Second in the League with only a handful of games remaining, Middlesbrough were looking pretty good for promotion to the Premier League until the weekend just gone.
Yes they still sit in second, and yes, they still have opportunities to improve their points haul, But it’s been a week that has seen relations at the club ripped apart after Boro fell to a disappointing defeat to relegation-threatened Rotherham.
It was a game Aitor Karanka’s men really should have won if they really have ambitions of winning an elusive Championship crown, and the manager didn’t mince his words when giving his players his verdict after the game.
The shock divorce occurred when he arrived at training on Friday morning still angry after the defeat to the Millers. In a heated exchange with his squad, he told them he did not want to manage them again and left. Despite a subsequent meeting with club officials, they failed to settle the dispute and on Saturday morning everything boiled over and Karanka was sent home from training by Boro executives.
Sunday’s match against strugglers Charlton Athletic subsequently came around and the North East outfit slumped to a 2-0 defeat in a game where Addicks fans ruthlessly protested against the running of their own club. But, had you not known of the events before kick off, you’d have thought Boro were Charlton, and vice versa.
It’s one of the most bizarre footballing stories this season and one that will probably be in the news until it is resolved in the coming days. What has confused many footballing fans is how Karanka’s players couldn’t deal with the dressing down they probably deserved. The days of the ruthless ‘Fergie’ hair-dryer have probably gone, as pampered football stars fail to take responsibility for their actions on the pitch.
Had one of those players walked out of that meeting with a David Beckham-esque cut on his forehead due to a flying boot, there would be uproar and social media would undoubtedly explode – and that is where everything is different these days.
10 years ago players had no platform to vent their frustrations and it would be seen as going against club policy to speak in the press about matters behind the scenes. Now, players can lead pockets of revolt against coaches and managers they have fallen out with over the internet, and it has become increasingly popular for stars to literally force coaches out of football clubs.
It’s easy to see why Boro have done so well this season, it’s down to Karanka’s management. He’s made key calls like leaving Stewart Downing and Jordan Rhodes out of the squad in recent weeks and before the Rotherham game, he was picking up results week after week.
One bad game has stopped the promotion train because it seems like players couldn’t take a telling off. It looks childish, petty and completely over the top.
But what is definite is that whether he stays or goes, the former Real Madrid assistant is popular on Teeside, as fans bellowed pro-Karanka songs and held up banners in support of their exiled boss at the Valley.
Cue the drama.