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Will Middlesbrough’s transfer failings lead to a missed promotion opportunity?

A Middlesbrough side tipped for promotion at the beginning of the campaign has fallen victim to a managerial reshuffle and a transient transfer policy, writes Paul Ahdal.



Photo: Reuters

When I occasionally stray into some form of mild criticism of how Middlesbrough is run, I’m subjected to dismissive responses along the lines of “who are you to tell Steve Gibson how to run a business?”

The problem with this response is that a) Steve Gibson’s success was with Bulkhaul and b) that success hasn’t always been transferred to his running of the Boro.

I was left reflecting on these points as a third transfer window slammed shut on Wednesday evening.

Boro are onto their third different manager in successive windows and once again the deck has been shuffled to suit the new man in charge.

Given the transfer turnover and subsequent turmoil is it any wonder we’re yet to see a settled Boro side since the early part of 2016/17 season?

In that time, players have come and gone to suit the radically different tactical thoughts of each new man at the helm.

Performances and results have suffered and a team tipped for promotion would now be delighted to simply make the play-offs.

Players who were mainstays of the Garry Monk regime have been moved on and, for a team that has struggled to score, the decisions taken since, by Tony Pulis, are somewhat baffling.

Cyrus Christie had shown himself to be a good attacking full back at this level and was excellent in the early part of the season before his form dipped to match the team’s league position.

Meanwhile, Martin Braithwaite, heir apparent to the troublesome creative midfielder position, has been shipped out on loan to French first division outfit Bordeaux.

Both players were only signed in the summer, the Danish international for £9 million, and have since moved on from Teesside after less than a six month stay.

Braithwaite may have been inconsistent, but he was perhaps the only player of his kind in the Boro squad – one with the skill to unlock a tight defence.

Bearing in mind it was his first season in English football and he suffered with injuries early on, his contribution of six  goals and two assists showed signs of promise.

In the same vein, Christie still sits joint top of the Boro assist charts, with four.

For Pulis to seemingly make his mind up and discard both so early into his reign is wasteful and speaks volumes of the brand of football that he has in mind for the club.

On the subject of waste, who within the Boro hierarchy approved the transfers of Ashley Fletcher and Adlene Guedioura during Monk’s tenure?

Fletcher had never been a first team regular at higher than League One level. He was signed for big money by Championship standards, has never been given a run in the team and has now suffered the ultimate indignity, being loaned to Sunderland!

Did Boro really spend £6.5 million on a player who might fulfill his limited potential, or did they simply sign a player who was available in the hope that he would fit in somewhere in the first XI?

The club also forked out £3.5 million on a player who never came good, in Guedioura.

The Algerian midfielder made a handful of starts, was snubbed by every manager he played under and eventually had his contract cancelled. Not good business.

The issue here seems to be that players are signed based on the whim of whichever manager is in charge. It is important to back the manager but not at the cost of the club.

Boro need a management structure responsible for identifying and signing players with a long-term vision in mind, not simply at the behest of the newly arrived head coach, thus curtailing the current transfer turnover.

That way, supporters might start seeing the team play with some consistency and the prospect of promotion back to the Premier League may become a more realistic one.

Who am I to tell Steve Gibson about business?

I may lack certain business credentials, but one thing I do know is that the Boro owner wouldn’t tolerate a newly appointed director sacking key staff at Bulkhaul and replacing them with his own picks.

Why tolerate it at his football club?

Aston Villa

Aston Villa’s James Chester comes back to haunt former manager Tony Pulis

The Welsh defender came back to bit his old boss in the play-off semi clash.

Max Cohen



James Chester
Photo: Getty Images

Tony Pulis’ Middlesbrough side were expertly stifled by Aston Villa in their play-off semifinal, as the Villans held Boro to 180 minutes of scoreless football.

Villa centre-half James Chester was a constant rock at the back, revealing to Pulis that his former boss was wrong to sell him when the two were together at West Bromwich Albion.

Chester signed for the Baggies from Hull City in the summer of 2015, after five impressive seasons for the Tigers. The fee was reported to be in the region of £8 million and many expected the Welsh international to excel in the back four under Pulis.

Yet, frustratingly for the centre-back, Chester made only 13 league appearances for the Baggies in the 2015/16 campaign. The Welshman started just nine Premier League matches all season, as Pulis clearly did not consider him as first-choice at the Hawthorns.

After just one year at West Brom, Chester was sold to Championship side Aston Villa in 2016.

(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

In the following two seasons at Villa Park, the centre-back has enjoyed tremendous success, making over 75 appearances and establishing himself as an indispensable presence at the back.

This season, Chester has struck up a formidable partnership with former Chelsea captain John Terry.

The airtight defensive combination was on full display during the two matches against Middlesbrough, as Chester and Terry stifled the high-octane Boro attack.

Featuring the likes of Britt Assambalonga, Adama Traore, Stewart Downing, Patrick Bamford, and Rudy Gestede, the Teesiders’ star-studded frontline was held scoreless due to Villa’s superb defense- led by James Chester.

As Tony Pulis watched his side run out of ideas and fall to a 1-0 aggregate defeat, he will surely be ruing his 2016 mistake.

Allowing James Chester to be sold to Aston Villa truly came back to haunt the Boro boss, as the Welsh international delivered Pulis a dramatic reminder of his abilities and cost the Teesiders a spot at Wembley.

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Nottingham Forest should seek George Friend reunion with Aitor Karanka

The experienced defender would solve a problem position at Forest.

Max Cohen



George Friend
Photo: Getty Images

Tuesday night brought disappointment for George Friend and Middlesbrough, as the Teesiders crashed out of the play-offs after a tepid 0-0 draw with Aston Villa.

Condemned to another season in the Championship, Friend should move to Nottingham Forest and reunite with former boss Aitor Karanka in order to fire Forest to promotion.

The signing of the 30-year-old Englishman would offer Karanka a top-quality full-back who has Premier League and Championship experience.

Friend played under Karanka from 2013-2017, enjoying numerous fruitful seasons as Boro thrived under the Spaniard’s direction.

The full-back played an integral role in Boro’s dominant 2015/16 promotion campaign, featuring 40 times as the club finished second in the league.

(Photo by Lindsey Parnaby/Getty Images)

The acquisition of the experienced defender would be welcomed at the City Ground due to Forest’s lack of depth in the left back position.

According to a column written by former Nottingham Forest player Kenny Burns, the left back position has been a worry for the club all season long.

Ben Osborn has deputised well, but is not a defender by trade, and Juan Rafael Fuentes’ performances were mediocre before he suffered a serious injury in late April against Barnsley.

It is clear that Nottingham Forest need a consistent, experienced left-back, and George Friend would be the perfect summer signing.

The influence of Karanka could prove crucial in prying the defender away from the Riverside Stadium, as the two have a close relationship thanks to their time at Boro together.

If Forest can secure the services of the Middlesbrough defender, then a promotion push might not be out of the question next season.

ddWith an experienced and impressive player like George Friend, Karanka’s side would be set to challenge for the top-six.

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Tottenham should swoop for Middlesbrough’s electrifying winger Adama Traore

The Spaniard is finally turning raw talent into end product.

Max Cohen



Photo: Getty Images

Tottenham Hotspur have been persistently linked with a move for Fulham youngster Ryan Sessegnon, with recent reports in French outlet Paris United claiming that the north Londoners have already agreed a transfer.

But Spurs should resist a move for the 17-year-old and instead turn their focus to Middlesbrough star Adama Traore, the winger who tops WhoScored’s ratings for the best Championship player.

Traore is perhaps the most exciting raw talent in the entire division, possessing scintillating pace and remarkable explosiveness.

Crucially for the ex-Barcelona man, he has finally turned his natural talent into end product this campaign.

The 22-year-old has scored five goals and assisted ten for Boro, en route to amassing a remarkable 7.79 average WhoScored rating – the best in the league, by some distance.

His talents were on the show during Middlesbrough’s play-off semi-final against Aston Villa on Saturday, with the Spanish under-21 international representing Boro’s most dangerous offensive outlet.

(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Traore was a constant thorn in the Villa backline, using his magnificent acceleration and lightning quick turn of pace to elude defenders and get to dangerous crossing positions at ease.

The winger’s low centre of gravity and devastating feints give opposition players nightmares, a skill that would be welcomed at White Hart Lane.

After signing for Villa in 2015, the attacker struggled in an injury-hit debut season in England. A transfer to Middlesbrough followed, where the Spaniard suffered his second relegation in a row.

Now Traore has truly matured to English football and would be a superbly exciting signing for Mauricio Pochettino.

While Spurs have been linked with wingers such as Wilfried Zaha and Sessegnon to brighten up the club’s attack, Traore represents the ideal signing for White Hart Lane.

Finally able to consistently produce goals and assists in England, combined with his trademark swagger and skill, Adama Traore would be a fantastic addition to Tottenham this summer.

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