Middlesbrough should keep Karanka.

Almost a year to the day since the mysterious Karanka ‘walk-out’, the split in fan’s opinion on the Spaniard’s position as manager has yet to mend itself and division between those in favour and those against Aitor Karanka is growing greater by the day. The dramatic draw on the 7th May 2016 which say Middlesbrough promoted to the Premier League for the first time since 2009 seemed to unite the fan base and bring a new sense of optimism to the future under Karanka. Fast forward 10 months and that optimism and unity has slowed faded away as Middlesbrough find themselves in the bottom three and almost destined to face the drop.

If Middlesbrough get relegated, Karanka is the best option to take them straight back up.

The current position in the league has led to fans calling for Gibson to give Karanka the boot and deliver his head on a stick. Whilst the departure of Ranieri from Leicster just 9 months after he performed the greatest miracle in footballing history shows that a manager isn’t able to rely on past glory to gurantee job security, it’s still important to remember that the work they’ve done. The same applies to Karanka. After the failure of two supposedly experienced managers, the inexperienced Karanka brought a new lease of life to Middlesbrough who were slowly drifting to League One under the control of club legend Tony Mowbray. In Karanka’s first full season in club management he got Middlesbrough to the play-off final and for the first time in six years, fans started to believe that the club were heading in the right direction and that promotion was a more than realistic prospect. A year later, in his second season of club management, Karanka delivered automatic promotion and whilst people have criticised him for ‘limping over the line’, Middlesbrough only finished 4 points behind a Burnley side who’d spent similar amounts of money and already had Premier League experience in their squad following their relegation a year earlier. I’ve also seen suggestions that Karanka only got Middlesbrough promoted because he spent money. That’s far from true. Money doesn’t always equate to success. Regardless of current opinion on Karanka, I don’t think the achievements of last season should EVER be questioned. He got the club promoted. Yes, players played a huge part in that, but the manager for the team promoted. Plus, if you believe that Karanka didn’t play a part in promotion, then It’s unfair to place to full blame of this season on his shoulders. His success in the Championship is one reason why he should stay. If Gibson pulls the trigger to replace Karanka and Middlesbrough are still relegated, the club will face a summer of uncertainty which will involve a search for a manager, an entire revamp of the club’s behind the scenes personnel and a revolving door of transfers as the new manager looks to put his own stamp on the squad. Not only is there limited options when it comes to available managers who’ve proven themselves in the Championship, Gibson may also feel that a summer of transition may unsettle the progress made under Karana and make immediate promotion less likely. Not many managers are able to handle the Championship, but Karanka is one of them. If there’s one manager who I’d trust to get Middlesbrough promoted, it’d be Karanka. When Burnley were relegated from the Premier League, they stood by Dyche who managed to get Burnley straight back up. Dyche learnt from his mistakes first time round and are now reaping the rewards. Karanka is a young manager. He’s made mistakes. He’s aware he needs to change. If Middlesbrough go down and he get’s the club promoted at the first time of asking, he’ll be better equipped second time around to not only secure survival, but to establish Middlesbrough in the best league in the world.

Karanka has made mistakes, but the squad simply isn’t good enough.

There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that this season has not been good enough. The seemingly successful summer transfer window pushed optimism through the roof and maybe heightened expectation to an unrealistic level. With that said, I’d suggest that everyone involved with the club was fairly confident that survival was more than achievable. Clearly something has gone wrong. Is is the tactics of the manager? The attitude of the players? Or maybe as a collective everyone simple isn’t good enough? The natural response from fans is to blame the manager and rightly so. He picks the team. But I don’t think Karanka is the only reason for the failings of this season nor is sacking him the solution. The main criticism aimed at Aitor is his negative approach to games. There’s also some suggestions that he doesn’t try and win games. I don’t buy this. Just because he takes a more possession based approach built on defensive stability doesn’t mean he doesn’t have desire to win. There’s more than one way to win a football match and Karanka, like many managers in the Premier League, feels that a more cautious approach is the route to success. I’d agree. The ‘let’s have a go’ approach may be pleasing on the eye, but Middlesbrough don’t really have the players to implement it properly. Adama has lightning pace, but his lack of quality in the final ball and unpredictability means that he’s often uneffective. Stuani has a good work rate and a knack of scoring, but he’s limited in attacking areas. Ramirez is by far the best attacking option but Karanka didn’t have the Uruguyian international available for selection for the best part of 2 months. Downing has yet to live up to expectation: a statement which his compounded by the 4 assists im contributed in a full Championship campaign. I like Fischer, but following an injury in December he’s yet to work is way back into the starting line-up. These are Middlesbrough’s attacking options. When Middlesbrough do get up the field and break, there’s a real lack of quality to go and get goals. There’s a lot said about tactics and formations, but ultimately it’s the players on the pitch who wins football matches. The manager can’t compensate for the inability to take a corner, players making poor decisions or fluffing their shot. With that said, I’d still like to see Karanka revert back to the 4231 which served him so well in the Championship.

The replacement

The argument to replace Karanka is strengthened by the apparent success a managerial change has had for other relegation rivals. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Take Swansea for example, it’s worked. Paul Clement is a good manager. But Swansea have established themselves in the Premier League over the last 5 years and ultimately have Premier League class in their squad which is always a bonus for a new manager. The same applies to Leicester. This is Middlesbrough’s first season back in the Premier League and relegation was always going to be a possibility regardless of who was in charge. The team’s around Middlesbrough have better, more expensive squads and yet are still struggling. Any change in manager now would be an attempt at a quick fix. Is there time for a quick fix? The options which have been mentioned amongst fans, such as Pearson, Redknapp, the brothers from Lincoln, aren’t really inspiring. They’re not better than Karanka, so why change? Yes, they may well just provide a quick fix. But Sunderland are proving that the quick-fix solution will eventually run out. A Nigel Pearson type character may ruffle some feathers and keep us up. But what about next season? There’s a high chance we’ll be in the same position as this year and become just another one of those clubs who constantly replace their manager and never progress. With Karanka we’ve progressed and will continue to progress once this season is over. If there is no candidate who Gibson feels can realistically secure survival and continue to take the club forward, then it wouldn’t make sense to get rid of Karanka. I’ve no doubt Karanka will be a top class manager one day, but at the moment he’s inexperienced. That’s fine. He’s learning. He HAS learnt already. Giving Southgate the chop whilst top of the championship and replacing him with Gordon Strachan proved that these so called experienced managers aren’t always the answer. Middlesbrough and Karanka need to get through this season.

I’m not in denial that this season has been poor. It has. I’m not in denial that Karanka has made mistakes. He has. If changing manager would guarantee safety I’d wave goodbye to Aitor because the football club is bigger than every individual.But it won’t and I personally couldn’t suggest a manager who’d keep the club in the Premier League this season, never mind continue to build upon Karanka’s success. I continue to have belief in the manager. This time last season a lot of people doubted him and he proved them wrong. Time to do it again, Aitor. The season isn’t over yet.

Predictions: 4 Wins v Sunderland, Burnley, Southampton and Hull. 3 Draws v Manchester United, Arsenal, Bournemouth. 37 Points. Survival?

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