Aside from a few entertaining years under the management of Aitor Karanka, the last decade hasn’t exactly been a vintage period in the history of Middlesbrough Football Club.
The Teessiders had long punched above their weight in attracting stellar names to the Riverside Stadium and reaching the dizzy heights of a UEFA Cup final, but a number of poor decisions made by the club’s hierarchy have ultimately cost them their tag of ‘overachievers’.
Chairman Steve Gibson has never been afraid to make ambitious managerial appointments, though the respective arrivals of Gordon Strachan, Garry Monk and Jonathan Woodgate have ultimately forced the Boro owner to do some firefighting.
Tony Mowbray, Tony Pulis and most recently Neil Warnock have all been parachuted into the club on rescue missions, with one simple objective: We’ll worry about promotion later, just sort out the mess that we’ve been left in.
The latter of those three bosses has confirmed he’s set to meet with Gibson to discuss his future at the club, with his current deal expiring at the end of the season.
Should both parties decide it’s best to part ways this summer, you’d be hard pushed to argue that Warnock won’t have left the club in a better position than it was in when he arrived in June last year.
However, Boro’s patchy form over the course of this season – in what is a frankly sub-par crop of Championship teams – has outlined a number of fatal flaws in their squad, and it’s clear that they aren’t yet in a position to part with the veteran tactician.
Boro’s misfiring frontline has been their Achilles heel for a number of seasons, and the likely departure of club-record signing Britt Assombalonga this summer (regardless of how bad he can be at times) means they’ll be relying heavily on a number of strikers who can’t seem to stay fit.
Attacking reinforcements are a must, and with the club naturally needing to tie the purse strings even tighter than they already were prior to the coronavirus outbreak, recruiting top-level forwards is going to require some imagination.
Warnock has already proven himself to be able to work on a tight budget, utilising the loan market to secure the services of Yannick Bolasie and Neeskens Kebano, while his powers of persuasion clearly aren’t on the wane given the coup of securing the long-term future of Duncan Watmore in January, despite the mooted interest of a number of Premier League and fellow Championship sides.
Were the Middlesbrough squad’s pitfalls confined to the forward department, you’d be forgiven for thinking ‘well just throw some money at a decent centre-forward and get on with it’ – but they’re not.
Loanee goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli has looked far from convincing during his spell on Teesside, meaning it’s likely that Boro will need to go in search of a new number one this summer, while the team’s lack of depth in general is decidedly worrying given the club’s lofty ambitions.
In truth, there are a number of positions Middlesbrough need to look at addressing, but it’s far from total doom and gloom at the Riverside.
The emergence of the likes of Anfernee Dijksteel and Marc Bola over the past eight months has been astonishing given their performances prior to Warnock’s arrival, and while both have suffered dips in form at times this season, they’ve evidently thrived under the 72-year-old’s stewardship.
Academy graduates Marcus Tavernier and Dael Fry have also flourished during Warnock’s tenure, and with Premier League vultures beginning to circle the Riverside, the man-management skills of Warnock may be the only hope Boro fans have of clinging onto their prized assets.
It would be remiss to suggest the word ‘promotion’ wasn’t once uttered in the Middlesbrough board room upon Warnock’s appointment – after all, Kevin Blackwell wasn’t dragged away from grouting his kitchen tiles just to settle for mid-table finishes – though the main aim of Warnock’s tenure has undoubtedly been stability.
Should he move on from his time at the club this summer, he could look back on his stint in the north east with pride. However, he’s not finished yet, and Boro aren’t finished with him.
If Gibson can match Warnock’s ambitions when the pair meet, you can guarantee he’d love nothing more than to guide Boro back to the Premier League and give one last middle finger to the Championship.