Aside from the millions being plundered on the likes of Aleksander Kolarov, David Silva and Yaya Toure to bring them to Eastlands, this post-World Cup transfer window has been one of the most understated in years. Unsurprisingly in these more austere times, the frugality has spread to the Football League with most teams looking to rein in the budgets rather than chase the dream.
Gordon Strachan’s Middlesbrough are proving to be the exception. Rectifying the problems left by Gareth Southgate’s departure early into a disappointing return to the Football League is proving expensive business for the fiery Scot. To date, four new faces (and a recognisable returning loanee) have been introduced at the club’s Rockliffe Park training ground, providing the club with a distinctive Scottish feel.
The returning player is centre-back Stephen McManus. In many ways his signing in January made public the direction Gordon Strachan wanted to take the club in. Within four short weeks, McManus had been joined by his Celtic team-mates Willo Flood, Barry Robson and Scott McDonald at the Riverside. Naturally eyebrows were raised. Whilst they were players who innately knew Gordon Strachan and were trusted by him, there was also a criticism of favouritism as performances and results spluttered inconsistently towards the end of a dismal season.
Yet they instilled Middlesbrough with solidarity. The end of Gareth Southgate’s tenure had been littered with soft defeats which put an end to any lingering promotion hopes. Although performances were unspectacular, defeats such as the 5-0 landslide at the hands of West Brom became rarer. Although his initial group of signings hardly set pulses racing, they provided a dangerously spineless team with a backbone. This summer has seen Strachan apply flesh to the bones.
Adding to the captures of teenage winger Andrew Halliday and combative, goal-getting midfielder Nicky Bailey, Strachan has pulled off a real coup in signing Kevin Thompson and Kris Boyd from Rangers. With a flash of a chequebook and convincing the players of Middlesbrough’s ambition, Strachan has transformed a club in decline to promotion contenders in a way unmatched by any other Championship club this summer. Kris Boyd acknowledged this, stating; “I’m here to win a title.” He also admitted that previous Old Firm signings had coerced him to join the North-East club. “I’ve met Gordon and know a number of the players such as Barry Robson, Scott McDonald and Lee Miller. It’ll be good to have those guys around me.”
The stature of Strachan’s signings highlights the attraction he holds for Scottish players, particularly those formerly of the Old Firm. His reputation north of the Border allows him to attract players who ordinarily would be wary of dropping into the second tier of English football – players used to winning.
Gareth Southgate’s devotion to attractive football was admirable. His team’s bluntness in attack and ineptitude in defence was not. This summer’s spending has been about a change in mentality, bringing in players who expect to win and who in turn can only help the club’s already reputable Academy products progress. During a summer where very few other Football League clubs are willing to spend, Middlesbrough’s raiding of the Old Firm justifiably places them as favourites for promotion.