Long read: Jonathan Woodgate needs help from Middlesbrough's recruitment team to challenge for Championship promotion
When Jonathan Woodgate was announced as Middlesbrough’s new head coach just over a month ago, his new job title was made clear.
The 39-year-old was chosen to lead Boro’s new-look coaching set-up, with the support of Robbie Keane, Leo Percovich and Danny Coyne, yet the term manager wasn’t used by the club.
That made it clear, Woodgate will be in charge of proceedings on the pitch while others are left to deal with off-field matters at the Riverside.
Boro’s head coach has regularly been asked about the club’s lack of transfer business this summer and repeatedly said there is no need to panic.
But how much control does a head coach actually have when it comes to bringing players in?
With just two weeks to go until next month’s deadline, the Teessiders are still yet to sign an outfield player this summer, despite Woodgate admitting the squad needs strengthening.
Since last season, Boro have allowed John Obi Mikel, Stewart Downing and Aden Flint to leave the club, while Jordan Hugill and Mo Besic have returned to their parent clubs following loan spells at the Riverside. None have been replaced.
Woodgate has remained calm about the situation when faced with the media during pre-season, while the head coach’s knowledge of Boro’s academy has helped plug some gaps.
Yet it seems there is little more Woodgate can do, apart from trying to get the best out of the players he has available and putting his faith in the club’s recruitment team.
During an interview with BBC Tees Sport earlier this month, Woodgate explained how Boro’s transfer procedure will work this summer: “You have to go through recruitment and they have targets,” Woodgate said. “They’ll look at this all year and they’ll find targets who they can put to the manager.
“We’ll look at all those targets and see what they’re good at, what they’re not so good at, what we can improve on. It’s important the recruitment build up a picture of these players who we can sign.”
“I’ve got to take their view, I’ve got to trust their view, I’ll watch the player but they’ll do more work on the player,” added Woodgate on the recruitment staff.
“I’ll come and watch them then we’ll decide, me Robbie, Leo, Danny what is it we really want in that player. If he’s got all the ingredients that we want in certain areas then we’ll sign him.”
That sounds like a lengthy process and is a little concerning considering time to sign new players is running out fast.
This isn’t the first time Boro’s recruitment team have come under pressure, following a disappointing January window under Tony Pulis earlier this year.
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"There’s no hiding the fact there were players we wanted to bring in who we haven’t been able to bring in,” said Pulis on February 1. "There are areas I’ve wanted to strengthen for 13 or 14 months and we’ve not been able to do that.”
Whether Pulis was having a dig at those behind the scenes, or Boro were simply restrained by EFL Financial Fair Play rules, isn’t completely clear.
Yet one person who Pulis praised repeatedly was chairman Steve Gibson, who pumped a staggering £50million into the club to sign players following relegation to the Championship in 2017.
“I think Steve spent over £50-odd million,” added Pulis in the aftermath of January’s disheartening deadline day. “The wages and everything else that comes with that is extraordinary. The club is paying for it at the moment.”
Woodgate will hope the sale of Martin Braithwaite to Spanish side Leganes helps fund new signings in the final weeks of the window, after the Dane was taking up a large chunk of Boro’s wage resources.
Braithwaite signed a four-year deal at the Riverside two years ago for a reported £9million but made just 40 appearances for the Teessiders in that time.
Following Tuesday’s pre-season win at Salford, Woodgate was asked if Braithwaite’s exit could free up Boro to make new signings in the final weeks of the transfer window.
“I know what targets I want,” Woodgate replied. “Neil (Bausor) and Adrian (Bevington) know. I have left it with them. They are doing the rest.”
That strongly suggests Woodgate has done all he can in terms of channelling his input to those in the boardroom, who now need to deliver for the club’s new boss.
Ahead of a 46-game Championship campaign, Boro’s squad remains worryingly thin, with just 17 senior players listed on the club’s website.
That includes the likes of George Friend, Daniel Ayala and Dael Fry who are still returning to full fitness following injury lay-offs last term, as well as Stephen Walker who hasn’t made an single league appearance for Boro.
The Teessiders may have a strong starting XI at Championship level but maintaining a promotion challenge with such a small pool of players is simply unsustainable.
Woodgate will have aspirations to challenge at the top of England’s second tier this term - after all, Boro finished just a point outside the play-offs last season.
Yet Woodgate will need support from those above to achieve those goals and ultimately become a success at the Riverside.