It’s finally over.
On Tuesday night, the transfer window closed until January, saving us all from the clutches of silly season and the vicious cycle of rumours and YouTube compilations. We can just focus on the actual football now, which is nice.
Well, we’ve got to talk about what we came away from the window with first then we can leave words like “sources” and “purchase options” alone for a few months. Promise.
Before the window officially opened Neil Warnock said that he was looking to add “7 or 8” to the exciting core of the Boro squad with the gaffer aiming for a final promotion to the Premier League to cap off his career.
Warnock and Boro ended up adding 12 players, a figure that might increase if they can find a few cheap and cheerful deals in the car boot of free agency.
The goalkeeping department got a full revamp as Marcus Bettinelli and Jordan Archer left, with Zach Hemming and Sol Brynn being allowed to head to Scotland on loan for much needed game time (at Kilmarnock and Queen of the South respectively), while Dejan Stojanović gathers dust in a cupboard somewhere in Rockliffe Hall.
Joe Lumley arrived on a free transfer from QPR to take over as Number 1 ‘keeper and has quickly endeared himself to Boro fans, although that has been for his attitude and PASSION MATE rather than his performances. Lumley looks every inch the typical Championship goalie – he’ll let goals in he should save and save ones that he probably shouldn’t.
Only keeping one clean sheet in 6 league and cup games hasn’t been the best start and he’s been beaten easily at times, specifically against QPR and Blackpool, but he secured Boro a point at Derby with a couple of great saves. We’re going to take a AIBTB (Anything Is Better Than Bettinelli) attitude with Lumley for now.
Luke Daniels also joined the club on a freebie, with the former Brentford and Scunthorpe man adding experience rather than stiff competition to the ‘keeper room.
To be fair to Daniels, at Brentford he has looked reliable when called upon and bringing him in rather than a younger or higher profile option would have helped when financing moves further up the pitch.
Daniels’ signing can be lumped in with the defensive additions in that regard.
Sol Bamba signing for the Boro went from a bit of a meme at the start of the summer to a wholesome inevitability, with the 36-year-old originally being allowed to train with the club to regain his fitness after battling cancer before being offered a deal that will see him involved in coaching some of the younger groups as well as providing defensive cover to the first team.
Bamba will be joined by Lee Peltier in adding leadership and knowhow to the Boro squad, with their combined ages of 70 and over 800 games of footballing experience. While neither man is a particularly exciting or inspiring choice, in a summer of wholesale changes, there has to be some offsetting of costs.
Bamba’s signing has meant Nathan Wood has been able to head out to Hibs for a season on loan. While it would have been handy to keep Wood around, if Warnock plumps for a back four for the majority of the season, it would have taken two of Dael Fry, Grant Hall and Paddy McNair to be unavailable for Woody to make an appearance at a time where he needs to develop. His time in a Boro shirt will come soon enough.
The only regret Warnock and co. will have in terms of the defence is that they couldn’t add a left-sided defender to provide cover for Marc Bola so they’ll have to scour the wreckage of free agency, preferably for someone comfortable as both a left-back and left wing-back, having let Hayden Coulson join Ipswich on loan and letting Marvin Johnson walk.
Neil Taylor, Iraqi international Ali Adnan and Milad Mohammadi, who has been linked with West Brom and Forest, are all currently without a side.
Djed Spence was also allowed to leave on loan, to Nottingham Forest, which leaves Peltier as the only cover for Anfernee Dijksteel at right-back before having to call on the versatility of Jonny Howson or Paddy McNair.
The thing is…that was the situation if Spence had stayed at the club. Rightly or wrongly, Neil Warnock does not view Djed Spence as a defender.
Spence had actually looked decent when deployed as a winger to start this season but the multitude of options in that department now available to Warnock meant Spence would’ve struggled to make the matchday squad, never mind the starting eleven. A loan benefits everyone.
An increase in options also spelled the end to Sam Morsy’s time on Teesside with the King Shithouse surprisingly, at first look, being allowed to reunite with Paul Cook at Ipswich. The confirmation of the signings of James Léa Siliki, Andraž Šporar and Onel Hernandez in the past week all had a knock on effect to Morsy’s prospects at Boro.
That seems a strange thing to say as none of them are direct replacements for Morsy, with Siliki being a box-to-box type midfielder rather than a holder and Hernandez and Šporar being attackers but bare with me.
Siliki’s signing, initially on a season-long loan from Stade Rennais with an option to buy for a reported €2.5m, means that Warnock now has to figure out a way to keep his captain (Howson), his reigning Player of the Year (McNair), the club’s marquee signing of the window (Payero) and someone who was playing Champions League football last season (Siliki) happy in midfield.
Šporar and Hernandez joining to bolster the attack also means there’s wriggle room to have Tavernier or Matt Crooks drop back into midfield without affecting the quality of the first eleven if needs be.
The fact that Crooks has hit the ground running currently limits the spots up for grabs in midfield as well, with Tree favoured to keep his spot as the advanced midfielder/number 10.
There was always going to be an unfortunate casualty this window due to the influx of bodies and investment being made and with the best will in the world, I’m sure we’re all glad it was Morsy rather than Tav or Dael Fry.
Morsy’s departure does mean there’s added pressure on Jonny Howson as the only true holding midfielder in the squad (although McNair might not be a bad shout in there) but it also signals a real shift in the dynamic of the Boro midfield.
It’s why I don’t buy the narrative that there’s some sort of ideological civil war going on in the recruitment department between Warnock and the club.
Sure, I’m as shocked as everyone else that we spent big money in South America to bring Payero in and that we are doing deals with top six sides in France to get Siliki, but just because they’re foreign and not battle scarred Championship warriors doesn’t mean they aren’t Warnock players.
The gaffer has banged on about getting the ball up the pitch quicker all summer. It’s something that we’ve done well against Bristol City, QPR and Blackburn (coincidentally Morsy only played in one of those games) and it’s something both Payero and Siliki are very comfortable with doing.
In his brief cameos so far for Boro and from getting up at daft times to watch Argentina in the Olympics, it’s obvious that Payero loves to spin towards the opposition half and either dribble or knock a through ball in behind while Siliki completed 52 of his 59 “medium” passes in 11 Ligue 1 and Champions League games last year (that’s nerd speak for any pass of 15-30 yards).
That quick decision making, eagerness to go forward and acceleration up the pitch should help to get the most out of the attacking quality now in the squad and make Boro a problem both on the counter and when dominating possession.
Both players will need time to settle in so can we please delay any meltdowns when they aren’t both starting against Coventry or Forest?
Payero is 22 and in an entirely new continent with Google Translate and Leo his only ways of communicating with his new team, while Siliki’s first taste of football this season might come today for Cameroon against Malawi in World Cup qualifying.
Anyone worried about Siliki’s lack of appearances for Rennes last season can relax as “JLS” faced extremely stiff competition for a spot, which is to be expected at a club that has finished in the top 6 of Ligue 1 in three of the last four seasons, won a trophy and played in the Champions League and Europa League.
Siliki counted wonderkid Eduardo Camavinga, who has just signed for Real Madrid, Benjamin Bourigeaud and Clément Grenier as teammates in the middle of the park at Rennes. He’ll be a significant improvement at Championship level.
Two players who everyone accepts are Warnock players are Matt Crooks and Uche Ikpeazu, who have both fit into the Boro side seamlessly and are already well onto their way to being fan favourites, with their heart and talent shining.
Crooks ability in the air, both for long balls and second balls, is invaluable to a team like ours while his deceptive quickness means he can nip in behind defenders to keep attacks going. Crooks is also already forming a bond with Ikpeazu, with the pair of big’uns bouncing off each other in attack.
You know who else bounces off Ikpeazu? Everyone. He’s fucking wicked, isn’t he? UCCCCHHHHHEEEE is everything we’ve wanted in a striker for years, bullying and harassing defenders and actually being able to hold the ball up to bring his pals into play.
The highest compliment I can pay both Crooks and Uche is that they already feel like they belong here.
Andraž Šporar will be hoping to make a similarly positive first impression on the Red Army now that his loan move from Sporting Lisbon has been made official. The Slovenian striker’s move was celebrated by Sporting fans nearly as much as it was Boro fans, with Šporar struggling to make an impact in Portugal.
However, the expectations of Sporting Lisbon fans are completely different to those of Boro fans, or at least they should be. Lisbon are giants of Portuguese football fresh off a league and cup double. We play in the Championship.
It’s not like Šporar was a complete failure in Portugal either. He still managed to net 11 times in 38 games in league and cup for Sporting in two seasons. Those figures this season could edge Boro to promotion and Šporar to a permanent move to Teesside, with either 15 league goals or promotion believed to trigger the obligation to buy clause in his deal for €8.5 million.
The man that tore apart the Slovakia when scoring 60 in 78 games for Slovan Bratislava isn’t expected to line up as the solo striker for Boro unless Uche is injured or suspended, but provides a quality option as an inside forward or a strike partner for the big man.
He may even pop up on either side of “the 3” in Boro’s 4-2-3-1 where they are now well stocked with Onel Hernandez joining Marcus Tavernier, Isaiah Jones (AHA), Duncan Watmore and Pusha T Olusanya (fella, this isn’t the National League, you can’t judo throw people here!) with Sammy Ameobi and Marcus Browne to come back from injury.
Hernandez’s signing is the one I’m particularly excited about from the recent wave of arrivals.
While he didn’t make much of an impact on Norwich’s promotion campaign last season, his 582 minutes on the pitch without a goal or assist being equal to just under 6 and a half “full” games, he was competing with Emi Buendia and Todd Cantwell for a place as well as dealing with returning from a significant muscle injury.
If we get the Hernandez that tore apart the Championship in Daniel Farke’s first promotion season for Norwich, we’re getting A PLAYER.
The Cuban notched 8 goals and 10 assists three seasons ago as the Canaries swept aside all challengers and his pace and ingenuity should create more space for the likes of Tav to exploit. Cigars in Block 62 when we go up.
As with the left-back spot, an extra body upfront would’ve been ideal, with the Boro lacking a clear like-for-like replacement for Uche. Josh Coburn has looked much more like an 18-year-old in his cameos so far than he did at the end of last season but as mentioned, there’s options to get creative with Crooks, Watmore and Šporar giving Warnock the ability to go with two up top.
All in all, it’s been a good window for Boro. More or less every aspect of the squad has been addressed in a time where all clubs are still dealing with the impact of the pandemic. Major credit has to go to Steve Gibson, Neil Bausor and the recruitment staff for that.
Of course we missed out on some players but that’s how it rolls and the two public ones in Muniz and Van Bergen were then filled by Šporar and Hernandez. That’s not a problem to me.
It’s now down to Neil Warnock and his coaching team to get the best out the new lads and integrate them with the rest of the team.
It’s down to Blackie and Jeppo on the training pitch to help players like Payero and Siliki get up to speed with the demands of the Championship and the leaders like Howson, Bamba and Pelts to let them know what is expected of them.
It’s down to us, as fans, to make them feel welcome and to make them realise what a fantastic club they’ve joined and it’s down to the new signings to justify the faith that is being placed in them and get down to playing football.
Thank God, it’s finally over.