AITOR KARANKA wants his Middlesbrough squad to follow in Burnley’s footsteps and prove you don’t have to spend megabucks to get out of the Championship.
The Teessiders start their sixth season in the English second tier against Birmingham City at the Riverside tomorrow, and chairman Steve Gibson is keen not to make it seven next term.
However, with each season that passes it becomes even harder for teams to challenge for promotion and that has been heightened this summer with the likes of newly-relegated Fulham paying £11m to sign Ross McCormack from Leeds United.
Karanka was given funds this summer and has added Tomas Mejias, Kike, James Husband, Kenneth Omeruo, Emilio Nsue and Adam Clayton, who have cost in the region of £5m combined.
The head coach is still in the market to strengthen his squad with a right-back and a striker, but having watched Sean Dyche’s side finish second to Leicester City on a small budget, Karanka believes his side can follow the Clarets and challenge the big-spenders.
“The perfect example last season was Burnley,” the Boro boss said. “They were a team that had many stars without spending a lot of money and they played as a team all season. They got promotion and that’s why we need to do something similar.
“Sometimes spending money doesn’t guarantee you success. I believe in my work and, of course, when you have the best players it makes it easier, but I prefer to sign the right players and to spend money properly.
“My feelings haven’t changed since I first arrived. This is a tough league and it’s a league that you can win one week and lose the next.
“We have to go into every game with a winning mentality and with a plan of how we can win each game.
“As a player and as a coach I always have the highest ambitions. I would always take that onto the pitch with me and now I will do everything I can to achieve my ambitions here. It’s going to be difficult, but always in my life and career I’ve highest ambitions.”
After his first few games, Karanka identified the need to cut out silly mistakes and towards the end of the campaign the Teessiders certainly improved.
Their defensive record was better, but their improvement at the back seemed to affect their form at the other end of Thrifty Karanka looking up the field with goals hard to come by at times.
Kike’s arrival from Real Murcia, along with another goalscorer before the end of the transfer window, will hopefully sort out that issue, but Karanka admits his side must strike up a balance if they are to be successful.
He said: “We have to improve our concentration because we conceded goals that came from our own mistakes, but we also need to improve in front of goal. We created a lot of chances last season, but we didn’t score many of them and that is something we are working on.
“Football is all about balance. When you concede less you have a bigger chance of winning games.
To do that we need to be compact and play like we did at the end of last season when we didn’t concede many.”
COMMENT by Scott Wilson
WHEN Aitor Karanka was appointed head coach last November, he immediately identified the club’s leaking defence as a chronic problem.
A tally of 11 clean sheets in the second half of the campaign suggests it did not take long to come up with a solution.
A switch to Karanka’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation helped solidify midfield, while the emergence of Kenneth Omeruo and Ben Gibson as Boro’s preferred central defensive partnership provided the kind of defensive security that had been lacking.
That is the starting point for the new campaign, with Omeruo’s return from Chelsea enabling Karanka to retain the majority of the defensive building blocks he put in place so last term. A new right-back is needed to replace Jozsef Varga, but there is confidence one will arrive before the transfer window closes.
Stage two of Karanka’s rebuilding project is therefore underway, and that relates to the level of attacking threat.
Boro’s major weakness in the second half of last season was their failure to find the back of the net, and while Lukas Jutkiewicz and Danny Graham were hardly prolific, their exits nevertheless depleted the club’s attack even further.
A number of targets have fallen by the wayside – Jelle Vossen has been courted unsuccessfully for the best part of two years, while Ross McCormack, Lewis Grabban and Adam Le Fondre were all on the wanted list before moving elsewhere – but a breakthrough was achieved when Spanish stirker Kike completed a £2.8m move from Real Murcia.
Will he provide the missing ingredient? Time will tell, but Karanka is determined to recruit at least one more attacker before the end of the month, with Chelsea’s Patrick Bamford expected to arrive on loan.
Emilio Nsue should provide pace down the right flank, with Adam Clayton offering creativity and vision from the heart of midfield following his £1.5m move from Huddersfield.
With the likes of George Friend, Grant Leadbitter and Albert Adomah having been retained, there is an experienced core to the Boro squad that augurs well given the inevitable rigours of a Championship campaign.
The battle for the goalkeeping spot could prove an unwanted sideshow, but if the goals start to flow, the Teessiders should be pushing for promotion. And if they’re in a decent position come January, there’s always the hotline to Jose Mourinho to provide a final push.