Middlesbrough’s ‘time’ has been coming for a while now and pre-season optimism often abounds, as the club is usually impressively active in the transfer market.
Bryan Robson’s abandon in the summer sales has seen him produce an exotic cast list over his six years in charge — Juninho, Ravanelli, Emerson, Karembeu, Ince, Ricard to name but a few.
In the case of the initial holy trinity — Juninio, Ravanelli and Emerson — Middlesborough were possibly not quite ready for them at that stage. The team was fresh from winning promotion at a canter in 1994-95 and was set to move into the then sumptuous surroundings of the Riverside Stadium.
Difficulties arose when Ravanelli, in particular, discovered that while Boro possessed a stadium of which to be proud, they had yet to put in place sophisticated training facilities. One Italian journalist observed that Middlesbrough buying Ravenelli in those circumstances was like buying a Ferrari without having a garage in which to put it.
For his part, Emerson said his wife did not like the area — a statement which provided both claim and counter-claim at the time when it was used to the region’s detriment by some sections of the media. Juninho caused no problems at all and later returned to the club on loan.
After two troubled seasons which included the remarkable achievement of reaching two Wembley cup finals, and despite the best efforts of the little Brazilian, Boro slipped back into Division one at the end of the 1996-97 season. Most of the imports were promptly exported as Robson went back to basics in his quest for an instant return.
Paul Merson joined from Arsenal and was a revelation as Boro bounced straight back after a season that saw another trip to Wembley. On their return, the team appeared to have stabilised, with recruits being in the mould of old boy Gary Pallister and Paul Gascoigne (who joined at the tail end of the promotion-winning season). They secured 9<sup>th</sup> place, their highest finish to date under Robson.
Cue heightened ambitions. However, in some quarters, Robson’s transfer policy was perceived as having shifted from some sort of foreign legion to Dads’ Army. The recruitment of Paul Ince did little to quell that perception.
Boro started the new campaign well, endured a severe mid-season drift, before finally plotting a route to safety and finishing 12<sup>th</sup>. Murmurs of discontent began to be heard on the subject of Robson’s reign.
The former England captain invested heavily in the summer in a bid to stave off the doubters. In came Christian Karembeu, Paul Okon, Mark Crossley, Noel Whelan, Joseph-Desire Job, Alen Boksic and, later, Ugo Ehiogu at a combined cost of £17.8m.
An opening day win at Coventry suggested Robson’s investment was a wise one, but this was followed by just one win in 15 Premiership games. Following much speculation, Terry Venables was employed to come to the rescue of his old England running mate.
The former Spurs manager took his bow as head coach at the away defeat at Sunderland — a performance of much promise. He then engaged in a tactical battle with Chelsea’s Claudio Ranieri and won.
And so to Spurs, and a media circus for the nostalgic return of El Tel. His Riverside stay is scheduled to be for just six months before he is to be El Telly for ITV on a full-time basis. Let’s hope the beginning of his winning streak takes a ninety-minute commercial break when Saturday comes.
At the onset of a new campaign, punters tend to hedge their bets on the prospects of Middlesbrough. They are a hard one to call. Will it be Europe this time or are they hot tickets for relegation?