Why Jonathan Woodgate's Middlesbrough appointment feels significantly different compared to that of former Leeds United boss Garry Monk

Following the club’s relegation from the Premier League two years ago, Middlesbrough chairman Steve Gibson had a big decision to make.

Wednesday, 26th June 2019, 14:05 pm
Jonathan Woodgate was appointed Middlesbrough's new head coach earlier this month.

Just 12 months after winning back a place in England’s top-flight, the Teessiders were back to square one, adapting to life after their promotion-winning coach Aitor Karanka.

Boro had sleepwalked into the Championship under caretaker boss Steve Agnew, but now there was a chance to press the reset button, put the pieces back together under a new regine and, in Gibson’s words, ‘smash the Championship.’

Cue Garry Monk.

At the time it seemed like a sensible appointment, the former defender was out of work after leaving Leeds United at the end of the season, his stock still surprisingly high.

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For the first time in six years, Monk had manufactured a promotion challenge at Elland Road, in a job which had become something of a poisoned chalice under former chairman Massimo Cellino.

Monk had also performed well at Swansea City in his first managerial job, keeping the club in the Premier League following the departure Michael Laudrup.

It therefore seemed like a natural progression to give Monk a good crack at winning promotion, with club which had recently been there and done it.

Yet something never felt quite right.

A flurry of expense signings, many proven at Championship level, promised much, yet performances were unconvincing, Monk’s tone distant.

There was never a connection with the Riverside faithful as Monk, often bland and unconvincing in press conferences, repeatedly spoke about ‘the project’ and refused to single out individuals.

It didn't help that Monk was trying to play a completely different style following the well-drilled defensive unit which had been assembled by Aitor Karanka.

Would the transformation have eventually worked? Debatable.

Gibson, though, wasn’t convinced, pulling the trigger with Boro sitting just outside the play-offs and opting to appoint the experienced Tony Pulis instead.

Eighteen months later, Gibson has returned to the young, up-and-coming model by appointing Woodgate – despite his complete lack of managerial experience.

He has the full backing of the club’s hierarchy, as shown when Woodgate was joined by Gibson, chief executive Neil Bausor and head of recruitment operations Adrian Bevington during the head coach’s first managerial press conference.

In comparison, only Bausor sat alongside Monk during his low-key unveiling back in 2017.

Another advantage Woodgate has is that he knows the club. He knows the area, and he knows the fan base. He has lived and breathed Boro ever since his childhood.

“I've been a Middlesbrough fan since I was six years old and my father used to take me to Ayresome Park,” said Woodgate at the very start of his first managerial presser.

Woodgate gets what Boro fans want to see, the passion which surrounds the Riverside Stadium and the potential of the club’s prosperous academy.

That’s not to say Monk couldn’t have done a good job in the Boro hotseat, it’s one thing talking a good game and another transferring it onto the pitch.

Aitor Karanka had no links to Middlesbrough when he arrived in 2013 but quickly became a fans’ favourite on Teesside.

Yet there was never that connection with Monk, no chants of his name from the vocal supporters in the South Stand, seemingly no clear style to get behind and commit to.

Following relegation from the Premier League the previous campaign, Boro were also the clear favourites to go straight back up under Monk– anything less would have been viewed as a failure.

The former Leeds boss also followed in the footsteps of Karanka – Boro’s most successful manager in recent years, who ended a run of seven successive seasons in the Championship.

Thankfully for Woodgate, his remit appears much more forgiving, after Gibson vowed to give his new coaching team time to rebuild the squad.

And, following last season’s dreary and forgettable end under Tony Pulis, it appears most Boro fans are willing to back the chairman’s new vision, with a manager they can engage with and relate to.

Of course, the Championship season is a drawn out campaign and Woodgate’s managerial credentials will be put to the test in the next 11 months.

Even so, the mood surrounding Woodgate’s appointment feels significantly different to when Monk was announced two years ago. Hopefully performances on the pitch can maintain the early momentum.