Jonathan Woodgate is Middlesbrough’s new manager. It’s an appointment met with optimism and pessimism in equal measure, but surely one thing is for certain: he can reclaim Boro’s identity.
The grit and passion that is synonymous on Teesside has been few and far between since the days of Aitor Karanka, who built it into his team’s DNA to transmit those exact qualities onto the pitch.
Somewhat ironically, we’ve ran out of steel, and that needs to change.
With Woodgate, there’s no better man to spearhead a new era at the club – and a club he loves at that.
It may be ‘unambitious’, in fact, the phrase ‘jobs for the boys’ is being banded about a lot on social media.
But this isn’t jobs for the boys. This is Boro trying to reinvent themselves.
The level of disconnect reached a point last season where fans had lost their empathy. No anger, no disappointment, no frustration. Nothing.
Garry Monk and Tony Pulis may be cut from different cloths of management, but the common ground between them is that they didn’t win the fans over.
Woodgate can bridge that gap.Embed from Getty Images
He may not be fans’ first choice, but his love of Middlesbrough – the town and the football team – will go a long way in building up a rapport with the fans.
Like all of us, Woodgate wants Boro to succeed. He bleeds red. He’s currently living a fan’s dream and it’s ludicrous to suggest he would take this position for granted.
His childhood heroes are like many others: Tony Mowbray, Gary Pallister, Stuart Ripley. All of whom a young Woodgate idolised from the North Stand at the old Ayresome Park ground.
Every Boro fan wants to see that. A crop of youngsters donning the red and white shirt. It’s the essence of the famous spirit of 86 and it can be that now.
Woodgate knows the club’s upcoming talents too. Stephen Walker, Bilal Brahimi, Nathan Wood – all players that have been coached under him during his spell as assistant manager, and players that can make the next step up.
There is a two-way street of respect between Woodgate and those around him, echoed between current pros, former pros and current coaches.
A world-class centre half during his playing career, he’s performed at the highest level. UEFA Cup, Champions League, League Cup – even a stint at the Bernabeu. He’s earned that respect.
“He’s been at Real Madrid, he’s been at Tottenham, he’s had a great career and he has all the experience, so for me to pick his brains, I can only learn from him.” – Dael Fry, 2018
He was praised as a valued member of the squad by current midfielder Adam Clayton after signing a new contract back in 2015.
“Everyone likes Woody,” he said. “He’s a top man and he’s got time for everyone, whether that’s one of the first team lads or one of the under-16s.”
Defender Dael Fry has spoken on numerous occasions about the help Woodgate has given him to progress his Middlesbrough career.
In 2014 he told the FA: “He’s a big influence on me and at the club and really good for the young lads. I ask him questions every day after training and games and he always stops to give advice. It’s great for my development.”
Former Boro assistant manager Steve Agnew describes Woodgate as ‘a well-respected footballer’ who has ‘become a well-respected coach’.
Curtis Fleming said: “Woody wants to play good football, he’s worked with some great coaches and he’s a good coach himself.”
Woodgate’s drive and desire to learn the tricks of the trade will put him firmly on his way to becoming an established manager. He lives and breathes football, constantly taking in the game, decoding the play and even analysing analysts.
“I couldn’t wait for it (televised games),” Woodgate said in 2013. “I couldn’t wait for the preview though. I’ll watch that, then I’ll watch it afterwards as well. The way they analyse the games, I think it’s fantastic to learn from.”
This isn’t just some random bloke picked off the streets of Nunthorpe. This is the best player to ever come from Middlesbrough in the modern era; a widely respected and established professional. A hard worker. A level headed figure unafraid of the big challenge. A footballing man. Our manager.
It’s a gamble and he will need time, but don’t worry, Woody’s at the wheel.