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Boro throwback: Mikkel Beck's complicated relationship with Fabrizio Ravenelli
Thursday, 18th Mar 2021 18:45 by David Broome

Middlesbrough may have left it too late to make the play-offs this season, and based on our history of previous promotions, that is down to the defence.

In Neil Warnock’s first season, we have conceded roughly a goal every game, which isn’t too bad – it’s on a par with fellow top six rivals Brentford, Reading and Barnsley, but is way off Championship title-chasers Norwich, Watford and Swansea.

However, Boro have been promoted from the second tier six times in the post-war period, and never has that come when we have shipped more goals than games we have played.

We are also one of the lower scorers in the top half, but this is not necessarily as much of an issue. Last time we were promoted - in 2015-16 - Aitor Karanka’s dogged side scored just 63 goals across the season, a target that is not beyond us this campaign. And in 1991-92 we netted a measly 58 times. The difference was, in both those seasons we had a more solid defence.

In fact, we have rarely been hugely prolific on our way to promotion. The anomaly to this rule in recent years was the 1997-98 campaign, when Bryan Robson guided us back to the Premiership at the first time of asking, following the previous season’s relegation.

We scored 77 times that year, spear-headed by Mikkel Beck, although even he only scored 15 times, showing how the goals were shared across the team. That was our highest goal return since the 1977-78 season, when we also scored 77, on our way to winning the second division.

That was Beck’s most prolific season for the Boro, arguably helped by the fact that we were playing in the second tier, and he was no longer playing in the looming shadow of Fabrizio Ravanelli.

Although il Penna Bianca netted 31 times the previous season, only 16 of those were in the league. That was another campaign where our lack of goals proved our undoing.

Boss Robson would later criticise Ravanelli for not doing enough to encourage and help out his young strike partner. He said: “He started getting selfish on the pitch – he would never encourage Mikkel or do anything to boost his confidence, which was what the lad needed. All he did was knock him, saying he was hopeless and generally putting him down.”

Rav’s account of the pair’s relationship was slightly different. He said: “I was always trying to liven him up a bit, help him understand the way we were trying to play together.

“My gestures were not intended to blame him, he was a bit of a strange lad, very reserved.

“He had some good football skills but he did not have a great personality on the pitch.

“I have absolutely nothing against him, maybe if he had tried to understand me in a different way, for all the things I used to say to him were intended for his own good.”

Beck’s side of the story also acknowledged the “friction” between the two of them, but he was more effusive in his praise for his Italian teammate.

In a 2016 interview with the Gazette, Beck said: “We all know that we had our difficulties on a personal level but as a footballer he (Rav) was incredible. He was very good, he was a winner.

“He didn’t score all his goals by coincidence. He really had a mentality that he wanted to score goals, he was hungry for goals.

“Like in all squads, there was some friction but that’s what you have to expect when you bring in so many players.

“You want them to gel straight away but it doesn’t always work like that. But the team spirit was good.”

Our top goal-scorers this season are Britt Assombalonga and Duncan Watmore with five and six goals each respectively, and neither of them have started our last two games, the impressive wins over Stoke and Preston.

Goals aren’t everything, but if you’re not scoring at one end, you need to be keeping them out at the other, and it doesn’t look as though we are quite there yet this season.

My book, The Little Fella: How Middlesbrough fell in love with Juninho, is available to buy now, online from Waterstones and Amazon using these links. Or you can order a copy directly from me – email me HERE.

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