AFTER experiencing the full force of the Championship in his first six months in charge at the Riverside Stadium, Aitor Karanka is ready to have a rethink when it comes to Middlesbrough’s recruitment plans.
Since taking over from Tony Mowbray in early November, the Spaniard has experienced a different side of football to what he was used to both in La Liga and coaching his national team’s young guns.
There had been ideas from within the boardroom and in the manager’s office to target less expensive overseas players in a bid to guide Middlesbrough back up to the Premier League.
But Karanka, a former Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao player, has realised the Championship requires a different type of player and make up of a squad for a club to gain promotion.
He will be taking what he has learned during the early part of his tenure on Teesside to plot a way of putting together a group of players capable of achieving a top six finish at least.
“The most important thing is to start the season with a very good team,” said Karanka. “It’s not important where the players are from. If they are from Spain, Italy or England, I have to be very sure they can play in this league.
“I know the league now and I didn’t know it as well before. I knew some Spanish young players that might be interested in coming here, but now I know the situation here, knowing the intensity and the league, I’m not sure if this kind of player I thought about in the beginning would be good enough to play in this league. I had to learn and I have to be very sure about the players I will have in my squad.
“Burnley and Leicester are good examples because they got promoted from this division. This is one of the things I have learned since I arrived. Burnley are a team with a very good coach, are a team who we can beat twice this season, and yet they are in the Premier League. We will be in the Championship, but with the right mentality over the season we need to do what they have done.”
The peaks and troughs in Middlesbrough’s form have been Karanka’s biggest frustration since accepting the post. There have been plenty of signs of progress under him, notably greater defensive stability, but they have stuttered when it has mattered most.
Had they not lost to Millwall and Reading in the last two matches then they might have been looking at a play-off spot had they also beaten Barnsley and Yeovil in their remaining games, starting tomorrow at the Riverside.
But he has realised his squad requires greater character in the last week, knowing how Middlesbrough have been unable to perform when the pressure has been on to deliver.
Karanka, who blamed himself for failing to motivate his players after losing at Reading, said: “I need to change the mentality. I enjoy the training sessions and I think everybody has been happy working in this way under me, but I need to get them to change their mentality in matches. “We need to stop making the mistakes we have made. But we are a stronger side than when I came here. Now we need to find a greater mentality, a winning mentality.
“The important thing is to change the team’s mentality, not a player’s mentality. The important thing is to have a nucleus of the team, a spine, which is strong. If you can do that then you will have a strong team.”
While Middlesbrough head in to their final home game in mid-table with nothing really at stake, Karanka knows Barnsley and Yeovil – the division’s bottom two sides – are in desperate need of points with time running out to survive.
The Middlesbrough boss, who revealed Kei Kamara is training again after hernia surgery, said: “The players have to be competitive in the last two games. They also need to train well. The season does not finish until the final whistle blows at Yeovil.
“The best place for the players to impress me is on the pitch. I’d rather see them on the pitch than in the office now. These two games will show me what their mentalities are like.”
Middlesbrough youngster Adam Reach is hoping to be involved in the final two games. The winger has returned from a loan at Bradford, who want him back next season.
Reach said: “I’ve played 18 games in a row and there have been a lot of positives. When you’re young, you can’t always play at the team you’re at. Sometimes you have to drop divisions to get games but I think the experience will improve me.
“League One is very tough and Bradford are a big club so I was never going to turn down the opportunity. I’m hitting the 40-game mark this season which is more than a lot of players get in the Championship.
“I’ll go there on merit and feel I deserve a place on the bench. I’d like to show them what I can do and what they’ve been missing. I feel I’m more mature after this year and I’ve got stronger physically and mentally.”