BACK in the chilly autumn of 2010, the last Teessider handed the managerial reins at his boyhood club had to don a hard hat pretty quickly.
The man widely expected to be confirmed as Middlesbrough’s new face in the dug-out later today will similarly be forced to soon park sentiment at the start of his own emotional journey at the helm of the club which will always tug upon his heartstrings.
Just as Tony Mowbray began his spell in charge at hometown side Boro with his eyes wide open, so Jonathan Woodgate – whose appointment is set to be announced today – should be under no illusions about the extent of the reconstruction work he must undertake at the Riverside.
Mowbray was assigned with rebooting a squad bloated with senior professionals with limited sell-on value and on generous wage packets after the excesses of the ill-fated Gordon Strachan era – an onerous task in a retrenchment era.
The job specification also focused on the promotion of homegrown talent and being prudent in the transfer market – code for funds being limited – while at the same time, endeavouring to foster a winning culture and cultivate an attractive playing style.
Former Leeds United defender Woodgate’s hefty brief will not be too dissimilar, with Mowbray, then 46, at least having the benefit of six years in frontline management with the likes of West Brom, Hibernian and Celtic.
With justification, some would suggest it does not appear to be a job for a rookie manager like Woodgate and may represent a case of ‘right job, wrong time.’
Bot for Woodgate, who stood on the terraces with his late father Alan at the old Ayresome Park and was also among the 3,690 crowd who attended Boro’s first ‘home’ game of the 1986-87 season at neighbours Hartlepool – the day after the club were saved from extinction – the realisation will be that chances like this do not come around very often.
Speak to those who know him well and it is not merely a case of the heart ruling the head either.
The talk is of the 39-year-old being ready to strike out on his own and someone who is ambitious, single-minded and driven with the ability to back his judgement.
Much like, in fact, Woodgate’s one-time international contemporaries Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, who have quickly carved out their own niches in their maiden forays in frontline management at Rangers and Derby County and shown themselves to be authoritative figures and leaders of men in the process.
The devout hope of the Boro hierarchy will be that their faith in Woodgate, who impressed with his vision in the interviewing process, is not misplaced and that the Teessider can follow in the footsteps of his former England team-mates and re-energise a subdued fanbase in the bargain.
It is fair to say that reaction to Woodgate’s impending appointment has been mixed.
But with expectations tempered by two seasons of underwhelming fare under Garry Monk and Pulis, there will be a certain amount of open-mindedness among a fanbase who are increasingly realistic regarding Boro’s promotion aspirations in the light of Financial Fair Play regulations and the ending of parachute payments after relegation from the Premier League.
The showcasing of an attractive playing style, allied to some positive early results – more especially on home soil where Boro’s entertainment levels and win ratio have been lamentable over the past few years– would buy Woodgate valuable time.
It is time which he is highly likely to require, with most observers of the view that turning around Boro’s fortunes will represent a two to three-year project.
Woodgate’s backroom team could well include his former Leeds and Tottenham Hotspur team-mate Robbie Keane, who has been sounded out by Boro regarding the assistant manager’s role.
Keane, who is currently working as one of Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy’s assistants, has confirmed that he has been approached by the Teessiders, who would allow him to combine the two roles.
Boro have spoken to Leo Percovich, who worked as goalkeeping coach at the club under Aitor Karanka, about returning to the club for a second spell and have also held talks with former coach Steve Round and Brighton’s under-23s assistant coach Liam Rosenior about potentially joining the new-look set-up.