GARRY MONK has warmed up for his first Tees-Wear derby by insisting that taking over Middlesbrough rather than Sunderland was always his intention after speaking with Steve Gibson in the summer.

After leaving Leeds United at the end of last season Monk was hot property because he was linked with a variety of jobs. The 38-year-old was widely regarded as one of the brightest young managers in the English game after spells at Elland Road and Swansea City before that.

So when Middlesbrough and Sunderland were searching for a new manager Monk was being strongly talked about at both the Riverside and the Stadium of Light – in fact he was installed as favourite with both at one point.

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But Monk, aware of the links and the suggestions, was never in any doubt about where he wanted to manage as soon as he chatted about the future with Gibson and committed to a three-year deal.

He said: “There is always speculation about players, managers, in football and it is what it is. I don’t deal in speculation. Obviously leaving Leeds, I was out of work and I went away.

“When I came back I heard Middlesbrough were interested, I went to talk with Middlesbrough and there was no looking back from there on in.

“Speculation is something you can’t do anything about. No (it wasn’t as if it was close with Sunderland), Middlesbrough was the only job I was interested in having spoken to the owner and then it was a clear decision for myself.”

Despite Monk’s desire to take on the Middlesbrough challenge, there was clear interest in him from Sunderland that he was aware of.

Sunderland’s problems were clear to everyone, with owner Ellis Short looking to sell and chief executive Martin Bain left to find David Moyes’ successor. In the end Simon Grayson was desperate to take the bigger challenge and leave Preston.

But Grayson transformed the face of the Sunderland squad by spending just £1.25m, while the contrast at Middlesbrough was huge with Monk giving more than £40m to ready his squad for a promotion push after relegation from the Premier League.

Monk said: “In terms of the principle of it, it was always going to be a difficult job (Sunderland). A team that gets relegated is always going to have issues. Those issues will vary from club to club when they get relegated.

“I don’t know the full ins and outs there, so I can’t tell you what internally has gone on. What it was like. In terms of what was in front of him it was always going to be difficult and it was always going to take time.

“Every club has the right to make their own decisions and do what they want, so you have to respect that. It’s not my concern, my only concern is making sure this club is successful.”

Monk has a huge amount of sympathy for his friend and managerial colleague Grayson after he lost his job within minutes of Tuesday night’s failure to beat Bolton at home.

Sunderland head to the Riverside tomorrow under Robbie Stockdale and Billy McKinlay having won just one of their previous 15 games this season in the league.

Monk said: “It’s a shame because Simon is an excellent manager, he has a proven record. You know in time he will produce what he has produced before. We all know what the job is like and you know what managers go through. It’s always difficult when a manager loses his job, I have been through that. I have spoken to him and he will come back.”

Now Monk must come up with a way to heighten Sunderland’s problems in the relegation zone by building on the consecutive victories at Reading and Hull. It will be the Middlesbrough boss’ first experience of a North-East derby.

Monk, who has Fabio available after illness, said: “I have been involved in derbies, playing and managing. As much as you try to make it normal, there are certain elements that are different.

“Someone showed me a photograph of when Grant Leadbitter was at Sunderland and Lee Cattermole was here (in September 2007). I did have a laugh with Grant with that one. They’d had a tackle and squared up to each other.

“Sunderland will be focused and we will. We are at home, at the Riverside and we want to finish this run on a winning note before the break.

“I have many derby memories – Torquay-Exeter was the biggest (smiles)! It is the importance and the rivalry, though, not the size of the teams. You get a feel for it. There can be 200 people or 200,000 people. It’s what it means to the community.

“My first managerial game was Swansea-Cardiff at the Liberty. I remember not sleeping for four days before that. Neither club had done the league double over their rivals in 80-odd years or something, so my first game they had already beaten us at their place and the only thing I was thinking was ‘I have been here ten years of building up a great relationship with the Swansea fans and it could be ruined in 90 minutes!’

“You have the skirmishes, the fights, the passion side of it on the pitch. I can’t wait and I’m focused on making sure my players are ready, we will need to be.”