Desperate times, the saying goes, require desperate measures. And times, could hardly be more desperate in Middlesbrough, as seven and half years on from reaching the UEFA Cup final, Boro are only five points clear of the Championship’s bottom three.
Likewise, desperate measures have been taken by Steve Gibson, Boro’s owner, to ensure his side’s fortunes can finally be turned around, but however admirable the appointment of Aitor Karanka is, it remains a massive gamble.
The former Real Madrid man isn’t a football novice by any stretch of imagination, having accumulated almost 300 La Liga appearances as a player, but has never been a manager in his own right.
Unless we consider a three-year spell in charge of Spain U16, the 40-year-old experience in management is limited to spending three years as Jose Mourinho’s number two during the Portuguese’s spell at Real Madrid and the Chelsea manager’s words sounded like a ringing endorsement for the new Middlesbrough manager.
“I know Karanka very, very well,” said Mourinho. “He was my assistant for three years and I think the club that gets him will be very lucky.”
Lucky though Boro might have been in securing Karanka ahead of Crystal Palace, can the former Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao defender really prove to be the tonic Boro desperately need?
Not only does Karanka have limited managerial experience, he also arrives from a country characterised by a completely different footballing country than the British one which, in the eyes of many, could prove to be a huge stumbling block.
Having said that, the Spaniard, who speaks fluent English and has reportedly watched DVDs of every game Middlesbrough played this season, at least represents a fresh change for an environment that had gone stale under Gordon Strachan and Tony Mowbray.
A decade on from lifting the League Cup under Steve McClaren’s tutelage – another man who, incidentally, had honed his managerial skills after spending a few seasons as Sir Alex Ferguson’s assistant – Boro are eight points away from challenging for a playoff spot, let alone from returning to the top-flight for the first since 2009 and in desperate need of a lift, something Boro fans will be desperate for Karanka to provide.
Furthermore, the Spaniard’s agent, the ever-present Jorge Mendes, and former Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon, both act as advisors for Gibson meaning that, in theory at least, the former Real Madrid number two should be given time to see out his two and half year contract.
Karanka’s first task will be to shore up Middlesbrough’s leaky rearguard – the Championship’s second-worst defence – which has conceded 24 times in 15 league games this season, before concentrating on pushing Boro up the table.
The Spaniard’s connection with Jose Mourinho could also turn out to be helpful in terms of securing players on loan, while a quick glance at fellow former Mourinho’s number two Steve Clarke and Andre’ Villas-Boas, should fill Boro’s fans with confidence.
Karanka is a huge gamble for the Teesiders but, given the circumstances, a risk was probably preferable to a safer choice.