Continuity at What Cost?

Article excerpt

Continuity. That was the watchword when Gareth Southgate was appointed.

For too long in football, clubs have thrown the baby out with the bath water on a manager's exit and purged the coaching staff, made wholesale changes to the squad and radically changed the footballing philosophy to suit the new boss.

You can see the impeccable logic of Boro's bold break from football's chaotic norm in favour of a policy of long-term planning and stability.

The club had been in Europe two years running, won that elusive first trophy, reached the UEFA Cup final and, at their best, had beaten Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal as well as some recognisable European powers while the academy structure was producing talent worthy of a first-team place.

It was probably the best position Boro had ever been in. Steve McClaren's five-year plan to transform the club's infrastructure was bang on schedule. The last thing we needed was a brash new boss coming in and ripping apart the coaching methodology, the way the team played and buying in players who blocked the path of the youngsters.

That was the risk associated with bringing in a Martin O'Neill figure. Success was far from guaranteed but upheaval was and it may have meant starting again from Year Zero.

So continuity it is. In Gareth Southgate the club found someone who bought into the vision and believed in the structure while commanding the respect of a crowd divided by Steve McClaren.

But there are some things we don't want continuity with from the McClaren era.

We don't want continuity with the baffling team selections, the tactical shapes trying to second guess the opposing coach, displays against minnows that are without spirit or spark, the downbeat tempo calculated to silence the crowd in the first 20 minutes - even at home - and a fear-filled negative attitude in games that offers little in the way of entertainment and does nothing to stop the drift from stadium to pub.

Square pegs in round holes: the Bernie Slaven mantra used to beat McClaren so often has not fallen into disuse. Against Blackburn Boro started with three people out of position.

There is a continuity of the glaring problem on the right, a problem unresolved since Geremi and which was not tackled in the summer.

No one can deliver a telling cross from the right with anything like the confidence or accuracy that Stewart Downing can on the left. That results in moments where Boro get down the right with the opposition exposed, then come back and lose the initiative.

There is continuity of caution in games too. Despite an early public declaration that his team would be adventurous, in fact Southgate's side are still enmeshed in the McClaren mindset of keeping it tight, sitting deep and waiting for a chance to open up rather than setting out to attack

At times it has made sense. It worked against Arsenal, Chelsea and Bolton but against Portsmouth and Blackburn, sitting back is an invitation for the opposition to have a crack at breaking you down and when the defence is weak - we have yet to see a first-choice back four and at times the unit has been all at sea - that is a recipe for disaster.

There is continuity in persisting with Gaizka Mendieta, a player with undoubted pedigree but who since his string of injuries and Samsonesque strength-sapping haircut seems woefully short of the physical demands of the Premiership.

There has been continuity with the 'typical Boro' perversity in beating the champions but losing to promoted sides, strugglers and the also-rans. …