FOR MIDDLESBROUGH supporters and, no doubt, Jonathan Woodgate himself, the presence of the ‘Special One’ in the visiting dug-out tomorrow will be a reminder of halcyon times at the Riverside Stadium.
Ones that everyone connected with the club would dearly love to recreate on a regular basis.
From its opening in the mid-Nineties through to the mid-to-late Noughties, the arrival of the country’s finest and some of the biggest personalties and highest-profile players in the game wascommonplace in front of packed houses on Teesside.
One such figure in Tottenham Hotspur boss Jose Mourinho will have cause to rue one particularly bitter experience of the Riverside – and the truculent, but fascinating Portuguese is the sort of individual to possess a long memory.
That moment arrived almost 14 years ago on February 11, 2006, in a 2005-06 campaign which ended in a second successive Premier League title for Mourinho during his first spell at Chelsea.
Boro inflicted just a second league defeat upon Mourinho’s Blues in that season in a stunning 3-0 win, thanks to goals from Fabio Rochemback, Stewart Downing and Yakubu in front of over 31,000 ecstatic fans.
At the time, it represented the heaviest defeat in the 20-month reign of Mourinho – and the joint-biggest loss of his whole managerial career, with a 3-0 setback for Porto in 2002 and a similar defeat with Benfica in 2000 being the previous lowlights.
Given Boro’s descent in fortunes since those heady days, anything resembling a repeat – even accounting for the cup’s predilection for shocks – would be wholly unrealistic, with serial winner Mourinho likely to take the competition pretty seriously, given his gluttony for landing silverware; he has already won 11 domestic trophies in England.
Not that Mourinho is likely to be complacent, having no doubt made it his business to be aware of Boro’s recent mini-upturn, allied to the fact that he is minded to remember the bloody nose he once received at this venue.
Boro chief Woodgate, eagerly anticipating tomorrow’s encounter with one of his former clubs, said: “He is an incredible manager. He has won leagues in four different countries and the Champions Leagues.
“He is one of the best there has been and is top-drawer now and that is why Tottenham signed him to replace (Mauricio) Pochettino. You have got to be a special manager and Mourinho is that.
“He has seen it, done it. It is an incredible experience for me to learn from someone of that calibre.”
Woodgate’s brief but memorable contribution for Spurs is unlikely to be forgotten by the sizeable visiting contingent on Teesside tomorrow either.
The defender spent three years at White Hart Lane from 2008-11 – and famously scored the goal which won them the League Cup at Chelsea’s expense in 2008. Lining up alongside Woodgate that day was his assistant Robbie Keane on a Wembley afternoon when the Boro head coach crowned a man-of-the-match display with a scruffy winner not in keeping with his Rolls Royce performance in the heart of defence.
It represented a fateful moment for Spurs and still represents the last occasion that they lifted silverware.
Woodgate observed: “I had a good time there. Okay, towards the end, I got injured a few times, but I scored the goals in one of the cup finals, which is the last time they won a trophy.
“Hopefully, they will win one soon. The fans were really good to me and the club and (chairman) Daniel Levy and it was really special time for me. The final was fantastic. All my family and friends were there, so it was good to get that winning goal. Every time I see a Spurs fan, that is all they really say to me.
“It went off the nose as well and they all go in and count.”
Tomorrow is the first FA Cup meeting between Middlesbrough and Spurs on Teesside in well over a century since February 1905, although many current Boro fans do hold a fond cup memory against the London giants, having beaten them on penalties at White Hart Lane en route to Carling Cup glory in 2003-04.
Boro head into the game in better form than Spurs, having won their past four matches. But Woodgate is sage enough to know that the step-up in class will be colossal for his young side.
On Spurs, who come into the game on the back of a draw and a loss from road trips to Norwich and Southampton, he added: “We have won four on the bounce, but we are playing against a top, top team. Let’s not get carried away.
“They are an outstanding team with one of the best managers football has ever seen. It is going to be really difficult.”