Long read: Jonathan Woodgate is bringing Middlesbrough's identity back says former coach Paul Jenkins
Middlesbrough head coach Jonathan Woodgate is well respected in the world of football – you only had to look at the comments on his Instagram page following last month’s appointment to get an idea of his popularity.
Among the messages of support were posts from the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Michael Owen and Alan Shearer, his former team-mates at Leeds, Real Madrid and Newcastle respectively.
Yet few know Woodgate better than former Boro coach Paul Jenkins, a man who understands the fabric of Middlesbrough Football Club after working there for 23 years.
Jenkins, 44, occupied several positions during his time at Boro, after working in the academy set-up and stepping up to first-team coach in March 2017.
His time at the club came to an end the following summer, yet Jenkins, who has now taken on a new challenge working as lead coach at the Kepier School Football Academy, still keeps a close eye on Boro and remains in regular contact with Woodgate.
“We’re good friends,” said Jenkins during an in-depth chat with the Mail when asked about his relationship with Woodgate. “We’ve spoke over the last two years about football in general, about young players in general and about him developing himself as a coach.
“I spoke to him before he was getting the interviews and have had conversations with him after it so he’s got my full backing and support. I’m sure he’ll be twisting my ear throughout the season to hear what my opinion is and what my thoughts are.
“I’m absolutely delighted for him because I know how much it means to him to manage this football club being, like myself, someone from the area and he’s worked hard to get there.
“He hasn’t finished the game and thought the game owes him something, he was prepared to do his coaching badges, he was prepared to put the hours in, he was prepared to come and do it the right way. If someone deserves the opportunity it’s someone like him.”
Jenkins saw Woodgate’s coaching qualities first-hand after the pair were promoted to Boro’s first-team set-up under interim manager Steve Agnew two years ago.
But, following the departure of promotion-winning boss Aitor Karanka, Boro’s new coaching team were left with the toughest of tasks, trying to lift the club out of the relegation zone with games against Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool to come.
But despite Boro’s eventual demotion to the second tier, the experience served Woodgate well in his quest to break into senior management.
“He had an air of authority about him,” says Jenkins. “I could see the qualities he had then, it was his first opportunity on the coaching side. He was very knowledgeable, he’s worked under some magnificent managers, well experienced managers, and learnt so much.
“One thing about Jonathan is he knows what he wants, he knows how he wants his teams to play which is a really good sign already that he’s got his own opinions on things.
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“I just hope he gets the support that he needs to be successful because I’m sure he will be.”
Since his appointment at the Riverside in June, it’s been well-documented that Woodgate wants to promote the youth and maximise Boro’s highly-rated academy.
Jenkins knows all about the successful set-up after watching the likes of Stewart Downing, Ben Gibson and Dael Fry progress to the first team at the Riverside.
And as someone from the area who has worked closely with Boro’s academy, Jenkins knows the importance of promoting from within, but does believe the club have lost their identity in recent years.
Still, he has no doubts that Boro’s young prospects will receive a chance under Woodgate.
“The one thing I do know is the young players at Middlesbrough will certainly get an opportunity under his stewardship,” adds Jenkins. “He understands the importance of young players, the importance of the academy.”
“Middlesbrough being a community club, having young player from the area representing Middlesbrough is extremely important and always will be. By having somebody like Jonathan in charge is a massive sign to young players you will get a chance if you’re good enough.
“I think over recent years that identity has been lost but I think the club are trying very hard now to re-brand itself and make sure the identity is brought back.
“As someone who has been at the club for 23 years and being a Middlesbrough lad it is definitely something I would agree with.”
Even so, Jenkins is under no illusions about the difficulty of Woodgate’s task, as Boro’s new head coach plans to implement a different style compared to the old regime.
“They need to make some changes, they definitely need to recruit with the way he wants to play,” says Jenkins when asked about Boro’s current squad. “I’m sure he’ll want to bring players in who suit his style of play.
“But lets not make any bones about it there are some very experienced players at that football club, people like George (Friend), Clayts (Adam Clayton), Britt Assombalonga who know that league.
“I think it’s critical to get the balance right with promoting young players coupled with the players who are already there.”