IT is unlikely that Jonathan Woodgate will be short of inspiration in his quest to join the elite band of managers who will forever be revered at Middlesbrough – Jack Charlton, Bruce Rioch and Bryan Robson et al.
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In terms of templates to follow, the Teesside-born defender and lifelong supporter could do worse than head south as he strives to emulate the achievements of his decorated former England team-mate Frank Lampard at Derby County.
Lampard may now be in situ at his spiritual home of Stamford Bridge after just one full season in the East Midlands – which ended in Championship play-off final despair – but his legacy is a strong one.
The tears shed by Rams supporters after their Wembley defeat and the subsequent exit of their shining light in the dug-out will have dried relatively quickly – with their club now back on an upward trajectory.
Lampard’s outlook helped transform a long-in-the-tooth-looking Derby side into a vibrant Championship force, where loan stars excelled, home-grown talents were handed a platform and senior players were energised.
The manager has made a point of trying to get us used to playing under stress and playing under tiredness. There has been a real emphasis on dealing with the ball.Adam Clayton
An observant and smart back-four operator back in his playing days, Woodgate is likely to have taken note of developments at Derby as he embarks on his brave new world at Boro.
Speaking at his unveiling, Woodgate said: “Frank did a fantastic job and if you look at Steven Gerrard as well, he did as well, so did Scott Parker and Lee Bowyer. You need a chairman who has got a great desire to put a manager in who has never had a chance before.
“That is what you need, a man who is going to back you and I have got that with our chairman.”
Woodgate’s squad possesses a hardcore of established players which every aspiring team requires; tried and tested second-tier lieutenants and respected professionals, including the likes of Adam Clayton, George Friend and Jonny Howson.
Crucially, some talented young players also pervade the landscape, including the likes of Marcus Tavernier, Lewis Wing and Dael Fry, with the likes of Nathan Wood, Djed Spence and Connor Malley also likely to be knocking on the first-team door.
With Boro one of a number of Championship clubs who must adhere diligently to the regulations of Financial Fair Play, utilising home-grown resources and getting the best out of the players who are already in the building is crucial for the Teessiders.
It helps to explain Boro’s lack of incoming transfer activity so far this summer, with entering the loan market to bring in some young Premier League talent likely to represent the most likely window of opportunity.
The expectation among many supporters is that it will be a season of transition, with most viewing the development of attractive footballing style to be every bit as important as results on the pitch.
Being greedy, Woodgate will dismiss thoughts of consolidation and firmly believe that he can achieve both – make Boro more pleasing on the eye and less defensively minded than the Tony Pulis era which rankled sections of the Teesside public and also produce positive and consistent results.
Pre-season has brought some cautious optimism, with players buying into Woodgate’s approach, where the emphasis has been on ball-work and not boot-camp tactics, with a ball always close by when fitness work has been co-ordinated. A happy camp usually leads to a successful one.
Senior man Clayton observed: “Everything has been done with the ball.
“Every day in training, you are getting 300 or 400 touches of the ball. It is a completely different training regime, and one which is very enjoyable to go in to work and do.
“It has made pre-season enjoyable, although at the same time, it has been very, very tough.
“Everything has been with the ball, and the manager has made a point of trying to get us used to playing under stress and playing under tiredness.
“There has been a real emphasis on dealing with the ball.
“The whole ethos of the manager is different. He wants to press high. Every manager has their own ways, and I think the previous manager was more about containment and looking to break.
“We want to get on the press this season, we want to ruffle teams and get after them, especially at the Riverside.”
Putting entertainment back on the menu at the Riverside where Boro’s form in the last three seasons has left plenty to be desired will represent a key part of Woodgate’s remit.
Indeed, some would say that the Teessiders’ stodgy form on home soil goes back even longer, although any grumblings in 2014-15 and 2015-16 were tempered by the fact that Aitor Karanka made Boro near impregnable at the Riverside Stadium and their results were ultra-consistent – even if the style was often functional and pragmatic.
In those two aforesaid campaigns under Karanka – one which ended in a play-off appearance and the next in promotion – Boro had the best home statistics in the division, losing a collective total of five matches.
Last season, Boro lost seven league games in front of their own supporters, the 14th best record in the Championship.
On rewinding the clock to the Karanka era, but harnessing it with an easy-on-the-eye style, Woodgate said: “With the Aitor Karanka squad, you had a really strong spine of tough boys and there are still some of those in the dressing room now.
“We need to add a few more players and need a bit more pace, but Aitor did a brilliant job and if I can do anything like him that would be good.”