Boro boss Tony Mowbray will embark on a major overhaul of his first team squad this summer, as his side prepare for another season in the Championship.
It will be a testing few months for the former West Brom manager as his ability to deal in the transfer market will be under heavy scrutiny.
This will prove to be Mowbray’s first real opportunity to build his own team after taking over from Gordon Strachan, who had invested heavily in his squad, in October 2010. This fall-out from Strachan’s spending meant that Mowbray was forced to work with the inherited squad and youth academy products as he was unable to bring any of his own players in.
However, Mowbray has managed to acquire a few free transfers over the course of the 18 months and he also purchased Lukas Jutkiewicz from Coventry for £1.5m. These deals gave fans an insight into what he is all about and the majority of us have been really impressed so far.
His first acquisition was French midfielder Malaury Martin on a free transfer. Martin had recently been released by Blackpool after failing to make any first team appearances due to a cruciate ligament injury. The 23-year-old didn’t start in the league for Boro but he definitely took his chances as a substitute. A stunning goal against Birmingham City on his home debut was a sign of things to come from the impact player, who went on to haunt Bristol City with two great goals in two games. Martin single-handedly rescued a total of four points for Boro with an inch perfect free kick in the 90th minute at Ashton Gate and an equalising goal from outside the box a few months later.
Another free transfer who proved to be very useful was teenager Curtis Main, who had came through the ranks at struggling neighbours Darlington. The 19-year-old put in a Man of the Match performance in the FA Cup replay against Sunderland and scored a vital winning goal against Derby County, which at the time kept our play-off hopes alive.
The players who made the biggest impact during their short times on Teesside though were midfielders Merouane Zemmama and Faris Haroun, who also cost us nothing. The energetic duo revitalized Mowbray’s side and contributed to a number of assists and goals during our promotion push. Although the dream of reaching the play-offs ultimately failed, it could have turned out very different if the pair hadn’t been forced to miss some important games due to injuries.
The free transfers that joined the squad are not the only ones to impress, as a number of fringe players have flourished under Tony Mowbray. Marvin Emnes was deemed superfluous by Gordon Strachan and was sent out on loan to Swansea City, but Mobwray decided to reject a formal offer from Brendan Rogers once he was in control, to give Marvin a chance, which turned out to be a great decision. Emnes was on fire for the majority of last season, picking up the Player of the Month award for August on the way to finishing with a tally of 14 league goals, as well as causing problems for every defense he came up against.
All of these players have been impressive for Boro which they will hopefully build on again throughout next season. In retrospective, now that the disappointment isn’t as raw, we did extremely well to get as close to play-offs as we did, considering the budget constraints that Tony Mowbray had to work under. Next season we may go one step further, provided he continues to impress in the transfer windows and signs the right people.
I must admit that I haven’t been excited by the names that we are being linked with this summer, which usually say a lot about a club. The likes of Barnsley’s Jacob Butterfield, Hull City’s Robert Koren and Walsall’s Emmanuel Ledesma aren’t players that are likely to motivate fans into renewing their season tickets in excitement but I am sure that Mowbray knows what he is doing.
Boro recently announced our first summer signing as Grant Leadbitter from Ipswich Town. A player that won’t excite many fans, as I said previously, but we have to be realistic. He seems like a good match for replacing the departing Barry Robson and most importantly, he cost us nothing.
Going by our recent track record of bringing in free transfers, I am definitely looking forward to seeing Leadbitter in action for Boro next season. But more importantly, I am looking forward to seeing who else Mowbray brings in over the next few months, as it is going to be a summer of change at Middlesbrough, in order to launch another assault on promotion from the Championship.