May 17, 2017
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Are Middlesbrough capable of making an immediate return to the Premier League next season?

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Whilst there is an overriding sense of disappointment around Teeside regarding Middlesbrough’s relegation from the Premier League the club remains in a strong position to challenge for an immediate return to the top flight. With the core nucleus of the squad expected to remain, a new manager expected to arrive in the summer, and a £47,000,000 parachute payment helping to fund new signings, the future is not looking so bleak for The Boro.

Where did it all go wrong?

This season represents a missed opportunity for Middlesbrough who, after seven years of working towards a return to the top flight, were left ruing a cautious approach and lack of goals that ultimately resulted in relegation. There is little doubt that Aitor Karanka did a fantastic job by guiding the Teeside club from the lower echelons of The Championship to promotion to the Premier League and yet he quickly became unstuck over the course of the season.

The Spaniard applied a cautious, defensive-minded and, some might say, negative attitude towards matches that resulted in a team with a solid defensive record but an inability to create goal scoring opportunities. His approach stifled creativity and you sense that supporters would have been much more willing to accept relegation if their side had ‘given it a go’. Karanka was dismissed too late in the season and his replacement, Steve Agnew, simply did not possess the skills, knowledge or experience to halt Middlesbrough’s slide towards the relegation trap door.

Is their squad capable of securing promotion next season?

Yes – although there will need to be some tweaking in terms of playing personnel.

The big positive for Middlesbrough is that the core nucleus of the squad that achieved promotion last year should remain intact. Brad Guzan, Victor Valdes and Ben Gibson will all likely depart during the summer whilst Calum Chambers and Alvaro Negredo will return to their parents clubs when their loan deals expire. However, this should still leave a group of players that possess the necessary experience and quality to navigate their way towards the contest for promotion in the upper reaches of The Championship next season.

A solution to their goal scoring problems could well already exist within the club with Jordan Rhodes set to return after spending the second half of the season on loan at Sheffield Wednesday, whilst Patrick Bamford and Rudy Gestede were given limited opportunities to shine in the Premier League despite their proven qualities in front of goal. A couple of reconciliations and new additions should see Middlesbrough emerge as one of the favourites for promotion.

 Who will be in charge?

Steve Agnew has stepped into the breach left by the departure of Aitor Karanka on a temporary basis and despite chairman Steve Gibson initially indicating his respect and admiration for the 51-year-old it would be a huge surprise if a new manager did not arrive in the summer. Agnew has won just one of his ten games in charge and the club undoubtedly need a new face in the dugout to implement a fresh approach. Nigel Pearson, Garry Monk, David Wagner and Alan Pardew have all been suggested at possible candidates.

Conclusion

This season has been somewhat underwhelming for Middlesbrough and the cautious approach adopted by former manager Aitor Karanka has undoubtedly left supporters thinking that greater success would have been achieved had a more positive attitude been applied. After seven years of building towards a return to the top flight The Teeside club have offered very little towards the interest and entertainment of the Premier League over the last nine months. The Spaniard’s approach stifled creativity and a lack of goals ultimately resulted in relegation, despite a relatively solid defensive record.

Whilst Steve Agnew may have overseen the final few months of the campaign, with little joy, the 51-year-old is unlikely to be handed the managerial post on a permanent basis in the summer. The positive for Middlesbrough is that the arrival of a new manager and the addition of a couple new signings to an already experience nucleus of players should leave them in a strong position to challenge for promotion from The Championship next season. A handful of key personnel may depart during the transfer window but Steve Gibson will make significant funds available to invest in the rebuilding of a squad capable of making an immediate return to the Premier League.

Featured Image: All Rights Reserved John Holland (John Holland)

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Martyn Cooke

Martyn is currently a PTA and Research Assistant in the Department of Exercise Science at the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). In addition to his teaching role he is also undertaking a PhD in Sports History that is exploring the origins and development of football in Staffordshire. Prior to working at MMU, Martyn spent a decade operating in the sport and leisure industry in a variety of roles including as a Sports Development Officers, PE Teacher, Football Coach and Operation Manager.

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