Monk rebuilding after Boro’s 'wasted year' – Interview
Thursday, 14th Sep 2017 19:01 by Clive Whittingham
Middlesbrough’s attempt to stay in the Premier League with 38 0-0 draws reached a predictable conclusion. Boro regulars James Boothby and Joel Young tell us how the recovery is going.
After waiting so long to get back to the Premier League, last season seemed like a bit of a damp squib. Why was that? How would you asses it?
JB: Last season was a massive disappointment all round. We went into the season full of optimism and started the season pretty decently. We just drew far too many games, especially at home. It felt like we setup to not lose, and often played three holding midfielders meaning our forward play was quite pedestrian and predictable. The writing was on the wall for Aitor Karanka for a while before he left, but then we did not really replace him and played with the same mentality.
JY: I view last season as a total waste of time. We were far too meek, and it exposed all of Karanka's shortcomings - stuff that he was accused of all of his time at the club came roaring through. It was defend defend defend, and we had no plan B when we went one down. We were far too one dimensional and we got found out pretty quickly. I said in January that we bought for the Championship the following year. If we stayed up, we stayed up; if we didn't, we didn't, but we had some proven Championship players. When Karanka left the club, we just replaced from within with Steve Agnew, and it was worse - he tried to take the shackles off, but all it resulted in was heavier defeats. I've gone through five Boro relegations, and it's by far the one that hurt the least.
Will Aitor Karanka be remembered fondly? Got the promotion but his football seemed very negative from afar and you didn't give last season much of a go...
JB: As much as last season was disappointing I think he will be remembered fondly. After seven long years in the Championship he delivered us promotion, and whilst it may not have always been pretty it was effective. He certainly got our defence organised superbly, which has carried on into this season.
JY: Karanka came in to an absolute mess of a club, and he steadied us, then play-off final one year and promoted the next. The thing that sours his legacy with us the stubbornness at the end of his reign. He'd got himself into his bunker, and was turning on the fans, had his 'I know best' attitude and refusal to change the way the team played. I'm sure it's because of the stress he was under, but it didn't end as it should have. I'm sure as time goes on, he will be remembered a lot more fondly.
Pleased with the Garry Monk appointment? What have you made of him so far?
JB: I think most fans are cautiously optimistic with the appointment. He did a good job at Leeds, and their fans were desperate to keep him when he made the switch. We have started decently, but with so many changes over the summer it will take a while for everything to gel. We are getting better every game though, and now we are slightly more forward thinking.
JY: I wasn't thrilled with the appointment, to be honest, but he's slowly winning me (and I think some others) over. It does feel like a total new broom at the club, a change in attitude, a change in recruitment, and a change in style of play. It says a lot that he left Leeds to come to us. I see a lot of arguing online about "who's the bigger club?" and I genuinely think Leeds are a bigger club than Boro, but that Monk left them for us tells me that he thinks we have a better chance of promotion and a better chance of surviving in the Premier League.
Who came and went over the summer? How did you rate the business done?
JB: Was a busy summer! The signing that made the headlines was obviously Assombalonga for £15m. Martin Braithwaite came in for £9m although has been injured so far and with Fletcher coming in as well it's clear to see the club have focused on pace and power going forward. Perhaps a signing that went under the radar was Darren Randolph from West Ham who has been superb in goal. Lewis Baker and Johnny Howson have come in to strengthen the midfield and Cyrus Christie has come in and made the right back slot his own.
More importantly though I think is the players we have kept. Monk was insisted that the only players who would leave are ones we happy to see leave, and we have kept our key players. Keeping Ben Gibson has been huge, and Adama Traore (whilst infuriating and brilliant in equal measure) looked like he might leave. Overall, a very positive summer and I would argue a stronger more balanced squad than last season.
JY: Of every player we got in over the summer before we went into the Premier League, only Fabio remains - and we brought eleven players in. Monk has come in, cleared a lot of the deadwood, let players leave who were unhappy, and brought in where he thought we needed improving - namely the attack. Assombalonga is an anagram of 'a boss goal man' (!) and I think he looks the real deal - I don't think we've had a striker like him since the days of Viduka and Yakubu and your mate Jimmy Floyd. Darren Randolph has looked like a proper keeper, been pleasantly surprised with Cyrus Christie. The only big signing that hasn't done the business yet is Jonny Howson, but it's early doors, so we'll see what happens. Two great bits of transfer dealing so far seems to be keeping hold of Ben Gibson and Adama Traore. Gibson has been his usual solid at the back, but Traore has decided to add a bit of end product and in all honesty, he can be the best player in this division if he keeps it up (red card on Tuesday not withstanding).
Does that amount of money spent add pressure? Some of the signings (Fletcher) seemed dear at half the price...
JB: We have spent a good amount, but also sold a lot as well. Rhodes left for £10m, De Roon for £12m plus a number of other sales. I think our net spend is around £6m so on that basis we have not done too badly. The big incomings do bring their own pressure though, and historically teams who come down find it hard to bounce straight back. The aim is definitely to achieve that, and I would imagine money is there in January if we need one or two extra pieces of the jigsaw.
JY: I don't think it does add pressure - there's pressure within the club to get promoted anyway. I think we have to spend it this year, because we don't want to be down in the Championship for another seven years, and FFP rules would prevent us from spending that much in the future.
Assess your start to the season…
JB: A work in progress. We have performed well in patches but not really clicked yet. We were dominant at Bolton, and although we lost at Forest we created as many chances in that game as in a month last season. Things seem to be heading in the right direction, although it's important we stay in touch with the early pacesetters.
JY: Start of the season has been mixed, a B- I guess. A defeat at Forest when we were banging down the door, Wolves we got beat on the opening day, and a moribund 0-0 at home to Preston, but I put that down to teething troubles. Sheffield United was a lucky escape of a win, but done our job against the lower end teams. So a mixed bag.
Best players and weak links...
JB: Assombalonga looks a real handful, and should score a lot of goals this season. If Traore is in the right mood he is the best player in the league. If not, then he can be a weak link. Clayton in the midfield is vital to the way we play, keeps things ticking along nicely. Ben Gibson at the back is forming formidable partnership with young Dael Fry. Being biased, there are not too many weak links. Left back is a spot no one has really made their own yet, with Fabio getting the nod the last couple of games.
JY: I've said Traore can be the best, if his end product is consistent. Randolph and Gibson are strong at the back and Assombalonga is proven to get goals at this level. Again, jury is out on Howson, but we'll need strength in depth and he will play his part in the season.
You should win the league this year right?
JB: If you believe the pundits then yes. Steve Gibson said at the end of last season he wanted us to 'smash the league'. He has certainly put his money where his mouth is and I would be surprised if we were not at the very least in top 6 come May.
JY: We'll do something utterly Boro like being six points clear with six to play and then hang on to an automatic promotion spot by the skin of our teeth.
The Twitter @JoelBabyHerc @jamesyboz
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