It’s all a bit real now. Garry Monk is the manager of Middlesbrough Football Club. The man who’ll be the catalyst for massive piss ups or massive crys on the kitchen floor every Saturday night (and a few Tuesdays) from August 5th has already began to stamp his authority on a new look version of the Handsome Reds.
The former Swansea and Leeds boss has brought in his own backroom staff and started to swing the axe at a squad that dropped out of the Premier League with less fight than your Dad had in his latest attempt to get back with your Mam. Getting a bit pathetic now, really isn’t it? Especially now she’s seeing that nice Graham bloke from work.
Anyway. Garry Monk. He’s brought in his tried and tested backroom staff from his stints at both Swansea and Leeds. Out the door are the olive skinned and dark haired beauties of the Karanka years to be replaced by James Beattie, David Adams, Sean Rush, Ryan Needs and Darryll Flahavan. None of them are as strikingly beautiful as Carlos Cachada but Beattie’s a bit of alright. You could probably pull someone like him in the boozer after the match. The mams in the family zone will love him.
As well as a new backroom setup, Monk also brings with him experience of both the Premier League and the Championship coupled with knowledge gained from playing under managers like Brendan Rodgers and Michael Laudrup. Gaz has been described as innovative, flexible and tactically astute.
At Swansea, he added an edge and grit to a previously lightweight Barcelona-lite side, saving them from relegation and then guiding them to an 8th place finish the following season (Swansea’s highest ever Premier League finish).
Down the way at Bellend Road, Monk took over a poor workmanlike Leeds side and managed to take them from lower midtable certainties to play-off contenders, with minimal investment from Cellino. Despite an end of the season capitulation that saw Leeds drop out of the play-off places and ultimately finish the season in 7th place, the fact that Monk managed to last an entire year in the Leeds hotseat with the sociopathic Cellino in charge speaks volumes of the work he accomplished at the Yorkshire mutants.
Sounds decent, doesn’t he? However, for all of the positive points you can make in Monk’s favour, he now enters arguably his most difficult job to date. Steve Gibson has outlined a desire to “smash the league” this year and with the club easily being the best equipped in the league in terms of finances, the margins for error are almost non-existent.
With a reported initial £30m war chest at his disposal, Garry has issues all over the park to address before the Reds travel to Wolves for the first game of the season. A big job indeed.
With Victor Valdes knocking off Handsome Reds points by having his contract terminated by “mutual consent” and Brad Guzan’s reptile head and trampoline hands fleeing to Atlanta for sanctuary against a Boro lynchmob baying for Yankee blood, the Boro number one shirt is up for grabs. Dimi has recently signed a contract extension to keep him on Teesside knocking back cocktails in Macy Brown’s for another year and the original RF mascot Connor Ripley has returned from a loan spell at Oldham determined to force his way into nets on a regular basis.
While Dimi endured an almost pointless year that saw him make one solitary appearance as he fell to third choice at Boro behind Valdes and Guzan, Ripley enjoyed a breakout year in League 1.
An ever-present for relegation threatened Oldham, he kept a league best 18 clean sheets, only conceding 44 goals all term. In comparison, league winners Sheffield United conceded 54 and play-off winners Milwall let in 57. As teams around Oldham let in almost double that tally, Rippers was putting in stunning performances every week that saw him named in the League One team of the season.
Even with the young keeper coming back to the club full of piss and vinegar after a top season and Dimi providing invaluable experience, there are still question marks over the pair of them.
A year is a long time in football and there’s no guarantee that Dimi would be able to replicate the performances that he became loved for during the play-off final and promotion campaigns and even his biggest supporters would conceded the fact that he’s always been a tiny bit suspect. There’s the odd wobble in him. Nothing drastic but it became more apparent towards the end of the promotion run that the ravages of time were gripping his big hairy Greek balls.
As for Ripley, a season firefighting for Oldham in League 1 is an incomparable prospect to safeguarding the goal of a side looking to win promotion from the Championship. Monk must decided whether to stick or twist with his goalies, placing a whole load of hope on Ripley being able to make the jump up or Konstantopolous rediscovering his best form.
Sam Johnstone and Kieron Westwood have both been mentioned in the press as of late as possible targets. Nicking Westwood off Sheff Wed would be mint crack, but it’d be equally as mint to see young Connor finally break into the first team. The boy loves pyro. We could just stick Flappy Hands in goal if it all goes tits up, anyway.
If you told me this time last year that I’d be seriously questioning the state of our defence, I’d have probably done an actual wee from laughing. All down my trousers. Aitor’s Boro side was built on the foundations of a watertight defence that just never, ever let a goal in. You had more chance of getting past the bouncers at Empire with a fake ID than past the quartet of Gorgeous George, Gibson, Ayala and the Guinean Cafu.
Yet, here we are. The futures of our “strongest back four”; Friend, Gibson, Ayala and Fabio are all up in the air with doubts surrounding the rest of the defensive department to boot.
Gibson, coming off the back of another England call up, is nailed on to court Premier League interest. The word out of Rockliffe is that Monk wants to keep hold of Big Ben at all costs and with the club not being in the position where a firesale is needed, he could well end up leading out the team at Molinuex in August.
However, to put any guarantee on that would be naive. It’s still only July and one transfer could set off a carousel of moves that sees Gibbo getting offers left, right and centre with daft money being thrown at the fella.
If money comes in for Gibson, some of it has to be reinvested to replace the bedrock of the Boro defence, with Tom Lees of Sheff Wed and Monk favourite Kyle Bartley being mentioned in the press. Could just get the sweet baby Czech prince Tomas Kalas back. *bites lip, closes eyes, nods approvingly*. Keeping hold of the local boy done good would be a massive statement of intent from the club, mind.
To Gibson’s right, Daniel… AYALA poses a gangly giraffe shaped headache for Monk. Ayala only managed 9 starts in the league, taking a backseat to the well groomed Calum Chambers, as the Spaniard suffered several injuries setbacks. There were also claims that Ayala refused to play at points last year despite being given the all clear from Boro’s medical staff to get back on the pitch. In the Championship, the rangy centre half is in a class of his own, so getting him back on track has to be a priority for Garry Monk.
Backing up Gibbo and Ayala, Big Nose Bernie Espinosa will be hoping for a better run in the first team than he managed after coming back from a long injury lay off, joining the club from Sporting Gijon in the midst of a comeback from a serious knee injury.
It looked for the most part that his knee had actually fallen off, the Colombian possessing the turning circle and pace of a static caravan. The more physical approach and the smaller amount of fast, tricky players in the Championship may suit Bernie down to the ground.
Dael Fry, the heir to Ben Gibson’s throne, will also be looking to force his way into Monk’s plans after winning the Under-20 World Cup with England. It could be a big breakout year for the lad from Berwick Hills, Boro.
With Tony Barragan set to take his foul throws back to Spain and James Husband doing nothing of note in a Boro shirt except have quite nice hair, the fullback options make for pretty slim pickings. Watford and West Brom are both rumoured to be after George Friend, with a fee of £8m being kicked around. The glee that some fans seem to have taken in the possibility of Friend leaving is properly fucking weird.
While eight million quid seems like a good deal for an ageing defender that struggled with the jump up to Premier League level, Friend has long been the standout left back in the Championship. Gorgeous also offers stability and experience in a summer that will certainly see a major overhaul in playing staff, as well as being the best boy of all time. Sell George Friend? Fight me. 1 v 1. No tools.
The Boys End hero’s afro haired understudy, Fabio Da Silva, gives Monk a bit of flexibility in defence with the Brazilian able to cover both flanks. However, the chewy little fucker could do with nailing down a permanent position, to allow other players to be brought into the club to replenish the fullback department.
If Monk sees the former United man as a left back, you’d hope for the possibility of two right backs being brought in, with Reading’s Chris Gunter being reported over the weekend as a target. Gunter would be ace, we should of got him last season after he featured for that class blagger Wales team at the Euros.
If Fabio is viewed more as a right back, we’d still need another in to challenge him as well as a top left back in to challenge Friend for a spot, someone good enough to ultimately replace George *cries uncontrollably at desk*.
In the middle of the park, Monk currently has 5 options to fill 2 or 3 spots, depending on how he lines the side up. Adam Clayton, Five Yard Forshaw, Grant Leadbitter, Big Fucking Marten De Roon and Adlene Guedioura represent arguably the strongest ensemble of midfielders in the league.
Clayton and Leadbitter were a fearsome pairing for two seasons running, with Clayts breaking up every single attack while Leadsy played 40 yard diagnals out to Albert Adomah, with Forshaw and Guedioura being proven alternatives at this level.
There’s a severe lack of creativity in the engine room of the Red Army though, with De Roon ending up as the best attacking outlet from midfield last year even though he was brought in with a reputation of being the Dutch version of Kante. De Roon split the Boro faithful with his performances last year. You either love the bloke and his never say die attitude, or you don’t understand the transfer market anymore and still think £12m gets you a world beater.
In the hussle and bussle of the Championship, De Roon could dominate the division with his top drawer running around although he seems set to leave, with Man United and Lazio both being linked with the Dutchman.
Whatever happens with BFMDR, Monk needs to bring in at least one midfielder that can do a bit of forward passing and shooting, to go alongside his blood and guts tacklers. After seemingly taking to the Premier League like a duck to water, Adam Forshaw got himself stuck in a vicious cycle of turning round and passing the ball backwards, and Adlene Guedioura barely managed a shot in anger after his bizarre arrival from Watford.
Both offer Championship know-how though, so shouldn’t be discounted, especially Guedioura who was fantastic for both Forest and Watford in this league. I still get cold sweats when I’m reminded of watching him and Troy Deeney embarrassing Dwight Chicken Tiendalli and ‘Nando Amorebieta at Vicarage Road during the play-off final campaign. Whether that’s something for him to be proud of is another matter, to be honest.
To address the lack of cutting edge, Monk seems to have targeted former Leeds man Jonny Howson, who could be available for £5m as Delia Smith looks to balance the books at Norwich. Mary Berry has absolutely cornered the old bird doing cooking on telly market, it seems. Howson would be a class addition, someone you’d have had at any stage of our previous Championship run, with the prospect of him pairing up alongside Clayton and De Roon causing a couple of trouser problems.
The dream is a ram-raid on Fulham for Stefan Johansen though, the Norwegian being involved in 19 goals last term from midfield (11 goals, 8 assists) as the Londoner’s gained plaudits for their free flowing attacking football. He might cost a bit like, with most of Monk’s millions being earmarked for a touch further up the pitch.
Boro’s “attacking three” options to play behind the striker don’t just need a quick touch up, there needs to be a full on Homes Under The Hammer style revamp from the ground up. Get Dion Dublin on the phone. I’d rather have him than Carlos De Pena.
Boro’s big problem for at least the past two seasons (arguably three but don’t you dare criticise the original Handsome Reds, they were the best lads) has been the inability to score actual football goals. To be more precise, we can’t create the chances for people to put the ball into the net. We’ve actually had and do have lads that can stick the ball in the net. The blame has to lie at the feet of the impotent attacking midfielders. We can perform on the odd time we can actually get the fucker up.
With Rob Beckett lookalike Viktor Fischer being punted off to Mainz, where he’ll no doubt have a red hot 12 months of banging goals in before ending up wasting away on Borussia Dortmund’s bench, Boro have found themselves having the trio of Adama Traore, Cristhian Stuani and Harry Chapman to pick from as the squad ready themselves for a preseason warm up jaunt to Portugal.
If you’re not a Boro fan, you’ll never know the frustration of watching Adama Traore attempting to play football. How any functioning human being is able to be a majestic slaloming gazelle and a dribbly toddler sitting in his own shit at the exact same time is beyond me. The lad is fucking rapid. Like, Olympics level. He’s also incapable of passing a football in a straight line or forcing a keeper to anything other than laugh when hitting a shot.
People tend to forget that he’s also 21 years old and until last season had barely played first team football. I’m 22 and still eat Billy Bear ham straight out the packet for dinner sometimes.
Traore, with his speed and tricks that lend themselves so well to YouTube highlight videos, has apparently raised interest from Chelsea and West Ham causing Steve Gibson to slap a £20m pricetag on the Spaniard.
While getting shot of Traore at his stage of development for a sizeable fee that could be used to bring in proven, ready made widemen seems the logical step, keeping him might be the sensible, grown up thing to do. Adult decisions. A season of pegging fat Dad fullbacks all over the Championship, with the right coaching on his end product, would give Traore the opportunity for his brain to catch up with his feet.
It wasn’t fair on the boy to throw him in the deep end and make him our main attacking outlet in a do or die season, when he’d only managed 11 games before in England. Look at Harry Winks or Tom Davies, young players need to be eased into sides. Bring someone in to compliment Traore for now, someone who can do the business week in week out, while Traore learns under them and gets 20-30 minutes off the bench to rip apart knackered defenders.
Even if Traore stays and can develop, Garry Monk still needs to look at bringing in 3 or 4 players for the attacking midfield three. While it be cracking to see local lad Harry Chapman break into the first team squad and I’ll always hold a special place in my heart for Stuani after his goals against Brighton and the Mackems, it’d take a brave/foolish man to pin their hopes on those two as creators-in-chief.
With Monk already making it clear that neither of the terrace villains Stewart Downing or Gaston Ramirez are in his plans, there’s nobody left to fill the fabled number ten shirt, with both wing positions being a bit bare too. Monk prefers pacey, direct “proper” wingers instead of the inside forward types we’ve become accustomed to under Karanka which would go a long way to addressing the lack of impetus and excitement in the Boro attack.
If we can get a bit of quality creativity injected into the side, we’ll score goals in this league. The radiant, babyfaced golden boy Patrick Bamford is back on Teesside and showed at the back end of last season he’s still the same man that led us to Wembley with an unexpected turn of pace and knack for scoring goals. The years since might not have been kind to Paddy with 18 months spent kicking his heels at Palace, Norwich City and Burnley but a genuine preseason and a bit of love should have him back to his best, dreamy smile and all.
The man who’ll be directly challenging Bamford for the chance to spearhead Boro’s charge for promotion might not be looked at so favourably by the Boro faithful. Rudy Gestede arrived in January, as part of a transfer window that spelled the beginning of the end for The Reds time in the Premier League, did an overhead kick against Oxford and won loads of headers.
Viewed by many as a donkey and repeatedly mentioned as a “must-sell” in the online post mortems that followed relegation, Gestede could end up being Garry Monk’s not so secret weapon this term.
As we’re all aware after spending seven years in the Championship prior to promotion, most teams come to the Riverside to stick ten men behind the ball and hope for the best. It worked as well. The amount of times that nailed on victories ended up as soul sapping 0-0 draws or even shady losses was ridiculous, as the Boro passed it around a lot without managing to break down defensive walls. We’ve got a battering ram now. If in doubt, Rudy out.
The former Blackburn man netted 32 times in 60 games at Ewood Park and can boss any cunt in the air. He could be an invaluable asset in the war of attrition that is the Championship. Everyone will love him when he sticks John Terry on his arse in front of the South Stand.
Even with arguably two of the best strikers to pick from in the league, we could do with another, particularly if Bamford is utilised on the right from time to time. Forest have supposedly stuck a £15m price tag on Britt Assombalonga and we’d be mental not to take them up on it.
He seems to have shaken off the injury doubts surrounding him after making 30 appearances for the scabs while bagging 14 goals to keep them up and would offer another dimension to Monk’s attack. We’d have a Swiss Army knife of a strike force with Assombalonga on board. He looks like he could drop a fire mixtape in between scoring goals and all.
With all the talk of big money transfers and groundbreaking tactics swirling round it’s easy to forget Garry Monk’s primary objective. Revitalising the fanbase. Post January, matches became a real chore for Boro fans. There was no buzz round the place in a season that should’ve been like Christmas Day every weekend, home or away. There was no belief in the side and the bond between players and fans started to crumble. Aitor Karanka had overseen a period in time where there was a real culture and identifiable connection within the club from all parties; players, staff and fans. That seemed to go by the wayside towards the end of last season.
Garry Monk needs to pick up the pieces and restore the faith in the club and the town. He’s done it at Leeds, in a pressure cooker environment and all the snake emojis in the world can’t hide the fact that he was seen as a saviour at Elland Road. Yet, there’s no doubt that he’s in for the biggest test of his life with the Boro.
We’re the best resourced club in the league and we’re head and shoulders above the other relegated clubs as things stand. We’re the favourites. The target is on our back and Garry Monk must not be caught by the chasing pack. He must succeed.
Photo Credits: The Gazette, Oldham Chronicle, Daily Mirror