Exclusive: Leo Percovich discusses managerial aspirations, relationship with Karanka and differences at Middlesbrough

Leo Percovich still believes he can become a professional manager one day but insists he’s fully committed to helping Jonathan Woodgate develop at Middlesbrough.

Saturday, 23rd November 2019, 12:12 pm
Leo Percovich rejoined Middlesbrough's coaching staff to support Jonathan Woodgate.
Leo Percovich rejoined Middlesbrough's coaching staff to support Jonathan Woodgate.

The Uruguayan, 51, is the most experienced member of Boro’s new coaching team following spells at Brazilian club Cruzeiro, Real Madrid and Valencia among others.

Percovich also managed Fluminense’s under-20 side in Brazil and was the club’s assistant manager before returning to Teesside to support Woodgate in the summer.

The decision to come back to England was an easy one for the popular coach who formed a strong bond with supporters during his first spell at Boro between 2013 and 2017.

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And despite his aspirations to become a senior manager one day, Percovich is determined to give his all for a club he loves.

“This question I answered in Brazil when I arrived there,” Percovich tells the Mail when asked if he could become a manager one day. “They asked me if I wanted to be a manager one day and I said I’m in no rush.

“I said I’m here to develop in this role in Brazil and now here it’s the same. I came here to support Jonathan Woodgate, to develop his career, to support the club and this project.

“One day yes for sure it will come in the right moment but right now I’m fully committed to doing the best here.”

During his first spell at Boro under Aitor Karanka, Percovich’s official title was goalkeeping coach, yet his passion and popularity made him a far more prominent figure.

But, as the Uruguayan points out, he has far more experience working as a coach or assistant than people may know about.

“When I came here the difference for me was to work as a goalkeeping coach,” adds Percovich. “I had always been a coach or an assistant coach.

“When I was here before, the role I had was as a goalkeeping coach but people know here I did more than being a goalkeeping coach.

“I was another member of the coaching staff doing some analysis doing some training sessions too.

“When I left here I went and worked as an assistant coach in Brazil at Fluminense Football Club, so for me now at the club it’s new but not something really different to what I did before.”

But while many things have stayed the same compared to when Percovich was first at Boro, there are differences too – most notably the club’s league position.

Under Karanka the Teessiders were fighting to reach the Premier League after signing several players with promotion-winning pedigree.

However, following the club’s summer restructure, Boro have now taken a different approach.

“In terms of the team the difference is the roster of players,” adds Percovich. “At that time we had a very big roster of around 30 players and players who were big names too, people with more experience in the league.

“Now we work with a smaller roster, younger players who are trying to play a new philosophy, new identity for the club. We are trying to bring this back to that level.”

“It’s hard to compare because the style Karanka wanted to play is quite different to the style Jonathan is trying to enforce now.

“Karanka was more conservative and tried to be good with the ball, Jonathan wants to be good with the ball but wants to put high pressure that we didn’t do before.”

During their time at Boro, Percovich shared a close relationship with Karanka and memorably wore a tracksuit with the Spaniard’s initials on it when the former Boro boss was absent for a league game at Charlton.

“Sometimes we send messages,” says Percovich when asked if he’s still in touch with his former boss. “He is a big friend of mine so we still have this relationship.

“Anything you need I know I can get his support, and for sure everything he needs he knows he can get my support.”

So does Percovich feel more responsibility now he’s working with a less experienced group?

“Of course I feel the responsibility but I enjoy to have the responsibility because my point of view has to be very clear, more precise, what I saw, what I think and how to do it.

“I give my thoughts from my experience and everyone else give their thoughts from their experience. I feel very important to have the responsibility to help Woodgate develop his career.”

And while Boro have endued a difficult start to the season, winning just two of their 16 league games, Percovich insists it’s not down to a lack of effort.

“It’s intense,” the Uruguayan adds. “For example today in the training we had 20 players, eight of the 20 were from the academy so you have to stay on top of that, you have to help them develop for a Championship environment.

“You need to support them not only technically or tactically but also their mentality, to have the right mentality all week, not for one month for every month.

“That is why we are always here and the gaffer more than everybody, you come in here at seven, he’s there, you leave five, six or seven he’s still there so he’s fully committed to try to do the best.”