project started in earnest with Roberto Martinez in charge. The club trained, recruited new players and brought up the juniors with the overall shape and style in mind. They played an exotic continental 433 when that was completely alien in England and when Tiki-Taka was still just a character on Tellytubbies.

And they have stuck with the passing game. Through spells of set-back and bad-runs and initial fan dissent at the lightweight and over-elaborate approach that didn't always work on the archetypal wet February night at Rochdale.

They made it part of the DNA of the club and subsequent bosses - Paulo Sousa, Brendan Rodgers and now Michael Laudrup - have been recruited to suit and refine the philosophy rather than to ditch it in a self-defeating cycle of erratic knee-jerks and revolutions.

Having tactical stability enabled Swansea to build a scouting system to find players low on cost and high on technique who were tailored to the long term needs of the system and had a resale potential. It is Moneyball soccernomics in action.

Again, it has been a slow process. And a cost effective one. The side that went up through the play-offs two years ago had cost next to nothing.

Keeper Dorus de Vries, defender Gary Monk and midfielder Steven Dobbie were free agents. Left-back Alan Tate came from Manchester United reserves and Leon Britton from West Ham reserves for nothing and right back Angel Rangel came on a nominal fee from Real Zaragoza

The 'big buys' after promotion to the Championship were defender Ashley Williams from Stockport for £400,000 and Nathan Dyer, for the same price from Southampton.

The only hefty fee was the £1m paid to Chelsea by Brendan Rodgers for Scott Sinclair, the final piece of the jigsaw.

They also had Joe Allen, a youth product that after promotion they flogged to Liverpool for £15m. That income and the £8m from Manchester City for Sinclair paid for a Michu, De Guzman and a Premier League refit of better players in the same mould.

That is what Boro are trying to do.

Having stabilised the club financially and cleared the decks after the disastrous Strachan cul-de-sac the aim of the club heirarchy is to create the space and time for Tony Mowbray to progress towards a Teesside Tiki-taka: a high tempo, technically adept style of passing and fluid movement, a club with a clear footballing identity and supported by a coherent club infrastructure and recruitment policy.

It may take time - and it will almost certainly after go through some sticky patches - but that is the plan. And that's why, despite a recent woeful run, there's no internal pressure on the boss to change tack.

After years of throwing cash at problems and then years of difficult downsizing, Boro are now ready to grow again.

But it will be a sustainable route based on the example of Swansea rather than the failed one that Bradford represent.


Cassandra said:

P10 to ever to make the Premier League again I'm afraid Anthony. Swansea will come a cropper as eventually will all clubs who don't have a high level of sustainable income to remain competitive in the greediest of leagues.

Nice story, but I can't see Middlesbrough ever replicating the Swansea model - there are not enough people on Teesside with enough money to populate the Riverside and crowds such as we saw against Millwall are now the norm (15K? I doubt it), without the odd one-off special deal of course.

The ephemeral illusion created during the 'Riverside Revolution' is long gone and there is simply not enough potential to generate cash at jobs, no crowd, no marketing opportunities save for corner shops at the ground and in the town... where is the money - any money - going to come from? Gibbo can't continue to subsidise his hobby forever, can he? And Ramsdens certainly won't save the day, though the irony of being sponsored by a pawnbroker is wonderful to behold.

It's my view we'll be lucky to maintain Championship status and we should be happy with that if we I a little too pessimistic?

gt said:

Forgive me AV,but I think you're trying too hard. I think most of us are aware of where the club is today both as far as status and financially.

None of us expect millions of pounds are to be spent on players,although I think Juke was £1.5m wasnt it, when we were nearly bottom. But some of us think this over abundance of love for Mogga is a little over the top,

I know, my first stand is the club. Players come and go, managers come and go,
I dont know what loyalty is anymore, So I want the best players, being coached by the right people, a manager relating the right tactics to players in his posession which allows them the chance for success.

If my team finds itself can't compete at the level, finds itself bottom of a league,at times looking embarrasingly inept, then I have to ask questions,because at this point in time my loyalty is with the badge and its fans,

Having said all that, the last two seaons , we have had a chance (deservedly or not) to scrape promotion,and lets be honest, all of us including the manager and staff, and our local media thought we where good enough, so all of these excuses we are getting now dont hold water.

So questions have to be asked ,why has it gone wrong?

**AV writes: You say I should stop banging on and we are all aware of the finances and then ask why it has all gone wrong?

On Fly Me To The Moon there are people who refuse point blank to believe the club are losing close to £1m a month or that we have a £17m wage bill and every week the phone in features people telling Steve Gibson to put his hand in his pocket for Charlie Austin. Clearly the penny hasn't dropped with a lot of people.

Ian Gill said:

A business model for the future and one we are following whether we are copying Swansea or not.

Probably the key thing is that Swansea settled on a way of playing, a technically adept 433 with passing, movement and a bit of tempo.

Just like us with 433/442/424/460/451/4141/352 depending on the opposition and that is just the first half.

Tim Russell said:

A thoroughly enjoyable and articulate article.

As a life long Swansea fan who saw the rise and fall under Toshack in the 70s and 80s, I endorse the thrust of this article. Ultimately fottball is all about the fans and they are the ones who suffer the long term mismanagement of so many clubs.

Swansea are now being praised as a model club, both on and off the pitch, and this is a source of immense pride to all us Jacks. Under the guidance of the chairman Huw Jenkins and the involvement of the Supporters Trust we are in safe hands and I trust and pray that we will always be a fans orientated club and never see the dark days again.

I appreciate this article is from the perspective of Middlesborough FC and the irony is that many of us Jacks looked to your club as a model we wanted to follow.

In the last 10 years we have not sacked a manager and, in all but one season have progressed in terms of league position. This gives me immense pride and also a feeling of apprehension, as you have to ask, how long will our incredible journey continue?

One thing I do know is that the long term future of the club is secure and we will never suffer the fate of so many other clubs whilst we retain our structure and ethos!

**AV writes: I hope we stay the course and adopt this model. When Boro were enjoying the high life and splashing money around I was persona no grata at the club because I was very critical, saying it was unsustainable madness and that we weren't investing in young talent with a resale value, that we were not getting added value - 'Moneyball' as it wasn't called back then - and that we had become a pension plan for football OAPs. I wanted us to become 'a supercharged Crewe'.

We are now paying the price for a decade of crazy squandering of the short-lived cash advantage that Gibson gave us.

Macboro said:

Vic -

I don't think Boro went down the Newcastle route of keeping your best players. My memory may be failing me but i thort we sold Schwarzer, Downing, Tuncay, Huth and Alves when we went down???

**AV writes: Schwarzer was long gone and Stewie had asked for a transfer in January. The main departures were Huth and Tuncay then Alves in September. But the bulk of the squad, 20 or so, stayed ... although you could argue that (like Newcastle) that was mainly because it was so hard to sell many of them.

nikeboro said:

The Swansea model only works with the right players. You only get the right players through good recruitment. You only get good recruitment if you have the right manager. You only get the right manager through good recruitment by the club hierarchy. Huw Jenkins has done that at Swansea for the last decade through five managers.

In contrast, with the possible exception of McClaren, Boro have appointed a series of inept managers. In fact, considering the resources he had (more so for Robbo), even McClaren's impact is questionable. The jury must still be out on Mogga. So what does that tell us about Boro's ability to recruit the right manager?

Meanwhile, amply backed by the club with money it ultimately didn't have, those managers have purchased lots of expensive flops. What does that tell us about the hierarchy's judgement in backing managers in purchasing players, especially once it became clear the particular manager was inept?

Of course, this won't be Boro's first project. If they are now trying to emulate Swansea, it is because the first project failed. The model to inject substantial cash into Boro to pump-prime a meteoric rise into the top six was ill-conceived. It was never sustainable and was always going to unravel sooner or later. What does that tell us about the hierarchy's ability to develop a strategy and make it work?

Huw Jenkins appears to be key to Swansea's steady but consistent sucess. Where is Boro's equivalent?

**AV writes: To point to historic mistakes a decade ago or five years ago doesn't negate the value of such a strategy or the urgent need to embark on it. If anything it underlines it. It does touch on an understandable cynicism among fans though. And after a string of mistakes and set backs you can understand that.

But you are right that recruitment is key and off the field Boro have started to put in place some of the ingredients.

Despite the current cash crisis they pushed out the boat and invested £2m they didn't really have to secure Category 1 status for the Academy for instance. That is massively important in both securing talent for the first team, to train them in the system and philosphy of the club and if need be produce players to be sold on to fund the club.

And behind the scenes they are working hard to establish a new scouting network that doesn't just involve watching the Premier League on the telly. Boro are building a database of players in every position in leagues across the major leagues in European. It will take time but after years of neglect

That is key. There is some movement there. It will take time.

The initial pump priming investment was a massive success. At a time when Gibbo could put £6m on the table and blow away the mid-table Prem teams aside gave Boro a unique opportunity but it was squandered. Most of Robbo's big names were sold at break-even or even at a small profit.

But as time went on and the Sky money flowed and there was transfer fee inflation and the rest caught up and soon the annual Gibbo dividend eroded. That was the moment to change tack, when a coherent startegy of buying rising talent from lower leagues - Tim Cahill, Phil Jagielka etc - could have made a difference.

Bob said:

Yes, I get that entirely, and I agree it is the right approach. However, I think Mowbray is more Kenny Jackett than Roberto Martinez. He'll take us part of the way, and help lay the foundations, but it will need someone else to deliver the kind of sustained success Swansea have had.

West Brom is a perfect example...Mowbray did well, got them started, but ultimately got found out in the first division. Subsequent managers have done much better.

My big fear is this is Steve Gibson's biggest weakness, his management of managers, and Tony Mowbray is both a friend and a childhood hero for Steve. A transition will be needed in a year or two, will it be smooth, allowing Swansea type momentum, or will it be fractious and damaging, destroying the momentum?

Werdermouth said:

Do we know whether MFC has the same kind of long-term philosphy as Swansea? Or maybe I should ask what is Steve Gibson's vision for the future of MFC.

The reason I ask is that in the past his vision for Boro started by getting a high-profile name as manager (i.e. Robson) with the aim of attracting good players by paying top dollar. A brand new stadium was built to relaunch the club, then a state of the art training complex was added and a top notch academy soon followed - all in all a magnificient vision that came to fruition.

But I've not heard anyone from the club since relegation come forward with a new vision for the club - only really an admission that we can no longer afford to financially compete as we once did and we need to cut spending to avoid financial ruin.

Clearly this is not a vision but a statement of fact - Is there a long-term plan or is it still just an aspiration to return to the PL as soon as possible - i.e. Southgate was sacked for having a wobble, Strachan employed and given cash and then replaced by Mowbray when it went pear-shaped.

So if there was a vision, for example of being a super-charged Crewe, why are we getting players in on loan for a potential short-term gain at the expense of giving our academy players important pitch time and creating a group that wil grow together. McEachran, Dyer, Ameobi, Miller take up places that block Smallwood, Reach, Luke Williams and Main from developing together.

If we do get promoted then surely having young improving players who have played together for a season or two would stand the club in better stead as we clearly can't afford to buy a whole new PL team once we get there.

Also does Boro have anything like a scouting network that Swansea have? Though clearly unless you can afford to buy players it doesn't really matter if you have one or not.

Besides, can every club emulate Swansea - at what point does there become too many clubs chasing the same finite group of players leading to inflation in these new bargains. Also it's easy to say Mogga or any manager espouses to be like Barcelona/Swansea - but do they have a plan to achieve it - we need a plan that can work for MFC.

There are hints at a vision but it doesn't sound like it's joined up yet - Category 1 Academy status and possible links with TLF in Brazil are ticking boxes but I can't say it sounds like a plan.

Expressing a vision to the fans and ruthlessly sticking to it and making progress with it are what is needed - not the 'we are where we are shoulder shrug we are currently getting as it doesn't create a positive message people can buy into.

BTW Well done Swansea and good luck to their fans in europe next year!

**AV writes: I think you are right that there are just hints so far and that short term tactics and long term startegy are not neccessarily in sync but having talked at length to the key people in the club I think there is a consensus there about what is the only viable way forward. There is a vision evolving. I think we will see it more next term once the blip in the wage curve is ironed out.

npw99 said:

The best and most level-headed article I've read about the club for a long time - and no surprise it's by AV.

I don't believe fans ever understand the futility of football. What is genuine long term success and satisfaction? Ask Arsenal and Liverpool. Man United fans currently can afford to ignore all but the European Cup and the League - but what happens when Fergie steps aside? What about Newcastle? Portsmouth? Spurs? If they take something now will the same satisfy them tomorrow?

And the kicker with all of this is that there is genuinely rarely anything quite like being happy with where a club is for a sustained period. Should Spurs mortgage the club to get that CL spot? If so, like Leeds, how many misses can they afford?

The same goes for Championship clubs trying to get up, and for EPL teams trying not to fall out. The ebbs, flows, cycles and shocks of football make stability that much harder.

This all points to one thing - forget the ephemeral league position and go for the nature of the club itself. Boro can be like Swansea - good football, something local, something to be proud of, involving local talent and people from Chairman and manager to the bottom.

It's never going to be another big club - the time for those things to happen passed with the Champions' League. But it can be a genuinely good local small town club, with fans that can be proud whether we're in the top half of a Championship slog or in the running for an unlikely European odyssey.

AV is right - get the club right and the rest looks after itself. Spot on Anthony.

Forever Dormo said:

Really enjoyed this piece, Vic.

I like Swansea for a host of reasons and it's good to see them playing the sort of football that we might have called Arsenal-lite a few years ago but which I see you now link to Swanselona. As a sign of things to come, it might be that even Arsenal might now be in decline. The sell-by date on their tin of Duraglit has well and truly expired.

It was good to see two "new clubs" appear in a major cup final rather than the "usual suspects". I'm sick of seeing Man Utd v Chelsea, Arsenal v Liverpool. If sponsors feel aggrieved seeing two "smaller" clubs contesting a cup final they might remind themselves that is what sport is supposed to be about: the dream, the gaintkillings, the romance of the Cup. Otherwise they might as well just sponsor a series of Manchelarsepool games at Wembley every February and May.

As you say, Vic, it is the model, the type of football and the financial sustainability of it all that makes it so attractive as a model for other clubs. I'd love to have a little bit of that for my club rather than having to live off the back of a wealthy owner and suspecting that, one relegationa away, financial disaster (and a possible end to the club) looms.

Some clubs are badly managed, some have mountains of debt, some are a ticking time-bombs employing over-paid, over-aged players who have signed for their last big pension-pot hoorah. On the other hand Arsenal can continue to pile up a cash mountain whilst charging supporters a ridiculous amount to get in the ground - which must be a bit harsh on long-term supporters who, by age or bad luck, can ill afford the massive ticket prices. And it's not as if they are currently piling up the silverware either.

Sometimes you could despair about football. But I'm sure it can't go on for ever. Like ever-rising house prices, or self-certificated wage details on a mortgage application for seven times the salary (with cash-back, obviously, and for 120% of the value of the house), things change. Big clubs will go bust and stay bust. Big clubs will find themselves in the lower divisions (just ask Rangers!).

And then, keeping cheerful in the background, will be supporters of the clubs which followed a sustainable model. I hope Boro is in that latter category.

So what you need is luck, a good chairman, a good youth academy and scouting structure, committed supporters who are loyal to the team, a bit more luck, a sensible attitude to financial risk, a good manager, and (whilst I think of it) some more luck.

Let's not forget the work that must have gone into Swansea's selecting and then signing good managers. The managers appear to have bought into the plan and improved on it as the club moved on. Martinez, Rodgers and Laudrup in fairly short order.

In a year or two we will surely be pointing to the fact that those three will have all moved on to what, in their turn and at the relevant time, would have been acknowledged as "bigger" clubs. The choice of manager is much more important than the purchase of this player, or that one, and it is this that Swansea have obviuously got so right.

It's a heart-warming story for a club to win its first trophy for more than a hundred years. I loved it, just LOVED IT, when we won the League Cup in Wales in 2004, and I am sure that Swansea fans feel the same way and will never forget their Wembley triumph.

Better that the joy is shared around than hoarded by a small number of rich clubs - which is basically what has been happening during the Premier League era. Better that the win has been achieved by a club "punching above its weight" and playing attractive rather than simply functional football.

Best of all that it is a "fans club" with sensible finances that should not suddenly explode at the first sign of a reverse, and therefore place the whole edifice at risk of destruction.

CyprusMike said:

An excellent article AV - gives a true portrayal of what SG and the Boro are trying to achieve through two recent examples of similar clubs.

I see the comments on the fans present views on Boro through this sticky run. However can see the foresight of what SG and TM are trying to achieve.

Saw the Boro three times whilst I was at home for Xmas and ws well impressed with the style of play and team commitment. Positive steps, and not the Jockland expectations bought by trashcan - that was a disaster. Keep the faith and our heady times will return!

David McCabe said:

It may take time - and it will almost certainly after go through some sticky patches - but that is the plan. And that's why, despite a recent woeful run, there's no internal pressure on the boss to change tack.

For "after" see "have to" - shame on you AV - masquerading as a Wannabe Wordsworth!

spartakboro said:

Nice piece as is the norm from your good self AV. Though I'm sure you'll not be surprised if I don't necessarily see eye to eye with how you interpret the 'threads of truth' that are woven together to produce the concluding statements as 'there's light at the end of the tunnel' and 'It's always darkest before the dawn'. Thus....

AV said - History shows that sides relegated from the Premier League generally gamble and try to keep their expensive squad together - and maintain their toxic wage bill - in a bid to bounce straight back. Boro did.

So in which case when did the gamble metamorphisize into a long term plan for 'Swanseaesque' style growth and success? Was that when the bank pulled the plug on the ongoing cashflow support or thereafter. And was it thought through before GS1 had the rug pulled out from underneath his feet when his right-back was sold the day before the season started? Oh and there's more!

AV said - It has taken patience, persistence and a steadfast belief in clear footballing principles and tight budgetary control, a strategy endorsed by the well run and widely respected Supporters Trust who own 20% of the club they helped save.

Some, including myself, have been calling for more real terms supporter influence in the running of our club for sometime only to be either a)persistently ignored or b)rebuffed. If this component is an important part of the Swansea model of success, then why hasn't it been included in the Boro replicant.

AV said - some astute work by the chairman Huw Jenkins to recruit the key personnel.

On the point of recruiting key personnel, the senior management team has shown their true ability #prior to TM#. Who in their right mind would run with such a series of managers that were all unproven - Robson, McClaren, GS1.

And then when all else has failed, and fail or run away they did, then we'll talk to some guy we met in a bar and hey presto give him our last big bag of money only for him to #honestly# admit he and his management team didn't have a clue what day it was nor did they have any idea of how to find out. I would be wetting myself with laughter if this had happened to the barcodes or others but this is my team we're talking about and it isn't funny.

AV said - after the disastrous Strachan cul-de-sac.

Who recruited him?

For any team or organisation to be successful it must have a man at the top who has vision, astute leadership skills and/or the ability to recruit the right people for the right slots. This has evidently not been the case or otherwise we would not be where we find ourselves now.

It strikes me as somewhat disingenuous or downright delusional to believe, and thus ask the supporters to believe, that this mess is all part of a well thought out plan and that the present circumstances and series of loss after loss, is but a hiccup away from the everlasting success that is around the corner if we simply keep persisting with the present regime.

Ooo err, will this make the cut?


**AV writes: I'm not saying for a second that the mess was part of the plan and it is disingenuous of you to suggest I have, But now the mess has materialised isn't it better to have a coherent strategy to get out of it rather than just borrow more money and stack up more debt to buy a short term escape route? Or to pin your hopes on the arrival of a mysterious White Knight from abroad to save us.

Boro are in a mess after serious financial dislocation compounded by some disastrous recruitment (on and off the field). We can either pick through the wreckage, argue over the mistakes of a decade ago or five years ago and dwell on pointless recriminations for ever or we can try to encourage and support the club in forging a realistic and sustainable path forward.

I think you are right about the Supporters Trust though (and writing about the need for some such vehicle over the years helped make me persona non grata) but such a body almost always only arrives on the scene AFTER a financial implosion where the suits flee the scene of the crime leaving fans to pick up the pieces. That hasn't happened here. I've argued for the fans having a 'red share' and a representative on the board but we have a long way to go on that one just yet.

Keenog in Indiana said:

Great article AV, and I wonder when we may see a supporters trust or the like in Teesside . I remember when I lived in Glasgow in the nineties and you could buy a share in Celtic for 600 quid.

I would be willing to buy a share of MFC, and would gladly invest a five figure sum.

I am sure I would not be Robinson Crusoe!

**AV writes: I've argued for a 'red share' in recent years but I am not sure the corporate structure would allow that. One of the reasons Boro have been able to jiggle their way out of the current crisis is by converting debt to equity and shuffling things around within the greater Bulkhaul empire. Having a legal supporter' stake could inhibit that. Not that I know too much about the legalities.

That said some form of symbolic stake and a fan in the boardroom is not an unreasonable aim if the club is to be re-engineered and to reach out to the community. For me there is a political logic that will benefit the club.

UNRealisticBoroFan said:

AV Wrote: History shows that sides relegated from the Premier League generally gamble and try to keep their expensive squad together - and maintain their toxic wage bill - in a bid to bounce straight back. Boro did........ NO THEY DIDN'T!

Who did Newcastle sell?? Who did West Ham sell?? (other than BA). I think the fact is that our gamble was with Strachan and McBoro, which went disastrously wrong and we have only just shown signs of recovering! Slightly worried Bailey shown the door (maybe he won't take a pay cut?? doubt that though). We need a creative Midfielder and a prolific goalscorer but hey who doesn't??

**AV writes: Strachan was the last throw of the dice but the retrenchment and austerity - and the toxic debt - had started long before that. We have had a series of financial gambles going horribly wrong going back to the January when Boro invested £20m (fee and wages) in Afonso Alves.

Ian Gill said:

I remember debating the need for change even before we got to Eindhoven on this very medium.

In the wake of season ticketgate and the runs in the FA and UEFA cup the fact that we were averaging a tad over a point a game was a cause for concern.

We had a squad including highly players such as Parlour, Mendi, JFH, Viduka, Yak all here to play but mainly in the prestige games. Tuesday night in February at Bolton didnt appeal.

Whatever happened that season the summer heralded a change in direction. And in cost base. We got it a bit wrong but Gate was charged with getting a younger squad, Arsenal Lite, with local kids.

I wont dwell on the mistakes that followed but the one thing I will say is that I have never questioned Gibbo's wishes for the club nor the financial situation.

At times I have wondered at his decisions, same as with those made by Gate and Strachan and Mogga but never that anyone didnt have the interests of the club at heart.

We have gone down a few blind alleys, the focus on kids then selling them and bringing in the likes of Mido and Alves. Strachan's Smithy, invented and much vaunted by AV before his Damascene (or is that Moggascene?) conversion.

It will come right.

David Hay said:

Thanks AV. Easily one of the best articles I've read in recent times. I agree with your assessment and explanation of the financial position of the club. If managerial appointments had been as asute and wise as the financial decisions - who knows?

wiggy's mate said:

Spartakboro said “On the point of recruiting key personnel, the senior management team has shown their true ability #prior to TM#. Who in their right mind would run with such a series of managers that were all unproven - Robson, McClaren, GS1”.

Errr, Huw Jenkins maybe?

Roberto Martinez got his first managerial break at Swansea and Brendan Rogers arrived with the boos of “Untypical Watford” ringing in his ears.

Clearly the Swans have enjoyed a certain level of success with their managerial appointments that we haven’t, although how much of that is due to greater patience and more reasonable expectations is a point worthy of further consideration, but to assert that we have followed some sort of uniquely inept path is unfair. Hindsight is always 20:20.

For me, the construction of Hurworth and the founding of the academy are evidence that this model has always been the real prize for Gibbo. He didn’t dispatch John Pickering to travel the training academies of some of Europe just to rack up his air miles.

The spending spree of the 90s was an attempt to create a beachhead in the Prem that would buy time for the academy to provide players for the first team but this wouldn’t happen in one or two seasons.

Unfortunately, as other larger clubs have found, the gap between the Prem and everything else is so pronounced that it is difficult to blood youngsters at that level (that is why we have McEachran on loan not because of any perceived generosity on their part).

In the meantime we rolled the dice on firstly an ageing squad with no resale value and then a big buy and “projects” with we hoped a significant sell on profit but it went the shape of the pear and we find ourselves where we are.

These now look like catastrophic errors but the only real test of a decision is whether it looked right at the time based on the information available and there was little chuntering as I recall in Eindhoven and I don’t remember anyone (actually there may have been one bloke) coming on here at the time to protest at the signings of Alves, Digard and Emnes.

The question is, is our fan base adult enough to persevere with such a long term strategy? Maybe there is an advantage to running a club in an area where egg chasing is the real passion?

lenmasterman said:

Great piece, AV. A necessary antidote to the predictable short- termism of most of the critics,and a contribution that has stimulated some thoughtful responses. Me, I'm with Wiggy's mate all the way, as well as with carltonp's excellent contribution to the last thread.

Incidentally I had done a bit of digging on the Swansea model myself, and noticed that when they were in the doldrums and in danger of folding, they had appointed something like 24 managers in the 20 years before Martinez got the job.

Thereafter they have sacked nobody. And therein lies perhaps the most significant lesson for Mogga's critics. Most of them are passionate and well meaning supporters, but in rushing to judgment on the basis of the latest string of results they are being counter-productive in that it is above all continuity and stability which will bring long term and lasting success to the club. The kind of hire 'em and fire 'em approach implied by their criticisms is the one sure road to disaster.

Grove Hill wallah said:

It's all about players. The Swansea ones you mentioned all have something in common, they are good.

The best manager in the world can't do anything without good players. Until we get our recriutment right we will just keep making the same mistakes.

I tend to judge a manager on his signings, the present incumbent hasn't exactly covered himself in glory. Kieron Dyer is just the latest example of bad business, to go with Woodgate and Parnaby. Don't get me started on the rest.

**AV writes: Given thathe has had minus £6m to spend I think he's done OK.

Also on players and Swansea's widely praised astute scouting and recruitment procedures, it is interesting to note they have three times expressed an interest in signing Marvin Emnes (including as recently in Januay), a player that a great many Boro fans believe is "absolutely awful." That statement will of cours enow be used as a stick to beat the boss with by those who are that way inclined.

Ian Gill said:

Wiggy's Mate -

I guess I must be that one bloke but I suppose I cant be because I never complained about Alves at the time. Compared to the money he cost, Strachan's was loose change and Mogga got the crumbs when the loose change was used up.

I dont remember complaining about buying Digard and Emnes either. I think many of us were worried that asking Digard to replace Boateng, Rochembach, Catermole and Mendi by himself was a bit of a risk.

The problem was not who they bought but what they didnt replace. There is no problem buying projects but they are just that.

I seem to remember the Academy as a project set up by Gibbo and Robson, well Gibbo did the funding so is mostly responsible. It certainly wasnt an accident and has provided some good income from the sale of players.

It is galling to see a missing midfield of Downing, Johnson, Catermole and Morrison. About £25 million? Covers the cost of Mido and Alves, maybe, just about.

Still, the next generation will be along soon.

**AV writes: Off the top of my head I think the Academy has produced 45 Football League professionals, 29 (?) first team players and brought in over £35m in transfer fees. Not bad.

Mark Wainwright said:

AV - I would love to think that we are on the right track now after the past few years of re-building! One thing that I worry about long term if we don't achieve promotion this year is....

a) Pemier League drop downs getting parachute payments and their gambles paying off!

b) Our best players will be sold on to Premier League clubs i.e Rhys Williams, Jason Steele, Marvin Emnes etc etc.

It's all good building a side but as soon as the players that are playing well get noticed they are targets and quite often picked up very cheap as we need the money! i worry if we don't get up this time we will lose the backbone of the team (best players)and be candidates for dropping again??

PS. I believe Mogga is the man to take us forward.

Nigel Reeve said:

Excellent, excellent article, bit short of time to comment due to work. But what strikes me about the club is that there is a new desire to communicate/build bridges with the fans which was missing when McClaren/Lamb were in charge. Maybe the Mogga/Bausor combo has changed the philosophy there?

I hope the clubs long term strategy means that as well as building a player database there is more planning and thought goes into appointing managers (although I hope this is unnecessary and Mogga is here for a long long time).

To have the aim of playing a certain style of football menas not only introducing that style from academy upward but it means any managers appointed buy into that philosophy. I hope the days of the chief exec appointing a manager because he bumped into him in the loo at the Ricoh arena are gone forever. Thats no way to run a football club.

If there is a new strategic vision and philosophy for the club shared by Gibson/Mogga/Bausor then I for one am prepared to wait for it to bear fruit, next season, the one after whatever.

What I dont look forward to is reaching the Prem and watching the grind of a constant battle for survival. Middlesbrough/Teesside can support a mid-table premiership club, which can challenge once in a while for a cup. I'm happy to sit on the Mogganaut and enjoy the ride, we may need to stop once in a while to change the tyres/re-fuel, overhaul the engine, that's okay with me.

Despite the recent bad run I've loved this season, I've been all over the place with my son to watch Boro, its felt like proper football. My dream is to watch a Mowbray team have as succesful a season as Charlton did in '74.

John Craggs said:

Mowbray is no Laudrup that is for sure! Where is this myth that Middlesbrough play high tempo, interchaging, mobile attacking football??? Nonsense! We have a manager who thinks he is Jose Mourinho with his tinkering and changing and bamboozling.

We are a trillion light years away from Swansea and ANYONE who thinks we will get back to the promised land under this set up is truly deluded. Mowbray couldn't pick a balanced team if his life depended on it.

**AV writes: And yet several time under his tenure we have had extremely good runs (including last year a run of eight consecutive away wins, the best in Boro's Football League history) so there must be something there.

nikeboro said:

To clarify: I completely agree with the latest strategy. I believe the club should have been doing something like this all along.

AV said: 'we can try to encourage and support the club in forging a realistic and sustainable path forward.' I don't for a moment think that the club takes any notice of my ramblings and outbursts in this forum but, nevertheless, I fully endorse and support this approach.

The concern I expressed in my post of yesterday was whether the club has the ability to make it work. AV said: 'To point to historic mistakes a decade ago or five years ago doesn't negate the value of such a strategy.' I wasn't criticising the strategy, I was questioning the hierarchy's judgement and therefore their ability to deliver the strategy.

It's not just five or 10 years. There has been disastrous recruitment of staff and players, profligate spending, squandered opportunities, alienation of supporters and plain, simple lousy judgement for much of the 18 years since Robbo was appointed.

These weren't occasional lapses or incidents. This was a very long period of repeated bad judgement from which the hierarchy has been extremely slow to learn and adjust. It was the good ideas and sound moves that were the exceptions.

So the startegy feels right for the first time in 20 years. Dead right. My concern is whether the same people who have messed up so often for so long have the wherewithall to deliver it.

**AV writes: I think they know they have to. When you don't have much money your options are narrowed sharply.

Andy R said:

Terrific read, AV. Have you been sitting on this since the cup final draw was made? Given our run of late the timing is excellent.

The strategy is exactly the right one and I really hope that supporters have the patience to stick with the club and the club are shrewd and brave enough to see it through.

My concern is not the strategy, or the time it will take to deliver but whether or not we will stick to it.

We've spoken of financial restructuring since Southgate's time but haven't stuck to it, gambling on guys like Mido and Alves. Not only were those signings flops, but they were financially disastrous and also confused the message to supporters about the downsizing.

We repeated that with Strachan signing half of Glasgow and even threatened to do something similar with Danny Graham in January. That signing may have been costed (and what fans could complain about bringing in a local(ish) lad of proven ability and better than anything we've currently got) but it was a break from the message nonetheless and an off-strategy gamble.

I am fully on board with the club's long term strategy, I just hope the club are strong enough to stick with it.

Also, I think Ian's original post on the blog is an interesting one. When you think of Swansea (or Arsenal or Barcelona) you think 4-3-3 and an identity on the field.

I wonder if Mowbray is working towards that and only changes tactics from game to game because he feels his team aren't good enough to dictate at the moment, or whether it is simply the way he operates.

**AV writes: I think he said pretty much from day one that in an ideal world he would play a flexible 433/451.

James Emmerson said:

Really enjoyed this piece AV - and a lot of insightful & interesting comments too, including Martin Wainwright's hilarious suggestion that Emnes is one of our best players - but enough is enough. Too many people have let the journalistic shocker which ruined this article pass without a word and I can stand it no longer.

Tiki-Taka was never a character on Tellytubbies.

timfromsa said:

Sound breakdown of the situation we are in.

Still feel that we are very lightweight for the league we are in. If we do get some money in the Summer we dont need six players for what we made from one.

We need two big centre backs not swapping and changing every ten minutes and a decent striker who can get on the end of the stuff coming from the wings and let Scotty pick up the pieces knock downs etc. Thats how they play in this league.

Many Managers down the years have said you have to earn the right to play first.

Wiggy's mate said:

Ian, what in my last post implies that I was referring to you?

When Alves left, someone did claim that he had posted that he had doubts about him when we signed him (I can't recall seeing it myself but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt, I’m like that). I know it wasn't you though because he made his point once and moved on. Any inference that it was you is entirely your own and is incorrect. It's not all about you.

Seriously, for your own good don't put yourself at the centre of the universe like this, it will lead to paranoia. Next thing you know you will be posting about "dark forces" wanting your address... What's that? Oh... too late.

As for last night’s game, much as expected we couldn’t lay a glove on them but the spirit and application were much improved and if maintained should benefit us for the rest of the season.

Ed said:

Quick note on the point about Southampton. We actually went into administration once. We are owner by the Liebherr company, and have no debts (other than this season), as they were all wiped clear post promotion last year, and our promotion was effectively funded by our youth academy (Oxlaide Chamberlain - £12million more than covered the transer fees paid in LG 1 and Championship).

Boro till I die said:

So we end up in the Premier League? Then what? Financial models and all the other business jargon, it's just ridiculous.

For me and I probably won't be appreciated for saying this, but the Premiership and English football on a whole has been ruined by over spending foreign investment basically greed and corruption.

All this talk about hierarchy, your right it does start at the top. The FA should of created a financial plan along time ago to sustain a healthy competitive league, ensuring the growth of English talent. But it never happened And why?

Because too many people in top spots have a vested interest. Any one of us could walk into a bookies now and put an each way bet on for who is going to finish in the top six of the premiership.

I lived and breathed football as a kid, and now I can take it or leave it. Basically English football is a direct reflection on England as a whole. The poor are suffering.

So for just one minute forget about Middlesbrough's hierarchy, think about the bigger picture? Where and what are we going to progress too without a multimillion pound investment.

The whole football league from top to bottom needs a shake up.

And well done Swansea, but haven't we seen this before? Ipswich town? The early 00's?

Ian Gill said:

Wiggys Mate -

I had a good chuckle when I read your last post, we do tend to think our own opinions are sacrosanct. I am glad you have noticed those dark forces as well.

On a football note a good performance last night.

Best go, busy being the centre of the universe. Tough job but someones got to do it. :) :)

andy C said:

Just goes to show what can be achieved having a few foreign managers in a short few years. You dont have to stick with the same manager.

Grove Hill wallah said:

Did you witness the Benitez meltdown in the press room last night AV? If ever a manager should say, "That's it, I'm off" then we saw a fine example last night.

I wonder if Guy had a rueful look on his face.

**AV writes: Despite the tabloid hysteria it wasn't a meltdown or a rant or anything like that. It was a very measured and calculated series of deliberate statements. It certainly wasn't spontaneous either.

I was down pitchside waiting for Mowbray and George Friend in the tunnel when Rafa made his first declarations for the ITV cameras. I never heard it at the the time but saw it on the highlights later. But 10 or 15 minutes later he did his press conference upstairs and said the whole thing again almost verbatim. When he was asked to confirm what he had said he repeated it, slowly, in a very calm and collected way. Whatever the political machinations at the club, it wasn't a rant.

Redcar Red said:

Up until Xmas I would probably have bought into the Swansea thing pretty much 100%. The last few months for me have created serious doubts in my mind.

We still gamble/waste money on geriatric has beens or other teams youth products rather than play our own Academy players which is historically "Typical Boro", Morrison, Johnson, Cattermole etc. were all overlooked for bigger names or considered "not Ready".

We have hit a sticky patch and our Manager needs to realise that all managers in all arenas need a Plan B, Plan C and if you get to Plan D you are probably out of your depth.

Our Plan A worked to a degree, indeed worked very well but other managers doing their homework and a few injury enforced personnel changes scuppered that. To remain steadfast is admirable and could be considered resolute but one key factor in management is bringing the team and the Individuals (be they players or fans in this case) along with you in achieving the task.

Without a sound grounding in management techniques and principles inexperienced managers get found out when they reach their level. Poor managers do not or cannot grasp that and stay at the same level and get left behind repeating their errors and mistakes, good managers learn, develop and acquire new skills.

It looks like SG has learnt, taken stock, matured and realised what had to change for the benefit of his own finances and the long term stability of the club. With Rockcliffe and the hotel/golf course plus Academy he can build again on more solid and sustainable foundations. With Mogga at the helm that success can be realised further but only if Mogga realises the need to address how he too can improve and develop as a manager along with SG and MFC.

Didn't go last night, after the last few no shows I figured having to shuffle work commitments around just wasn't worth it anymore. Delighted though that 10,000 lost souls took up my empty seat, just hope they remember to turn up on Saturday especially as they at least seen a bit of effort on the pitch.

With a bit more pace, enthusiasm, movement off the ball and less tinkering who knows they may even see Boro pull off a more important shock result against Cardiff instead of Chelsea. Once more into the breach come Saturday, although I will bring a good book in case I nod off with the essential Boro metronomic passing in the middle.

Malc said:

You use the word Byzantine, and myriad other tired terms, in almost every article. Try putting down the thesaurus and just using a word that fits. Shoehorning incongruous words into articles in an attempt to appear educated has the opposite effect.

As for your love for Gibson, you sound like a teenaged girl cooing over Bieber. I'd tell everyone where the money has gone but as usual you wouldn't print it due to your community college-level expertise on libel law. It isn't libel if it's true, Vickers.

**AV writes: In general newspaper terms, I think you'll find that it is libel if you can't prove it, 'true' or otherwise. If you have documentation and affidavits get in touch. Otherwise it is just gossip. In more specific terms I think transfer fees and wages over 15 years pretty much points convincingly to "where the money has gone."

As for Gibson, I am probably the only one who has ever challenged him and the club in any coherent public way over the years, always constructively, sometimes putting myself and the paper in awkward diplomatic positions at times - and I'll continue to do that without fear and favour as and when neccessary.

The current detente, moves on ticketing and reconfiguring the Riverside and has only come about because I had a go at the club on pricing policies. I've got nothing to be ashamed of.

Peterboroughangel said:

As I've stated several times on here before, build from the academy up. It is the only sustainable route.

I despise the Premier League and what it stands for.

Manchester Citys team could have been built anywhere in Europe. Crazy!

kev B said:

I smiled as I clawed my way to the bar in the Navi for a pre match pint, as unfamiliar faces clamoured around Kerrie and Natalie working hard shifting pints across the bar.

I smiled as I made my usual way from the Navi to the Riverside, as I took in the smells of burgers and the buzz of people queuing for their food. I even laughed at the queues outside the ground, as long snaking lines of fans waited patiently to get in. The guy in front of me fed his home printed ticket into the machine at the turnstile and forgot to push through the turnstile quick enough so I helped him out of the anxious crowd to a steward.

Inside the ground, my usual seat was surrounded by unfamiliar faces, people milling around holding tickets looking for rows and seats they weren’t sure of the location of. This was the reality of a big club returning to my beloved Boro; the Riverside, scene of some fantastic historic games over the last 18 years.

The reality is that fans returned, eager to see if Boro could overcome the European Champions. Yes, we had a ticket offer. £20 for non regulars was generous. But still they came. And the buzz of seeing a stadium almost full again, the queues for half time food and then to get out after the game, made me realise just what we are missing.

I enjoyed the experience, and had to pinch myself it was 2013. If you shut your eyes tight enough, and erased your memory of the last few horrendous years, you could almost feel the excitement once more, it was that tangible. But the reality is, to get back to week in week out top class games is a long way off.

I read your article with interest AV. If Swansea did indeed adopt such a model, and not adopt the model through necessity then good luck to them. It did work, after a lot of patience from a fan base that probably wasn’t quite as impatient as our lot.

I believe we would like to adopt such a path, but I’m not sure a lot of Boro fans have woke up yet to the fact that things are never ever gonna be the same as they were again. I’m not sure some of them ever will.

Can we hold onto the rest whilst we flounder around this league for a few years yet? Because it’s gonna get harder every passing year to achieve promotion as the parachute payments continue to feed into the Championship. Indeed, Boro may well become a much smaller fish than they already are as we get surrounded by clubs with more cash and faceless mysterious backers.

I think Gibson recognised this with his last final desperate (and fatal) throw of the dice with the Strachan era. We could still, somehow crazily, go up this year if we pull something out of the last 12 remaining games. If we don’t, then we are gonna have to remain ever more patient and accept that this is as good as it gets. Have we the patience to remain on the ride?

Forever Dormo said:

A rather better performance from the team against Chelsea than we have become used to seeing so far in 2013. No-one slacking, George Friend taking a bit of a roasting in the first half from Moses (?) but still running back to block crosses, and then improving and even making forward runs later in the game. Rhys looking like a footballer again, and a general improvement all round.

We could easily have had a couple of goals but, if truth be told, we were comfortably beaten by a team that, when it attacked, did so at speed. However they are the outgoing Champions of Europe rather than the likes of Millwall and Bristol City et al who have been giving us the runaround over the past two months or so.

If we'd played like that in the league during January and February we would have been well up in the Play-off positions and looking upwards not at those below us in the table. If we can play like that in March and April, that could still happen.

But perhaps the best of all....a female work colleague who went to her first Boro game last night sent me a message this morning: "The game was very exciting. Boro - it's in the blood!" It looks like she got the message.

She was impressed with the stadium and how green the grass looked, and queued for some chips and a drink at half-time to get the full experience. I asked if she intended going to the Cardiff game on Saturday but she will be in another part of the country at the weekend, but after that.... I sense a convert to the cause.

Carltonp said:

Great to see the forum on fire again, thanks to an article by AV that has helped many posters see beyond the sustained blip (would that be a bleep?) of the last few matches and consider the global picture.

When we debate like this, this message board is mighty fine. Congratulations to all involved, too many good posts to enumerate!

timfromsa said:

Got the game live on this side and was impressed with the performance.

Dare i say it but i thought Miller when he came on and Scott looked a good pairing caused some problems towards the end. Not bad considering their centre forward cost more than our whole team the manager the coaches and the tea lady put together.

Hope we can take it forward to Cardiff now.

Ian Gill said:

Andy -

An interesting point on the qualities of the players. I suspect if they are not good enough to play one system then it is unlikely they they can morph from system to system at will.

It looks like the players we have seem suited to a higher tempo game, that doesnt mean kick and rush, it means pressing, passing and movement.

It will come I am sure.

Tim from SA -

Having f0llowed Miller at the Baggies and Forest he has always been a handful but is not a good finisher and suffers injuries. The truth is we couldnt get Van Persie on loan, he went to ManU instead. It is alledged that he took the wrong turn at Cathorpe Interchange and ended up at Carrington instead of Rockcliffe.

Nigel Reeve said:

Hey Malc, are you a solicitor?

Personally, I like the prose I read on here, both written by AV and others.

It's always easy to criticise a managers transfer policy after the event. When we sign players such as Woodgate and Dyer, there is little risk, there is no transfer fee and I believe their salaries are in some way related to appearances, so nothing to loose.

Woodgate is the best defender in the league when he's fit, but did anyone expect him to make more than 25 appearances a season? One player who comes to mind regarding good/bad transfers is Digard. Southgate/the club were roundly criticised for buying him once he proved to be a flop. I believe he is now playing Champions League football with PSG.

As for the Academy players, playing them because they are Academy players sounds about as daft as it gets to me. I only want players who are good enough in the team and if that means playing a loan player from Newcastle ahead of one of our own Academy players that's okay by me. We can't seriously expect our Academy to produce a squad of players good enough to secure and maintain a place in the Premiership can we? That's fantasy football.

I know we all have our opinions about players, style of play, tactics etc and its a bit of fun to have the debate, but nobody posting on here is as good a manager as Mowbray, or indeed Strachan, unless Mourinho is posting under a pseudonym?

What some people seem to find it hard to understand is that all managers make mistakes and also that a teams ability and form isn't completely within the manager's control.

lenmasterman said:

Agree with Carltonp, a great forum, light years ahead of the reflex merchants.

Poor old Malc: myriad chips revealed in a few sentences.

CroydonBoro said:

Carltonp -

our recent form could be described as a bleeping bleep bleep of bleep.

Or to paraphrase Roy Keane, you can bleep our current form up your bleeps.

Oh well, I was encouraged by our performance midweek, roll on the next game..

Ian Gill said:

Nigel -

Only lighthearted but werent the pitchforks sharpened when Strachan said you need experience.

Anlov was going apoplectic when Strachan 'only' had three or four academy graduates in his squad and that was when he had Bates, Williams, McManus and Taylor in the treatment room!

Unexpected sources is being dusted down for tomorrow.

boro1953 said:

Status one Academy... what's the point if Mogga's not going to play them? He has been contradicting himself again in tonights Gazette saying experience is the key to going up, not youth, then promptly goes and gets a 20 year old from the skunks, along with the 19 year old from Chelski. So in other words if you are from another club age doesn't matter.

Mogga obviously doesn't rate our own youngsters and that's where his thinking differs from a lot of other fans I have come across who think that Adam Reach and Richie Smallwood should be regulars in the team along with Halliday, none of which have let the team down when they have played.

Mogga's spoutings might have some credence if we were getting results but we aren't are we? Unless he can turn things around in the last 12 matches i dread to think what the take up of season tickets is going to be for next season from what I have heard from many fans who are getting disillusioned with Mogga.

**AV writes: What's the point of the Academy? Well, Steele, Hines, Smallwood, Reach, Williams, Williams and Main have all played in the league plus Morris and Jones in the cup while the cost of running the club has been subsidised to the tunes of £3.75m (and rising) by the sale of Joe Bennett.

Since 1999 (when the Academies were introduced) it has produced 40 players for the first team and £35m in transfer fees. For a club like Boro that is vital.

Catregory 1 status is massively important because it protects the players we have in the system from being poached by other club Academies at a fixed, knock down price. Without it Man Utd, Man City and Liverpool - who all want Bryn Morris - could come and take him for a fixed £250,000. He is very highly rated and in three or four years time could be worth 10 or 20 times that, playing for Boro and meabing they don't have to shell out £5m for a midfielder. That's why we have the Academy, to secure the medium and long term future of the club.

Short term is a different question. As to the youngsters now, I know supporters get frustarted at results but we shouldn't make a fetish of them. It is another example of players getting better in fans' minds every week they don't play.

Mogga clearly does rate the youngster or he wouldn't have given so many of them extended new deals, he'd have released them to Hartlepool like Franks. He sees them as solid squad players further down the line or better if they can step up and make themselves a fixture. And you know what, all the youngsters are fine with that. Reach has played in 15 games this season and will, in truth, probably think that is more than he expected at the start of the season.

And which of them are really guarenteed starters right now? Reach? He has done it in flashes - especially when Boro were bossing games before Christmas - but not consistently. Would you play him ahead of Carayol? And Luke Williams? He hasn't done enough this season to get into the team. Smallwood? He is a regular on the bench but would you start him ahead of Leadbitter and McEachran? Or Bailey, depending on the shape? Ahead of Carayol on the left?

Curtis Main is the only one that has come in and made and impact and looked to get better by the game, although even he at times looks raw, and because of that he seems to be firmly in the manager's thinking now and ahead of, or at least level and in the mix with Miller and Jutkiewicz.

It is ludicrous to think that Mogga would deliberately not play someone who he thought could win a game for him just because of their birth certificate. If he thinks they will not be consistent over 90 minutes, don't have the experience for a Championship grind or will not benefit from being put into a struggling team then he is not going to play them. It won't benefit the team and in the long run it won't benefit the players. That is the nature of management.

Forever Dormo said:

A week ago, with Boro apparently second bottom in the "form table" out of all the 92 league clubs in England (better only than troubled Portsmouth), how does the readership feel Boro would have fared if drawn in a cup match to play Hartlepool?

Pools, of course, are now in a decent run of form. The "Great Escape" is a tantalising possibility despite the club looking as dead as a dodo a couple of months ago (when Boro's prospects were looking quite good).

I believe Boro would have struggled. But we are now in a new place....a decent showing against the outgoing Champions of Europe and, despite the loss, somehow a little confidence appears to have returned. Of course if could all go back to square one if Cardiff turn it on against us tomorrow.

But hope springs eternal, and we might, just might, really have begun to think about the possibility of considering starting to attempt turning it all around in a short while....(or something like that). Nervous!! And the game isn't until tomorrow.

What the heck - be bold. A rejuvenated Boro, suddenly brimming with confidence that appeared to have leaked away in the first 2 months of the year, and with some players remembering that they really CAN play, will tear into the team they should have beaten in Cardiff all those weeks ago. 2 - 0 to Boro! Bold enough?

**AV writes: We may not have turned the corner but the indicator is on. I've been called a ra-ra at work for telling the doom-mongers that Boro are no longer in a nosedive and that in fact with four points in four games we are now plateauing.

Forever Dormo said:

"You'll win nowt with kids", I seem to remember from Alan Hansen. So it must be right.

I don't think you could stick a team of current academy players out there and expect to gain promotion from the Championship. But some of them would have been better than, or at least no worse than, some of the older players who were out on the pitch during one of the worst runs of form the club has ever seen.

Smallwood has bags of heart and has never let anyone down. Reach may not be the finished article but he makes things happen, he is direct, and he should get better if he plays than if he sits on the bench (or doesn't even get that far). Main HAS done well, so far. (We'll ignore the Steeles's the Hines' etc on this issue).

Young players should be played if they are good enough, whatever their age. A 17 year old Pele, Giggs or Rooney come to mind.

That's not to say our youngsters should necessarily start game after game after game. If they look jaded, you rest them, but you shouldn't assume that coming on as a late substitute one week means that should be followed by a spell on the bench even if he does well, or being left out of the squad for several weeks after the brief appearance. A teenager is likely to be raring to get out there - they don't get tired because they've played two games in seven days!

The key thing is that OUR young players, having come through OUR system, must be better performers having played in 25 games than five, and having played 50 rather than 25. You don't get the experience unless you are out there on the pitch so, if there's a chance that they MIGHT have what it takes, let's get them out there and see!

I realise that might be a difficult argument to win if we'd been in great form and beating teams out of sight in the last two months, but we haven't have we? If your team, with an older mix of players has been regularly losing anyway, what is to be lost by putting SOME of the youngsters into the side? As opposed to what might be gained?

Ideally you have a decent mix - older and more experienced heads in the team to balance out the boundless energy and optimistic confidence of improving younger players.

I suspect that what might have caused some posters to comment on the issue (apart from the frustration of some really horrendous results since the New Year) is that fact that 19 year old McEachran, on loan from Chelsea, was starting every game. As if it was "part of the loan deal". That is despite the fact that, though he started the season well, he had been playing poorly for a number of weeks.

Supporters were probably saying: "So it's OK to play an on-loan 19 year old week in, week out, but it we can't expect our own youngsters to be played consistently because it might in some way "damage" their progress, their potential development!"

The right balance must be there somewhere. It's just that some of the contributors on here would probably draw the line in a slightly different position to Mogga's line. We'd probably give youth a little more of its head.

The answer is that we will never know who is right - unless there is some parallel universe out there with Mogga's Boro team selected as he has done it, playing the same teams and at the same time as the "modified" Boro team that some of us would have chosen, including a touch more youth sometimes. Then we could compare the results.

Anyway, we all want the same thing. Mogga knows more about football than the vast majority of us do. Just like nurses know more about caring for elderly patients in crowded hospitals than the majority of us, food manufacturers know more about nutrition and the best way of sourcing meat products than we do, and bankers know more about finance than most of hang on there.... I might want to re-think that. I have just seen an emperor walking by wearing a flesh coloured suit.

Jonathan williams said:

Hi AV -

Every one who blogs on here loves the boro like me & you. But tonight's gazette made my blood boil. "We want men for promotion" !what a load of cobblers.

Who, like Emnes who has a heart of a sparrow? Haroun who must be cross eyed because he runs round in circles? The juke who can't win a header or shoot on

Reach & Smallwood & others in the academy will give 100% and we need to start blooding them now. Until before Xmas I as well as many others thought Mowbray was the messiah. But seeing one dimensional football with keystone cop defending I'm starting to think Mogga is making it up as he goes along because it's the same mistakes and excuses every week. I'm losing the will to live at the Riverside now.

When are you AV going to admit that mogga is getting it wrong on tactics and team selection. All these square pegs In round holes has cost us a lot of points.
Mogga doing a Wenger.

**AV writes: Is it tactics or is it just that the squad is not quite good enough and consistent enough to sustain a promotion challenge when a few of them are below par? Tactically Mogga isn't doing that much different from when you thought he was the Messiah - but several key players are out (Hoyte & Woodgate) and few more influential ones are playing their way back in from injuries (Williams, Friend, McEachran, McDonald) and are not quite firing on all cylinders yet. And this is s division where a couple of per cent makes all the difference.

On a more general note I am always very wary of criticising football professionals on tactics. I've watched football all my life, written about it for 20 years, used to win the office Fantasy League regularly and have played Championship/Football Manager zealously since 00/01. In terms of laymen I can more than hold my own when it comes to talking shape, style and compressing space but when you hear the likes of Mogga and Proc and Gary Gill talk about a game in detail and you soon realise that you are tactically illiterate.

Nigel reeve said:

AV's comment at 12:20 2nd march in response to Jonathan Williams, of all the posts and thousands of words written on this blog, this paragraph is the most incisive ever written.

Tony said:

"We want men for promotion" in the Gazette translates as Kieron Dyer coming back into the starting line up against Cardiff..
"Never change a losing team", that's my motto...

Ian Gill said:


I agree with AV, how can you critcise anyone called Gill about tactics. :):)

paul bell said:

Well another insipid dispaly against Chelseain the cup,still only 1 win in 2013, yes 1 win!! How in earth does Mowbray keep his job? Can't stand the man. When Strachan left, I would have preferred Ravanelli for the job, an honest hard working top professional who I think would have steered the club to the Premiership at the first attempt. Strange when GS was sacked when the club were 2nd don't you think.

Chris d said:

How come the untouchable "Gibbo" gets applauded , quite rightly when due, but not slated for the Strachan disaster for which he has to take blame? We are now reliant on other teams messing up , when we should be by now in control of our destiny this season. Love Gibson and what hes done for this club, but he has to take blame where its due as well:

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