STEPHEN McMANUS may no longer be the preferred choice to hold Middlesbrough’s back four together, but three years after he left his beloved Celtic the aim remains the same: Promotion.
It seems highly unlikely that McManus will still be at the Riverside Stadium next season when his existing deal expires in the summer.
One of the high-earners left over from the Gordon Strachan regime, it would take something dramatic for the experienced defender to extend his stay on Teesside beyond this season.
But what McManus will not do is change his style.
He might have spent four months out of the first team picture this season, yet the 30-year-old remains as committed to helping Boro back to the Premier League as he was when he left Parkhead.
If celebrating promotion is his last act as a Middlesbrough defender come May, then he is determined to make sure he signs off in style – even if he has not given up hope of being offered new terms.
“You want competition for places, especially at this stage of the season players are going to pick up injuries, miss games and I am here to add to that competition,” said McManus.
“You need everybody to be on the ball. I fully want to get this club to where it belongs.
It is going to take a massive effort and there’s no time for anybody to spit their dummy out if they are not happy. It takes a collective effort. You need players to show that mentality to get results.
“For me personally I want to play as many games I can.
I would love to help this club get promoted, that’s what I wanted when I arrived and that’s what I want now.
“I would love that for the fans, the club, the full town.
The town wants a club in the Premier League. The town is brilliant like that, everyone wants to be in the Premier League. If the players can help – if I can – then great.”
McManus had a smile on his face when he chatted.
Throughout his time at Rockliffe Park, though, that has tended to be the case, even when he was trudging around with his leg in a cast last season.
He showed the mark of his character on Tuesday night when he was asked to make his first appearance since the 2-1 victory at Watford on October 6, coming in from the cold to replace Jonathan Woodgate and Seb Hines.
He said: “You need to be professional and that’s the way I have been brought up. I will not be any different. I would never sulk if somebody really frustrates me. I would never be a disruptive influence.
“I have got on with the manager, the coaching staff tremendously well here. I have loved my time here, I have a lot of time for people here. Once you are happy at a club it helps, of course, but at the same time you are only happy when you are playing.”
Mowbray has often stated that “issues from a previous era” are what has cost him his place at the Riverside, which are his way of saying the contract he was offered during Strachan’s time in charge is no longer suitable for the club’s stricter finances.
But McManus has not completely ruled out staying. If Middlesbrough offered him a deal at the end of the season on reduced terms after a successful end to the campaign then it would be considered.
But he will not be worrying about it. He said: “The situation is the situation. But as long as I am here, however long that might be, I pride myself on coming in to work and doing my best.
“I will do the best I can for my wife, my family and the people who know me. I take pride in what I do and that’s what I will continue to do.
“I could have thrown the towel in because I wasn’t involved, or this or that, but you have to be ready.
“I have loved my time here and hopefully I can get a run now until the end of the season.
You don’t actually feel much of a footballer when you are not involved so I just hope I can help the team and the lads in any way I can.”
McManus is likely to be still in the Middlesbrough team that faces Millwall on Saturday as they look to build on the goalless draw at Burnley.
He could be joined in the team by former Celtic teammate McDonald, who is the only player in a busy treatment room thought to have a chance of a comeback this weekend, after hamstring trouble.
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