Dave Parnaby has brought an end to an extremely successful period in the history of Middlesbrough by retiring from his role as academy manager. Chief football writer Paul Fraser spoke exclusively with the man who has overseen an exceptional production line

“IT’s been an absolute pleasure,” were the words uttered by Dave Parnaby, in his final interview with The Northern Echo at Rockliffe Park earlier this week before heading into a well-deserved retirement.

It was his closing line to wrap things up after reflecting on his 20 years stint leading the production line at Middlesbrough Football Club. And what a production line. “I just want to make sure I say a massive thank you,” he said moments earlier.

The comments could quite easily have been aimed at him from Steve Gibson, the Middlesbrough chairman, or one of the 95 young footballers who have gone onto play professionally at first team level. The queue outside his office would go on and on, snaking around the training pitches at Rockliffe Park.

Parnaby has never seen the success of Middlesbrough’s academy system as his own; he has always seen it as the team’s. “It’s one big effort, we have all worked as hard as each other here to ensure everything is done correctly,” said Parnaby.

“We have a lovely saying about the cake mix here … every person contributes to the cake mix and hopefully you put it in the oven and it comes out nice and baked, perfect.

“Ron Bone (head of youth recruitment) always says you have to find the potential and then be patient. If you put them in a good coaching environment, they will have their issues, domestic problems, social issues but you have to help them through all of that.

“The success we have had here is a reflection of everyone’s work. It is only because I have a title that I am sat here talking to you, but the work that goes on behind the scenes is phenomenal. I always make sure I don’t mention too many because I don’t want to leave anyone out.

“Wendy Thomas is the real academy manager, she is amazing in how she runs it, Peter Hood and Paul Jenkins … I could go on. Ron has been here 25 years. That continuity gives you a good feel. It is a good environment to work, with good core values and a good culture. We never tell anyone how good we are but we all work hard.”

When young players walk through the academy entrance at Rockliffe Park they are hit with the words ‘Humility, Respect and Honesty.’ Producing good footballers over the years has been an aim, but Parnaby’s academy produced good people too.

You don’t need to look too far to find two of the academy’s most successful graduates. Stewart Downing was the first of the Parnaby generation to play for England and his team-mate Ben Gibson looks certain to follow him onto the international stage before the end of the season.

The pair form part of a 44-strong group that has progressed onto the Middlesbrough first team stage since the Football Association’s Charter for Quality was introduced during Howard Wilkinson’s time in 1998. That was the year Parnaby started full-time with the club.

He said: “It is a tough ask because you are only as good as the players. The old saying is if you want a good coach then get good players, if you want to be a great coach then get great players. Attached to all of that is luck, good fortune, opportunity and that purple patch we had was all about opportunity.

“Opportunities came in many shapes and forms and it is whether they come along. Then it is about whether the players are good enough. If players aren’t making the first team then you have to look at it and think ‘have we got those players to be moaning about it?’ We never moan. Our job is to support, not to criticise and moan.”

The ‘purple patch’ Parnaby refers to will be remembered forever on Teesside. After winning the FA Youth Cup in 2004, the same year the first team won the Carling Cup, there was a long line of players who graced the big stage.

Parnaby’s son Stuart played in the UEFA Cup final in 2006 with Downing as well as fellow academy graduates James Morrison and Lee Cattermole. Matthew Bates was also involved in Eindhoven on the bench.

Downing was sold a few years later for £12m to Aston Villa, Adam Johnson went to Manchester City for £9m and Cattermole was offloaded to Wigan for £3.5m, to name three. Boro have recouped more than £40m by selling their young talents over the years – and Gibson was valued at £30m recently when Chelsea and Liverpool were linked.

The bigger names are not the only ones Parnaby is proud of. He said: “There are many things that I have got satisfaction from, just to see people play every week … the good thing about that ‘purple patch’ was that the players thrived. Sink or swim? They all swam.

“It is a weekly occupation of all the academy staff to check BBC Sport on a Saturday night to check the line ups to see where everyone is. We were all interested in Charlie Wyke’s progression, he got a nice move to Bradford (from Carlisle).

“Anyone who goes on loan we follow. We saw Connor Ripley save two penalties in the 90th minute (for Oldham) last week. It is a really nice Saturday night activity for the staff and we always exchange texts and calls about who is doing well and who isn’t, who played and who didn’t play.

“What has given me the greatest satisfaction? Seeing Stewart Downing play for England was amazing. Amazing. There are all kinds of things built into that. But seeing staff progress too has always been a big thing too.

“Steve Agnew is sitting alongside Aitor Karanka now and Steve started at Tolesby Road with the Under-13s. Craig Liddle started with the Under-13s. There was Craig Hignett, Colin Cooper, Mark Proctor, Jamie Clapham, now at Barnsley, who started here. That’s a great thing to reflect on.

“Gareth Southgate is obviously now the England manager and he did his coaching levels with our academy. We provided the kids to Gareth and offered him that opportunity after walking off the pitch in Eindhoven in 2006.”

Parnaby, who will walk out of the Rockliffe doors for the last time in the middle of this month after an audit has been concluded with former Darlington stalwart and Boro academy prospect Craig Liddle replacing him at the top, plans to spend more time with his family. “It has been a 24/7 job” for him, he says, since taking on the post nearly two decades ago.

He originally wanted to play professionally. He went on to play, coach and manage in the Conference with Gateshead alongside teaching for 22 years. He was offered numerous coaching positions within football before accepting Middlesbrough’s offer in in 1998.

The academy system has changed because there is greater accountability since the Elite Player Performance Plan was introduced a few years ago. The emphasis on administration has increased the workload, so he can look forward to a few extra hours peace now.

The 62-year-old will probably find time to send out an extra text message too. “I often do send them to some of the players we have had and still have here,” said Parnaby. “I remember Lee Cattermole having a bad time with the media because of his aggressive attitude.

“I remember he really thanked me for my message. It was when he was at a low point. I just wanted to encourage him, reassure him that he is a good player and he shouldn’t be distracting him. The press were giving him a bad time with his suspensions and discipline. That’s just one example.”

Parnaby will always care about what happens at Middlesbrough’s academy and hopes it will continue to produce local talent from the North-East; just like he hopes the likes of Sunderland, Newcastle and Hartlepool do too. Will he miss it? Of course he will.

He said: “I will remember all the people I have worked with. I will miss the people the most. You build up friendships. I will miss seeing kids progress. In those early years, you will see a kid one week and not think much of him and then six months later you might see a real surge, a growth, it’s a nice place and good to see. I love seeing that progress.

“The biggest buzz of all is seeing them play for the first team. At the moment we have Ben and Stewart, holding down places, and the stats show we are second in the Premier League behind Arsenal with Premier League minutes played by home produced players. That’s extremely satisfying.” And he would be proud to see that continue, from the comfort of his armchair at home.