AITOR KARANKA, Middlesbrough’s new manager, may be stepping into virgin territory today as the Spaniard makes his bow in English football.
But the 40-year-old, who succeeded Tony Mowbray early in the recent international break, will make his new start in familiar surrounds.
During a playing career spent almost exclusively in his home country, Karanka spent five years at Real Madrid and was an unused substitute when the Spanish giants triumphed 2-0 at Elland Road in the Champions League.
Goals from Raul and Fernando Hierro settled the November, 2000, contest and the new Boro chief is looking forward to kicking off his reign in West Yorkshire.
He said: “It is a new beginning for everybody. I am an honest coach. I was a player and an assistant with Jose (Mourinho) at Real Madrid, and I believe that honesty is an important thing for a coach. On the pitch, I will select the best XI players to win the game.
“I drew my first game as a player for Athletic Bilbao, and I drew my first game as the assistant manager at Real Madrid. So at least I am unbeaten!
“Both games were also away, just like this one will be. I am told there are going to be 30,000 supporters at Leeds.
“In Spain, you would never, ever get that in the Second Division. It would be unheard of. In Spain, there is a very big gap between the top two divisions. In England, that gap is much smaller, and the Championship is much closer to the Premier League in terms of quality.
“It is also a much closer league than the second division in Spain. In the Championship, you can win a couple of games and be in the play-offs.
“That is the good thing for us. If we win two or three games, we will be in the play-off positions and that is a major incentive for us.
“It is great for both sets of players to be able to play in an atmosphere like that. If you are a player, you should relish playing in a game like this.”
Considering his lack of experience of working in the Football League, Karanka was seen in some quarters as a left-field appointment by Boro chairman Steve Gibson.
The man himself, however, is eager to get down to business and a first taste of managing in the Championship. Karanka added: “I know there is rivalry between the clubs, and I know a lot of people from Middlesbrough will be going to the game.
“It is a very important game for us. The players will feel the support from the fans, and we will be trying to do everything we can on the pitch to win.”