Aitor Karanka was born and raised in the Basque region of Spain. It was in this region during the 1920’s, long before Real Madrid and Barcelona had their dominant grip in Spain, that Athletic Bilbao created La Furia, an aggressive, muscular, direct style of football, that defined the Spanish game for decades. Any possible hint of the spirit of La Furia that Karanka may have inherited in his youth, that could have been filtered through to his Boro team, was absent today in a limp, lifeless display at the Bet365 Stadium.
Middlesbrough were bossed by Stoke today in the easiest 3 points the Potters will get all season, and Boro now find themselves in the relegation zone for the first time this season having gone 10 games without a win. With a tough fixture run-in for the rest of the season, the prospect of survival seems far more mountainous than the 3 points between Boro and 17th placed Crystal Palace suggest on paper.
I have been a defender of Karanka throughout the season. But after today’s performance it is clear that he has to go. Today’s performance was a team of players not playing for their manager. Karanka has had an often uneasy relationship with his players, that was at its most turbulent when he walked out on the team after a loss to Rotherham almost a year ago to the day. Whether we stay up or go down, I don’t think this group of players wants to play under the Spaniard anymore. It’s sad, but that’s why he needs to go.
I think Karanka is a good manager, who will be successful. His preparation is intensive. His philosophy of prioritizing containment got the team promoted, and was the best way of ensuring survival (we still have the 6th best defence in the league). But it is becoming more and more apparent that when it comes to man-management and motivating the players, he is naïve and inexperienced. He falls out with players easily, and has the aloof arrogance that slides into pedantry that he inherited from his former boss Jose Mourinho, that will only be embraced by the fans when you are winning. Because of his personality Mourninho never stays at a club longer than 2 or 3 years, so maybe this is the natural end for a manager of Karanka’s management style.
But I do not lay all the blame at the feet of the manager. The players let the manager and the fans down today.
I am not interested in seeing Gaston Ramirez in a Boro shirt ever again. He can stay at home and ponder where he’s moving in the summer.
Bernardo Espinosa came on for an injured Ayala after 10 minutes, and while it is difficult for a defender to come into a game, he was woeful at the back, and in the second half he was in an offside position from a free-kick that Gibson slotted into the net that could have given Boro hope of getting a result. To be offside in a situation like that at this level is beyond amateur.
Adama Traore reminds of a quote from one of the greatest man-managers in history, Arrigo Sacchi: “We had some who were very good footballers. They had technique, they had athleticism, they had drive, they were hungry. But they lacked what I call ‘knowing-how-to-play-football.’” Adama Traore, despite his enormous ability, does not know how to play football. His positioning and decision-making is terrible, he constantly leaves full-backs exposed, and his crossing ability just isn’t good enough for a Premier League wide player.
A year ago Karanka walked out on the club. Had he not returned, it’s possible we may have been playing championship football again this season. If we want to play Premiership football next season, even though I'd be gutted to see him go, I think Boro and Karanka need to part ways.