THERE has already been a lot of talk about the financial impact that winning promotion to the Premier League via Wembley will have on Middlesbrough if Norwich City can be beaten on Monday.

And it is abundantly clear that the guaranteed income of around £130m should brighten the club’s future under the chairmanship of the ambitious and particularly loyal Steve Gibson.

Before the Championship play-off final, there have been two success stories beneath first-team level which illustrate why the Riverside is in extremely safe hands.

While the richest clubs across the country have all strengthened their academy ranks by targeting top talents from home and abroad, Boro’s system of nurturing the prospects on their doorstep has reaped satisfying rewards.

By finishing top of the Under-18s Premier League, Boro also landed a place in the Under-19s European Champions League for next season by sitting above the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea.

Coupled with the promotion of the club’s Under-21s to the Premier League – courtesy of winning their respective division - it is clear that, once again, Boro are bringing through more potential stars of the future.

“When we went through that list of Under-18s players the other day to see where they were from, I think the furthest we got was Chester-le-Street,” said Middlesbrough’s hugely-respected academy director Dave Parnaby.

“At Under-21s we have a young boy, Joao Neto, in from Brazil, who is from Juninho’s club Ituano, but he is the only real exception to the rule, in that he has come in from abroad.

“It’s not luck either. Our fundamental belief is in recruitment. It was Steve Gibson’s vision to provide a club where families from Teesside and the surrounding area could bring their boys here and have a chance of becoming a professional footballer.”

Parnaby has operated in his role since 1998. During that time he has seen an extensive list of players become professional first team footballers and many of which have been key players on the Premier League stage; Stewart Downing, Adam Johnson, Lee Cattermole and James Morrison to name just four.

Yet in seeing Middlesbrough celebrate titles at both Under-18s and Under-21s level, the production line emanating from the club’s Rockliffe Park training base in Hurworth, near Darlington, does not look like stopping any time soon. But why does it continue to shine, while others struggle?

“In general we have developed from the bottom and purchased at the top. That’s been Steve’s ideal,” said Parnaby. “Does it change in the future? That won’t be up to me. We work within the regulations and I am very strong on that. At the moment we are an hour and a half with boys over 12-year-old from where they live. That’s where we stay.

“I really do think there’s talent in the North-East. We are vibrant at grassroots level. We are vibrant in the Russell Foster League, vibrant in the Teesside Junior Alliance Leagues, vibrant in Tyneside Leagues so there are a lot of kids playing lots of football.

“In Ron Bone and Martin Carter (academy recruitment) we have two lads there who understand the physical development and mental development as well – and they have worked this patch well.”

There have been stand-out players at both levels this season, with the likes of Harry Chapman, Dael Fry and Callum Cooke among those to catch the eye and earn international recognition. The ultimate aim, though, is to ensure more of them step up to first team level with the help of the coaches assisting them.

“If we get one regular first team player in the next few years then that’s an achievement,” said Parnaby. “We have tried to manage upwards, interpret what goes on above us ... from Bryan Robson right through to Aitor Karanka now.

“Aitor is a manager who generally wants us to succeed as a youth development programme. I also have to understand that his time here might be 18 months, it might be two years or hopefully it will be ten years or more. But I genuinely think he wants us to succeed.

“His coaching staff has helped. Steve Agnew has been added. He started his career here as an Under-13s coach. He developed himself at Leeds and Hull. That’s a good link to the first team. We also have to understand what they are trying to achieve.

“On top of that we have had good staff. Paul Jenkins and Graeme Lee have been instrumental with the Under-21s; Craig Liddle and Mark Tinkler led the U18s. Underlying all of that is someone like Ron Bone, who has been underneath it all. Ron and all of the backroom staff have played a huge part. It’s a collective effort.”

Parnaby has never been one to predict which players will make the grade next but he knows there are a number showing great potential. He thinks Ben Gibson, who will line up at the heart of the defence at Wembley, is an ideal example.

“Ben epitomises everything we are about really, as a person off the field and as a leader on the field,” said Parnaby. “He is very professional in every single thing he does. He is a credit to his family. People in the game know who Ben Gibson is now.

“Left-footed centre-backs don’t come round the corner too readily. So he has a great future. Whatever he does in life he will succeed because he is a great individual.

“He played junior football under Ron and Martin. He was a left-back, left midfield and ended up at centre-back. If he steps up for a corner in the 89th minute at Wembley on Monday and nods the winner in then that would be just great – and cap a wonderful year for the club.”


Harry Chapman, born Hartlepool

Hayden Coulson, Gateshead

Thomas Dawson, Stockton

Lee Hetherington, South Shields

Niall McGoldrick, Hartlepool

Alex Pattison, Darlington

Aynsley Pears, Durham

Callum Cooke, Hartlepool

Matthew Elsdon, Durham

Dael Fry, Middlesbrough

Jonathan Helm, Middlesbrough

Callum Johnson, Stockton

Jordan Jowers, Middlesbrough

Nathan McGinley, Middlesbrough

Nathan Plews, Bishop Auckland

Junior Mondal, Middlesbrough

Josef Wheatley, Middlesbrough.