It’s always said that the really top managers need a ruthless streak and it certainly looks as if Aitor Karanka is beginning to demonstrate his. Having got ‘Boro into the Premiership with a close-knit squad whose team spirit and effort were cited as the main reasons for ‘Boro’s success, Karanka has shown with his summer signings that he doesn’t believe the same set of players could do the job required in the top flight.
Some pretty awesome names have already been recruited with apparently even more on the horizon, and after two or three friendly games in which he has fielded entirely different teams in each half it’s impossible to see at this stage what his first choice eleven will be. I don’t envy him the task! It’s fairly safe to say, however, that Dimi’s clean sheet heroics during last season will be rewarded with a place on the bench as it’s hard to see Victor Valdes not being the first name on the team sheet. Add the likes of Bernard Espinosa, Alvaro Negredo, Marten de Roon and Victor Fischer to that scenario and it already looks like a completely different team will trot out against Stoke City on August 17th.
You have to say because of that it’s a pretty exciting time to be a ‘Boro fan and after the thrills of last season, it’s obvious that no-one at the club is willing to let things drift into the sort of situation many newly promoted clubs experience. Being forced into panic buys in January to try and redress an unsuccessful first five months of the season is not what we need.
Now more than ever it is vital to retain a Premier League position once it has been achieved and even though spending money has never guaranteed success it is nevertheless acknowledged that a properly spent budget will go a long way towards at least achieving safety.
Even in the heady days of Juninho, Emerson and Ravanelli that last game defeat at Leeds still saw us relegated and no ‘Boro fan wants to see that happen again. Somehow, though, Karanka’s performances to date must give considerable confidence in his ability to take us to the next level.
Results in European competitions in recent years have shown that while the Premiership may be the richest league in the world its top clubs are definitely lagging behind the best from La Liga, the Bundesliga and even Serie A. The difference in the Premiership, however, is that it has – over that time – become internally the most competitive league in Europe with anyone capable of beating anyone and surprise results happening almost every week. So looking at ‘Boro’s prospects for next season we no longer need to look at the likes of West Brom, Bournemouth, Sunderland, Watford, Hull and Burnley as the only teams we can beat to guarantee safety. Instead we should look at the first game against Stoke as a potential victory and the same should be said whoever we play. Leicester’s performances last season must give everyone the heart to go up against the big boys of the league and actually win. To make things that bit more difficult, though, some huge managerial names have arrived, but both Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho showed last season that previous glory guarantees nothing. At this stage, at least, everybody’s equal.
I simply can’t wait for the first official team sheet and that opening day with a packed Riverside welcoming back the Premiership with the same fantastic atmosphere we so enjoyed against Brighton. Not long now!