Jonathan Woodgate has hailed the Aitor Karanka factor as Middlesbrough prepare to turn promise into a Premier League place.
Boro face Norwich City at Wembley on Monday in the Sky Bet Championship play-off final.
Every day in training you have to try to win every game you playJONATHAN WOODATE
Since arriving at the Riverside in November 2013 as the club’s first overseas boss, Karanka has transformed the Teessiders.
From a side which would too often flatter to deceive, Boro now look the real deal and Woodgate says that is down to the Spaniard, his training methods and man-management.
“He’s been fantastic,” Woodgate said of the former Real Madrid defender.
“One thing he has instilled in the team is a winning mentallity.
“Every day in training you have to try to win every game you play.
“Also the standard of training is first class.
“I have totally enjoyed working with him, he’s fabulous.
“Considering it’s only the first year and a half (as a manager) he has been fantastic.
“He has played at the very top, he knows what it’s like to be a player.
“Sometimes you get managers who don’t know what players want – the gaffer knows what players want.
“He’s been first class with every single player.”
Woodgate has already played at Wembley with England and won at the stadium in a cup final with Tottenham, heading in the extra-time winner in the League Cup final with Chelsea.
But he says he won’t be talking to the Boro players about his days at Wembley.
“Not one bit,” he said.
“I will try to pass on my experience of what it could be like on the day, but I’m not the type of person to talk about what I’ve done in the past.”
Woodgate admits it will be a special day for him as he’s a born and bred Boro boy.
But, even given that and the fact it could be the final game of a long career, he still insists the day is all about the club and the town.
“I used to go to the games with my dad and I had the pictures on my bedroom wall and all that,” said the ex-Newcastle centre-half, whose hero was Gary Pallister.
“Gary was the player I tried to model myself on.
“He was the player I really enjoyed watching, although I used to love watching them all. It’s not about me, it’s about the biggest game for this club in a long, long time.”
Woodgate was not being drawn on his future, explaining that he will decide in the summer after discussions with Karanka and his family.
But whatever the result on Monday, he says Boro will need to enhance their squad.
“We have a fantastic group of players who are striving to go in the right direction,” said the 35-year-old, who looks like having to be content with a place on the bench at Wembley with Karanka starting with Dani Ayala and Ben Gibson.
“If you look at some of the players we have signed from lower leagues, they want to play at the highest level.
“If we go up we have a good squad in place and we will look to improve it – every team looks to improve things every season.
“If we stay in the same league I think we would have to still look to improve because if we haven’tgone up then it’s because we weren’t good enough.”