Article by Peter Swallow
Television cameras transmitted the image of a downhearted Steve Gibson as he left the Riverside Stadium, a few minutes before the end of a 2-1 defeat to Leeds United in 2010. His backing of Gordon Strachan made sense on paper, as did the financial support he gave the ex-Celtic manager. That defeat however, left the club 20th in the Championship, and turned out to be the final straw in the ginger-haired Scotsman’s Middlesbrough tenure.
5 years later, television cameras transmitted a very different image. One of Steve Gibson leaping from his seat having seen Albert Adomah round off a stunning Boro goal to comprehensively fire the club into the playoff final. In 2010, promotion seemed light-years away, as it stands currently; the Premier League is just 90 minutes away.
Steve Gibson is roundly regarded as one of the best owners in English football, but in many ways, he has had to go against much of those principals to transform Middlesbrough into the side they are today.
None of those players selected for Gordon Strachan’s final match-day squad, featured against Brentford on Friday evening. While, the club have been through 3 managers (both of the permanent, and the caretaker variety.)
Middlesbrough have often played the role of the unfashionable northern team, one of the North East’s ‘big three’ who, for a couple of years, were legitimately the best of the bunch, but have been languishing in Championship obscurity since relegation 6 years ago.
The SAS motto of ‘who dares wins’ may have been playing on Steve Gibson’s mind when he approached Aitor Karanka in regards to becoming the next Middlesbrough manager. His managerial experience was non-existent despite a successful spell as Jose Mourinho’s number two at Real Madrid, while Karanka represents the first foreign manager in the clubs 139-year history.
The risk in appointing Karanka cannot be understated, as was the decision to financially back the Spaniard. The aforementioned Strachan era was damaging in more ways than one. Attendances dwindled as the economic crisis claimed more victims, and many fans felt disillusioned with the football club. As such, the tenure of Tony Mowbray can be defined as one of penny pinching and cost cutting. The decision to appoint an unproven manager therefore, was bold; to back him in the transfer market took tremendous courage.
Boro are a side that do the basics to ruthless perfection, yet there is substantial style and ingenuity within the ranks. A combination of the best defence in the Championship, and the ability to kill matches seemingly at the push of a button will serve them well in the future, be it Premier League or otherwise.
Both domestic cup campaigns have shown that Middlesbrough are capable of competing with the big boys. Victory at Manchester City in the FA Cup was remarkable while Liverpool were pushed all the way to an epic penalty shoot out at Anfield. A 2-0 loss at the Emirates against Arsenal proved to be a step too far, but there is little disgrace in being beaten by a rampant Arsenal.
Furthermore, the club’s famed youth academy is in outstanding shape. The under 21s won the second division of U21 Premier League, while the under 18s have also won their respective league and in the process, sealed qualification for the UEFA Youth League. There can be no denying that the future of the football club looks bright.
That will ring true regardless of what happens at Wembley, but Aitor Karanka, the players and importantly, Steve Gibson, deserve tremendous praise for the transformation of the club both on and off the pitch.
For one of the best owners in English football, Wembley represents another chapter in his long association with Middlesbrough Football Club. The club, his club, will have a share of the national spotlight on the 25th May, but that isn’t what matters. For a true Middlesbrough man, what matters is the football club, and in that regard, the future looks very bright indeed.
As Middlesbrough fans revelled in another chorus of “there’s only one Steve Gibson” it is hard to disagree. For one of the best owners in Football, he is 90 minutes away from receiving the ultimate reward.