Gracias, Aitor.

Aitor Karanka celebrating promotion to the Premier League with club captain Grant Leadbitter

Well, that was a shock wasn’t it? The usual discontent between fans regarding their opinions on Karanka’s position as Middlesbrough manager which has dominated social media over the last 4 weeks or so was briefly silent as an announcement from the club surfaced. An announcement which stated Aitor Karanka had left the club by mutual consent. I think the wording is important. He wasn’t sacked. He didn’t walk. He didn’t have a punch up with Downing on the training pitch. He left because both the club and himself agreed that the only way the club could progress is by saying thank you, shaking hands and waving goodbye. It’s been suggested by numerous people that Karanka left the club on good terms and he’s since thanked the club, the fans and everyone he’s worked with on social media account. This gracious exit from a man who, let’s face it, has faced a large amounts of criticism since the turn of the year, should be applauded and respected.

Karanka brought optimism back

Regardless of the recent opinion on the manger, Aitor Karanka should be respected by everyone for the work which he has done since he arrived at the Riverside 3 and a half years ago with no previous managerial experience. The last 10 years as a Middlebrough fan have been difficult. When Middlesbrough won their first major trophy in 2004, there was a feeling that Middlesbrough were on the up. And they were! Two European Campaigns, a Europa League Final (or whatever it was called in 2006) and the club’s highest ever Premier League finish followed in quick succession after the Carling Cup Victory. Then things started to unravel. Fans started to become frustrated with McLaren’s style of play, resulting in a fan running onto the pitch and chucking their season ticket at the manager. I’m presuming the fan wasn’t a member of the FA board, as Steve McLaren was offered the England job. Former Captain Gareth Southgate took over as the club were on a steady decline which inevitably saw them fall out of the Premier League without a whimper. From a European Final to the Second Divison in just 3 years. In hindsight, Steve Gibson probably wouldn’t have appointed Southgate as he was simply to inexperienced. But Gibson saw potential in Southgate. This appoitment by Gibson demonstrates his ambitions for the club to be a forward-thinking club who give young managers a chance rather than joining the manager merry go round and giving quick-fix managers their 20th club. Gibson gave Robson, McLaren, Southgate and more recently Karanka their first managers job. In an attempt to fix the ‘project’ which had relegated the club in 2009, Gibson changed tact and appointed the experienced Strachan. Strachan ruined the club. His approach of spending parachute payments on an endless supply ‘tried and tested’ players from across the border drained the clubs finances. Performances were poor. Attendances dropped. Any real optimism of a swift return to the top flight was quickly killed. Gibson appoint club legend Tony Mowbray as his successor, but the fall-out from Strachan’s reckless transfer spree turned Mowbray into a financial adviser rather than a manger capable of taking the club back to the Premier League. He did well. But again, it was difficult to really believe than Mowbray could be a success at the club and optimism was still low. Finding the correct man to replace Tony Mowbray was a massive moment. Mowbray did his best to balance the books and a result the club had some disposable cash to pump into transfers, but only a man who could earn Gibson’s believe that they could win promotion would be allowed to spend it. Gibson went back to his philosophy of developing young managers and made the left-field appointment of Aitor Karanka. He was relatively unknown, but as Jose Mourinho’s assistant who’d just turned down a job at Premier League club Crystal Palace, it seemed like Gibson could have pulled of a little bit of a coup.

After 7 years with poor football, a lack of optimism and a steady decline to 10k attendances in League One, Aitor Karanka turned the club around. He brought a new sense of life to the club and for the first time in 7 years there was genuine hope of promotion. In his first full season in charge he guided the club to the play off final and in his second full season he clinched automatic promotion to the Premier League. He’s been criticised for his stubborn defensive tactics, yet in the Championship it worked. After bringing success with a certain style, it’s easy to understand why Karanka was reluctant to change. Football is a results based business and ultimately his poor run of form has cost him his job. Whilst I genuinely believed Karanka could turn it around and keeping him would be the best solution for the long-term ambitious of the club, I’m able to accept that maybe it was time for him to go. But, Karanka should always be respected for the work he has done. If you’re really unable to appreciate the progress he has made, then i’d suggest you rewind your mind back the Gordan Strachan era. Those times were bleak. Karanka has left the club in the Premier League. Remember that.

Who Next?

With only 11 games to go in the Premier League this season, it seems unlikely that Gibson will make a long-term appointment at this stage. The list of potential replacements which has been circulating on betting sites is uninspiring to say the least. There’s no one on the list who excites me or gives me confidence that they can carry on the progression which Karanka started. Nigel Pearson is favourite. He may be a quick-fix to keep the club in the Premier League, but I can’t see him as a long term replacement. I want Gibson to keep with his tradition of being a forward thinking chairman and make a forward thinking appointment. I don’t really think Agnew has the credentials to be a manager, but he may be the easiest solution. He knows the dressing room, the club and there wouldn’t need to be a rushed mass overhaul. Swansea and Hull City have made good appointments. They’re appointed young managers who weren’t just a quick-fix, but a long-term solution. Middlesbrough need to do the same. That’s why at this stage I wouldn’t offer anyone a long term contract. If someone like Pearson comes in, then they come in for the rest of the season and no longer. If Gibson waits until the summer, he’ll have more options and the time to rebuild. If Middlesbrough stay in the Premier League, they’l be an exciting prospect for any manager. But for now, the focus is on staying in the Premier League. It’s time for players to step up. If Downing really was unhappy and disagrees with Karanka’s comments, then step up and prove him wrong. Fight for survival.

The last three and a half years have been a blast, Aitor. I’ve had some of the best times as a Middlesbrough fan under your management. It just wasn’t meant to be.