Will Jonathan Woodgate Be A Success At Middlesbrough?9 min read
Jonathan Woodgate will head up a new-look senior coaching team at Middlesbrough, after the club chose not to extend Tony Pulis’ contract this summer.
MFC are delighted to confirm that Jonathan Woodgate will head up a new-look senior coaching team 🔴⚪️ #UTB
— Middlesbrough FC (@Boro) June 14, 2019
The changes at the club are popular with natives, most of whom had grown weary of the previous style of football.
Woodgate, a Boro fan since birth, an ex-player and somebody who has pledged more attacking play, is likely to strike a chord with supporters, especially with local favourite Leo Percovich coming in as part of the coaching team along with Robbie Keane.
Not only that, Woodgate has the potential to be a good coach in his own right.
He has been praised by Ben Gibson, he has been described as a ‘mentor’ by Andrew Davies, he has a reputation for saying what he thinks rather than what other people want to hear – and he knows about every Boro player from Under-12s to first-team level.
Here’s the task ahead for him to turn Boro into promotion contenders.
Find the right full-backs
The most successful teams in the EFL in 2018-19 had outstanding full-backs.
For Middlesbrough’s Woodgate project to work, they need to get pace, quality and drive out of their full-backs: hardly ideal given that predecessor Tony Pulis’ setup necessitated cautious full-backs.
Left-back George Friend remains a competent operator and could be kept on for his leadership qualities as captain, but with injuries hindering him last season, a more mobile option would not go amiss – young Hayden Coulson is an option.
Ryan Shotton is arguably not good enough going forward, so Woodgate may have to either recruit an attacking right-back, or polish the athletic but raw Djed Spence.
Keep Dael Fry central
Although the 21-year-old is a centre-back by trade, not once last season did he play centrally in a back-four; Pulis was concerned by his lack of height and composure in possession, realizing the danger of errors close to Boro’s goal.
Recently, though, Championship managers have seen the merits of having central defenders who are effective on the ball; much like Woodgate himself in his playing days.
The 39-year-old is likely to give Fry more games at centre-back, likewise Paddy McNair, who loves to carry the ball into the opposing half and has the fitness to play a high-line.
Sam Stubbs has the strength of character to force himself into the reckoning after time on loan at Notts County; Nathan Wood is another option while Reece Oxford is being considered for a potential loan move from West Ham.
Couldn’t be happier. @Boro have got an absolute diamond as manager. A top player, coach and more importantly, a brilliant person … good luck brother 🙌🏻 https://t.co/SkIWGn9kh1
— Ben Gibson (@bengibson1993) June 14, 2019
Fresh up the midfield
Adam Clayton has been a terrific servant to Middlesbrough and his alertness to danger has been a key part of their recent promotion challenges.
If Boro are to play higher up the pitch however, they may need to freshen up the midfield.
George Saville and Jonny Howson, deployed out wide in 31 of their 72 league starts last season, may be handed natural central roles more often with Lewis Wing, who showed talent, energy and hunger throughout 2018-19, taking on an advanced position.
Ben Liddle and Connor Malley represent exciting academy products – but, unless McNair moves further forward as he has done for Northern Ireland, Boro could perhaps do with one more midfielder in the squad with the athleticism to play box-to-box.
Collectively, Middlesbrough did not perform much better in 2017-18, when they made the Play-Offs, than they did the following season, when they missed out.
The crucial difference the year before was that they had a speedster in Adama Traore, who stretched play down the right flank and thus disrupted the whole defensive structure of the opposition.
Boro did not sign a winger the summer after Traore’s exit for Wolves; they missed out on the likes of Albert Adomah and Yannick Bolasie the following January, with Rajiv Van La Parra not starting a single league game after joining on loan.
The lack of pace out wide was a crucial factor behind the Teessiders losing six consecutive league games over March and April.
Left-winger Marcus Tavernier, unproven at Championship level, is currently the only natural option, so it is unsurprising to see speedy right winger Sheraldo Becker linked with a move from ADO Den Haag; Cardiff’s Kadeem Harris is also a reported target.
Stretching the play out wide will be key to bringing the excitement back to Middlesbrough.
Press from the front
Since relegation in 2017, Boro have signed three senior strikers on permanent deals for a combined £30.5M, so it is puzzling that another front-man is a priority.
However, Martin Braithwaite was perceived as being too relaxed at times and is likely to leave.
Britt Assombalonga was signed as a serial Championship goalscorer – and it is difficult to argue with a return of 28 league goals in 85 appearances.
However, the former Forest front-man does not quite possess the pace and power he had half-a-decade ago and now relies on his finishing ability.
In a team that plays with the ferocity Woodgate will demand, it will be important to identify a striker who can lead the line in the right way: Ashley Fletcher has the athleticism but needs to deliver more.
What can fans expect from Jonathan Woodgate's Middlesbrough?
Hear more from the new Boro Head Coach on tonight's @bbcteessport with @MarkosDiSantos and @nmaddo from 6pm. pic.twitter.com/atFUXH6Kpr
— BBC Sport Tees (@BBCTeesSport) June 14, 2019
Stephy Mavididi, who has earned positive reports from Juventus U23s and achieved a senior start for the Old Lady, could be an option on loan – the 21-year-old possesses speed, physicality, direct running ability and an infectious work rate which could make him the perfect solution to a return of just 49 goals in 46 league games.
Woodgate looks a good appointment for Middlesbrough, but the role will be new to him and changes to the squad Karanka, Monk and Pulis built may be required for his methods to take effect.
It is unlikely that the board, keen to comply with FFP, will instigate an immediate overhaul, so Woodgate may have to lean on unproven youngsters until he can bring in the players he needs.
Woodgate could be an instant hit – but the early indications are that this may be a transitional season.