Five reasons why Middlesbrough should re-appoint Aitor Karanka

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 17 May 2019, 14:38

Middlesbrough chairman Steve Gibson has opted not to extend Tony Pulis’ contract as manager.

There are aspects of Pulis’ work that was admirable – Boro kept 19 league clean sheets under his watch, the second-most in the division and perhaps had strikers been more clinical with various clear-cut chances during Spring’s six-match losing streak, we might be looking at a different story.

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However, the quality of build-up play under the wily Welshman’s tutelage was very poor, fans felt disillusioned by the setup and in that sense it is hard to argue with Gibson’s decision.

The best man to replace Pulis in the hotseat at the Riverside Stadium? We reckon it’s Aitor Karanka – here’s why.

His record

Aitor Karanka has a proven history of success in the Championship.

After the Tony Mowbray regime at Middlesbrough had gone rather stale, Karanka rejuvenated the club, shaking up the team whilst bringing a wealth of experience and contacts.

In his first full season in charge, he led Boro into promotion contention; they lost 2-0 to Norwich in the Play-Off Final.

The following year, Karanka led the Teessiders to automatic promotion thanks to a final day draw with Brighton.

Over the last two seasons meanwhile, Nottingham Forest have lost just 14 games in 46 under Karanka’s leadership in comparison with 23 in 46 without him.


The Reds had a far better chance of seriously changing for promotion under the Spaniard rather than the more process-driven Mark Warburton and the uninspiring Martin O’Neill.

Chairman Nicholas Randall made a mistake letting Karanka go, which means Boro can get one of the best managers around for the Championship without paying a compensation fee.

He gets teams organised

In Karanka’s two full seasons as a permanent Middlesbrough manager, his teams have conceded a combined 68 goals in 92 league games.

For context, that’s one fewer goal than Blackburn have conceded in the previous season alone.

It is very difficult to find defensive consistency, because even the best-drilled rear-guard in the world relies to some extent on the opposition not unleashing a wonderful strike from distance.

However, Karanka has achieved that and he would inherit a solid template laid out by Tony Pulis.

The former Real Madrid assistant has worked with the likes of Daniel Ayala, George Friend and Adam Clayton previously, too.

Although some of those players are not necessarily at the peak of their powers, they can still provide an element of defensive reliability in a Karanka side.

He’s learnt from his previous spell

Karanka’s previous tenure as Middlesbrough manager went slightly stale towards the end as the football became aimless and goalscoring issues arose.

However, he appears to have learnt from that, because the Forest team he built were well-balanced – the midfield trio all offered something in possession.

Adlene Guedioura provided a presence and the ability to switch play with the odd nice diagonal, Jack Colback shifted the ball quickly and sometimes made runs beyond the ball while Karanka got more out of enigmatic technician Joao Carvalho than his successor.

Although Karanka would enforce the same level of organisation as Pulis, he would likely encourage more composure on the ball which is necessary for the team to create a higher volume of chances.

He’d lure Colback

When playing under Karanka, Colback was among the best ball-winners in the Championship – and externally underrated.

Many often ask what Colback offers that, for example, Claudio Yacob does not but the midfielder is a lot more mobile.

Whereas a more experienced ball-winner would go in hard for one challenge then be forced to recoil, Colback possesses the energy and stamina to maintain a high-intensity performance for 90 minutes.

Newcastle apparently want £1m for Colback as well as a willingness to match wages of a reported £35K per week; that might sound a lot, but when we consider the value that strikers command in the Championship, it is important to recognise that having the right midfielder is just as important.

The 29-year-old would not only be playing under a manager who has got the best out of him, he would also be working near his north-east roots.


He’d add a right-back

Ryan Shotton has never been found wanting for effort at right-back – and the quality of his long throws have been a real weapon, especially in the early weeks of the season.

However, the mobility that we see from some of the best right-backs in the Championship like Max Aarons, Jayden Bogle and George Baldock, or the nimble footing of others such as Luke Ayling, Shotton does not quite possess.

Dael Fry is a reasonable understudy to Shotton – he produced a very strong performance in January’s 2-1 win at Birmingham – but he too is a centre-back by trade.

Karanka, who favoured an attacking right-back in Tendayi Darikwa on Trentside, is likely to be quick to address that area – either by recruiting in the summer or blooding promising youngster Djed Spence.

Although some Boro fans might not be entirely happy with how he briefly went AWOL before the 2-0 defeat at Charlton in the promotion season, but after David Nugent’s injury-time header won a crunch clash with Hull in the following game, fans were singing his name.

Middlesbrough would be getting a manager better than the one they had in his first spell – and bringing him back would be a wise move for the club.

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Graham Westley
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