If I were to ask a Boro fan what were the main staples of Aitor Karanka’s time at Middlesbrough Football Club, you would probably say ‘a strong defence and ability to grind out victories.’
Not far behind that, however, would probably be the recruitment that took place, and being able to turn the middling, average squad into one which won over 50% of its games between 2014 and 2016.
Karanka was able to bring in foreign goalscorers – such as Kike, Cristhian Stuani and Jelle Vossen – as well as talent here in the UK – names like Gaston Ramirez and Adama Traore spring to mind.
The former Real Madrid assistant, however, also utilised the loan market well to begin to build the foundations for his team and helping his to put his stamp on the squad – containing one Jonathan Woodgate.
Woodgate saw players such as Nathaniel Chalobah, Ryan Fredericks, Patrick Bamford and Kenneth Omeruo come through the door. All of whom have experience in a top European league – with Bamford looking like he could be in the Premier League again next season.
Boro’s temporary signings post Karanka
Since Middlesbrough were relegated from the Premier League in 2017, there have not been many impactful loan players come to the club in the time.
Garry Monk’s sole transfer window saw Connor Roberts arrive on loan from Swansea, but he didn’t feature much over Cyrus Christie who also arrived in the summer window of 2017.
Tony Pulis tried to bring in players on loan, but only Muhamed Besic’s first six-month spell on Teesside can really be classed as a success, with his second spell falling short of expectations.
Jack Harrison wasn’t ready for Championship football when he arrived at the Riverside Stadium, and things didn’t work out for Jordan Hugill either at his hometown club.
How can Woodgate change this cycle?
Middlesbrough’s new manager has seen all of this take place at his club, be it from the dressing room, from afar whilst with Liverpool for a short stint or as an assistant coach.
Despite nearly finishing in the play-offs last season, the team needed, and still requires, a major face lift after limping over the line with Pulis and not being able to spend big in the summer.
Last year, Woodgate set up a meeting with Manchester City’s sporting director – per the Gazette – and this has resulted in Boro acquiring two quality players on loan. Patrick Roberts and Lukas Nmecha.
We can’t be sure on the timings, but it is suspicious that Adrian Bevington left the club at the end of 2019, and Woodgate was involved in the signing of two Man City loanees.
Did chairman Steve Gibson or CEO Neil Bausor sanction Woodgate’s trip behind Bevington’s back? Or did Woodgate get in his car after Bevington left after being given a bigger say in recruitment? In June we were told Woodgate was ‘just the head coach’ and wouldn’t be heavily involved with recruitment. Has this changed in just six months?
Again, we can’t be sure. But Woodgate said he wanted a younger side and this could be just the way to ensure this.
Pros and Cons of the loan system
Obviously, one downside to loaning your best players is that they won’t be with you when you need them in upcoming seasons, or they can be recalled at anytime – see Swindon Town and Eoin Doyle!
Karanka showed, however, that you can create a balance in your squad with loan players and it means your team will progress faster than purchasing expensive players and paying a price when they don’t hit the ground running.
Middlesbrough’s 2014/15 season is a great example of this. Boro’s big signing, Kike, did well straight away but was overshadowed by Bamford’s rise from deadline day squad signing to Championship Player of the Year.
The loan system allows you to find a Bamford, or a Aaron Mooy for Huddersfield Town – a player that you loan in but end up signing as they aren’t at the standard of the team who loaned him out.
For everyone of those there is a Tammy Abraham or Mason Mount that you can’t get back as they progress too far, but this lottery seems to work more in recent times, not just for Boro, but for the Derbys, Aston Villas and Bristol Citys who look to bring in players to make their sides better for the short term.
If Nmecha or Roberts can push us up the table and towards the playoffs, then I’d consider that a successful bit of business.