BORO LANDFIRST BLOWIN BOUT WITHNEIGHBOURS
No promotion has ever been decided in June.
But just a matter of weeks following relegation – after only one dreary season – Middlesbrough have struck an early blow against Sunderland in the fight to get back to the Premier League.
The North East neighbours and rivals left the top flight with barely a whimper, but the appointment of Garry Monk as their new boss has confirmed that Boro mean business.
When chairman Steve Gibson made a rare public utterance at the end of last season that Boro “will smash the league next year” you knew they were not giving Steve Agnew the job.
Gibson has gone out and made a statement by installing one of the domestic game’s brightest talents. The silence at the Stadium of Light, as the saying goes, is deafening.
It may in time, of course, transpire that the Black Cats did NOT want Monk, though it would be hard to believe that there was no dialogue with the 38-year-old.
Monk did not want to talk about his other options following his sudden departure from Leeds at the end of last month.
Not surprisingly, he only wanted to talk Boro and he made it clear that while Middlesbrough may not be perceived by some as a ‘big club’ it was one best geared for success.
“I think it’s all about the opportunity and assessing what the opportunity is, and whether it aligns to what you think an opportunity should look like,” he explained.
“Middlesbrough did that.
“I like the challenge and I like the pressure of it all.
“I’m looking forward to getting to work on a project and getting to work straight away.
“Middlesbrough came with that and I could see a determination in the owners and the other people at the club.
“Given the way they spoke about the job and the way they were going to go about doing that, it was a challenge that really appealed to me.
“Of course, whether it’s players, managers or anyone else at the club, you always want to be doing it at the highest level.
“But I have time to do it. I’d love to do it with this club straight away – I’d love this season to be the season where we get back to the Premier League.
“It’s a great challenge for me, and it’s always about assessing the opportunity.
“It doesn’t always have to be the biggest club, it doesn’t have to be this situation or that, it’s about what the opportunity is.
“Middlesbrough offered me something that I thought ticked all the boxes about giving me the best opportunity to work in the way I like to work.”
Monk, it would seem, knows what he’s doing in football management.
He led Swansea to eighth place in the Premier League and managed them in Europe and he took on the job of Leeds boss – something of a poisoned chalice when you consider the instability of managerial life at Elland Road. He came within a whisker of the Championship play-offs in his first season.
Now he has the challenge of delivering for Gibson, who has set the bar high. Extremely high in fact with the declaration “we want to go back up as champions.”
However, Monk knows he will be backed by Gibson financially and supported by the Teessider.
Outside of the Arsenal and Exeter City jobs, few clubs give their manager time and backing more than Boro.
And Monk says he is not fazed by Gibson’s “smash the league” statement.
“No pressure then,” he smiled behind the big red desk at Rockliffe. “That’s fine, I’ve worked under pressure before. I think in football now every job for a manager is about pressure.
“But we know what the task is.
“After a disappointing season it is my job to give confidence to the club.
“Steve Gibson was integral to my decision, for sure.
“I had talks with him and he spoke with the passion that he has about what he wants at this club and his determination and vision stuck me.
“Obviously he is ambitious and that struck a chord with me. Once I spoke to him it became very clear that this would be the right club. I am very much up for the challenge here.
“It’s good to be working with that clarity within the club where everyone knows what they have to do and how to go about it.
“The structure, the ambition, the squad we have here.
“It is a fantastic club and I’m excited for the challenge.
“The club are quite well down the line with a lot of things they need to do, a lot of those tick boxes I was talking about.
“I know what I have to do too.
“We know what the objective is and we want to do that at the first time of asking.”