The transfer dilemmas facing Middlesbrough and Neil Warnock as club plan for 'eight or nine' summer signings
Over the last few years at Middlesbrough, the summer transfer window has accompanied a similar narrative. The club needs to rebuild.
It was certainly the case when Boro were relegated from the Premier League in 2017 and spent an excess of £50million during Gary Monk’s brief tenure.
Within six months, Monk had been replaced by Tony Pulis who repeatedly spoke about the need for cost-cutting and financial restrictions.
Jonathan Woodgate’s unveiling in 2019 was intertwined with talk about recruiting young and hungry players, and now Neil Warnock is trying to assemble a squad which can challenge for promotion next season.
Clearly the lifespan of a Championship manager at one club has decreased over the years, yet visibly Boro have been caught between several different strategies since their top-flight relegation four years ago.
Recruitment is obviously key at any club, and this summer really does feel like a rebuild after Warnock said he wanted ‘eight or nine’ new signings to challenge for promotion.
Based on his record at Sheffield United, Cardiff and QPR, it’s hard to argue there are many better candidates than Warnock when trying to reach the Premier League.
Yet there is obviously uncertainty about whether the 72-year-old will be at Boro beyond the 2021/22 campaign, meaning the club must plan accordingly.
Boro need to provide Warnock with players he feels can turn the squad into serious promotion contenders, yet there should also be some longer-term thinking when recruiting such a large volume of players.
Unlike in 2017, Boro won’t be handing out contract packages containing top-end Championship/Premier League wages. Still, there will be a desire to bring in sustainable assets.
Players signed during the Tony Mowbray and Aitor Karanka eras such as George Friend, Adam Clayton, Grant Leadbitter and Daniel Ayala, when they were all in their early to mid-20s, proved to be excellent additions and excelled under multiple managers.
Obviously there were signings that didn’t work out during that period, yet the aforementioned players provided a foundation for an ever-changing squad.
Warnock has recently spoken about trying to sign players in the 24-29-year age group who are supposedly reaching or in their prime.
While recent transfer windows have been mixed at best, Boro have managed to tie down players such as Paddy McNair (26), Anfernee Dijksteel (24) and Marc Bola (23) to long-term deals, complineting academy graduates Dael Fry (23) and Marcus Tavernier (22).
Warnock has also highlighted the need for experience and leaders. It’s something which was pointed out when he first arrived on Teesside and still appears unresolved.
There lies part of the dilemma as Boro search the market for new recruits.
Ideally they will be able to sign good characters, at an age where they can develop and can ultimately improve the side. Finding someone who ticks all the boxes is harder than it sounds though.
Warnock needs players who he feels can take his team to the next level, addressing the flaws that cost them during the 2020/21 campaign.
Yet there should also be an element of longer-term planning.
Based on previous jobs, Warnock has often left clubs in a better place than when he arrived. He’ll be looking to do the same at Boro.