Steve Gibson was entitled to bristle at the question.
At the last count, on his 19-year watch Middlesbrough have provided England with a manager of the senior team, an assistant and, via a pen pusher role at the FA, the current boss of the England under-21s. The Academy that he has financed, built and diligently staffed has brought through almost a half-century of first team players – including two, Adam Johnson and Stewart Downing, with multiple caps for their country.
This is the considerable body of evidence available to Gibson to answer charges that he has let down the English game by appointing Aitor Karanka as Tony Mowbray’s successor. Good luck to anyone – especially Greg Dyke, who gave German Uwe Rosler his chance at Brentford – who tries. But if Gibson is entitled to make what he acknowledges is a “bold call” to try and kick-start a long-overdue Riverside revival, we are also entitled to ask what it says about the direction of English football if a man of his moral fibre is now looking overseas for a solution to Boro’s ills.
A penny, for example, for the thoughts of Colin Cooper and Greg Abbott – two young managerial hopefuls who have seen their managerial careers move in different directions over the last 12 months. Cooper, a fine servant to Middlesbrough as a player, has been desperate for an opportunity for years and finally landed one at Hartlepool this summer.
At Victoria Park he is illustrating why that chance could have come sooner, diligently rebuilding a club that has been in the doldrums for three years with the sort of passion and dedication that should make him any chairman’s dream appointment. Yet he starts in the fourth tier while Karanka begins in the second.
Abbott finds himself among the muck and nettles of the League One relegation battle with Notts County. His commitment to his craft is illustrated by the fact he was willing to take an assistant’s role simply to get back into the game which has been rough to him lately.
It is a personal belief that Abbott’s body of work at Carlisle deserved much more respect than, ultimately, it received at Brunton Park. There was justification in his argument that he missed out on better opportunities because of fashion or the better connections of others.
I wonder whether anyone above the third tier will now take a chance on either of them? Boro once felt like a route for promising managerial talent but thanks to the successful maneuvering of Mendes and company that route now looks blocked. What a crying shame for those, like Cooper and Abbott, who have the talent and work ethic to transform a club. Much was made on Wednesday of the patronage of Jose Mourinho and the Special One’s star-dust has been sprinkled all Boro’s latest appointment. We are assured that Mourinho – who coincidentally enough shares an agent, Jorge Mendes, with Karanka – told the club to “get him as soon as possible”. Funny that.
There is an intoxicating whiff of the exotic about this decision and the signs are that Boro fans have bought into the appointment, with whispers on Teesside of a 25,000 crowd for their next home match against Bolton. I wonder if appointing Phil Parkinson, who managed the incredible feat of taking Bradford City to a major Cup final while also leading them to promotion last season, would have created quite the same stir.
It is neither Gibson’s nor Boro’s battle to bring on young English managerial talent but the League Manager’s Association should be sitting up and taking notice of this week’s development, because in many ways it is a much more troubling development for them than the log-jam at the top of the game. When Gibson looks to Porto rather than Trimdon for his next manager, they know they have problems.