Middlesbrough have declared that they are sticking with Jonathan Woodgate, but with the team nose-diving, is that loyalty becoming negligence…?
Most of the time, when a chairman makes a public statement offering backing to their manager, it calls to mind the old adage that it is necessary to get behind someone before you can stab them in the back. The cliched vote of confidence, the smiling reassurance that just drowns out the noise of P45 papers being shuffled and prepared.
But when Steve Gibson said on Monday this week that Jonathan Woodgate’s job was safe “no matter what”, you believed him.
“He is the figurehead of the club and has had to take a lot of criticism for problems which he inherited,” Gibson told Teeside Live. “I can assure fans we are working very hard as a club to deal with those problems. Jonathan has my support no matter what happens. My total support.
“He is dedicated to this football club and has a vision for a style and approach that we all endorse. He has had a difficult first season but there is a real talent there. I am convinced of that. Where we are right now as a club is not the fault of Jonathan Woodgate.”
That may well be true. Woodgate inherited some problems, but he also inherited a squad that finished a point outside the playoffs and really should have been much higher. A calamitous run of six defeats in a row around March scuppered their promotion chances, but this was still a team filled with fine players.
That squad was, to say the least, not exactly augmented last summer, but it still features talent that should be at the pointy end of the Championship: George Saville, Britt Assombalonga, Ryan Shotton, Lewis Wing, Adam Clayton.
But Boro go into this weekend’s honkingly colossal game against Charlton in the bottom three. Lose and they’ll be four points back from the Addicks and at least one behind Stoke, who seem to be finally getting their shit together under Michael O’Neill. Above them are Wigan, on a run of three wins in a row having looked doomed a few weeks ago, then Hull and Huddersfield. Suddenly things are starting to look extremely grim for a Boro side who haven’t won since New Year’s Day.
“It’s all well and good standing by your manager,” said Simon Watts on this week’s Totally Football League Show, “saying Jonathan’s not the problem and there are underlying problems that a new manager might not solve, but fans vote with their feet.
“They’re a team absolutely plunging at the moment. We’ve seen it with big teams before: clubs seemingly, on paper, are too big to go down – I think Middlesbrough are that team this year.”
It will be a catastrophe for Boro if they are relegated. That squad of theirs is expensive and this is the last year of their parachute payments, after they were relegated from the Premier League in 2017. They only have to look down the road for an example of a big club dropping into League One and staying there.
So while it’s in theory a positive thing that Boro are not only sticking with their manager but publicly declaring they are doing so, at what point does loyalty become negligence?
“I like the fact that they’re backing him, and he’s standing his ground and fighting his own corner,” said Adrian Clarke on the Totally Football League Show. “I just feel that it’s a big old job for him, he’s learning as he goes – he’s definitely made mistakes, he’s constantly changing the team, and pre-January I thought they would be fine.
“He lost his keeper – that was big; he lost his centre-half, that was big; his strikers suddenly lost all of their form which is obviously very important. What he’s left with is a lot of young players: are they equipped mentally for what is going to be a relegation dogfight?
“It feels like the job for him is a bit big for him at this stage.”
Gibson highlighted that there are more problems at the club than just Woodgate, which is almost certainly true, but that doesn’t mean that if he is one of those problems, they shouldn’t fix it. At the moment, it feels like Boro are blinded by their own loyalty, and they’re stumbling into League One.
You can listen to the latest edition of the Totally Football League Show here, or even better you can subscribe here. If you wish to reproduce any of the material in this article or from the podcast you are very welcome to, but please credit The Totally Football Show and include this link.