A trip down Chemical Alley
One of the most improved young Premier League stars of the past year has been Middlesbrough midfielder cum central defender Matthew Bates. So, the news that the imposing utility man will miss a large chunk of the season due to a cruciate ligament injury sustained at Carlisle’s Brunton Park will hit Boro hard.
The Chemical Heads will need to rely on their young players as the sound of toys falling out of pram has resonated all along the banks of the Tees in recent weeks, and that’s nothing to do with the region’s higher than average population of teenage Mums. Depressingly predictably, the likes of Tuncay, Mido and Alfonso Alves very quickly signalled their intention to spend not one jot of time at all down a level, although not by sitting down and having a mature conversation with their decent young manager Gareth Southgate, but via the age old skit of not turning up for training. The Turk will probably escape the Riverside with his reputation intact and the excuse that he’s not an out and out striker, but the other two could end up being tarred and feathered should they hang around much longer
The departure of the trio will lighten the wage bill but it still looks worryingly heavy. The likes of Jérémie Aliadière, Robert Huth and Didier Digard will not be earning small change and all now have a relegation on their CV. Boro very much need a return to basics and if they can hold on to midfield dynamo Gary O’Neil, he may be the player around which Southgate can rebuild the side. Elsewhere, it’s a healthy crop of youngsters that give cause for cheerfulness. Adam Johnson was famously linked to Real Madrid last season, Bates will be pivotal on his return and David Wheater is still at the club for now. Their biggest asset, however, could be Southgate. He has shown immense dignity in recent months, very much in the style of his original mentor Steve Coppell, and football could do with more like him. He may have signed the deal that took Alves to Teesside for 12 million, but Steve Gibson is right to give him another chance.