Middlesbrough embarked on the start of a new era yesterday, with the appointment of Jonathan Woodgate as the club’s new head coach. Chief Sports Writer Scott Wilson was at Rockliffe Park for Woodgate’s official unveiling alongside Steve Gibson, Neil Bausor and Adrian Bevington

WITH the search for a new Prime Minister in full swing, this has been a week for people outlining their visions of a new beginning. One by one, the Conservative Party’s leadership hopefuls have lined up to speak of a fresh start, an opportunity to bring people together by creating a new identity everyone can believe in.

None, though, have captured the dawn of a new era as effectively as the four men sitting alongside each other at Rockliffe Park yesterday afternoon. This was a party political broadcast by Middlesbrough Football Club, and the message was one of changed priorities and fresh hope. To coin a populist political phrase from across the pond, this was a pledge to ‘Make Middlesbrough Great Again’.

“This is the start for us, it’s a reset,” said Adrian Bevington, who has been working with Steve Gibson and Neil Bausor to help chart Middlesbrough’s new course. For too long now, the club has been drifting aimlessly, lacking both a long-term vision and a clarity of thinking.

Decisions have been taken reactively, rather than proactively. When something has gone wrong, the club has veered violently in the opposite direction, chopping and changing managers, swapping one playing style for another, often halfway through the course of a season, cobbling together a squad of disparate parts, one manager’s favourites becoming his successor’s cast-offs.

No more. The plan now is to formulate an identity, a brand, that will be robust and deep-rooted enough to survive the inevitable wobbles that football throws up. The ‘Middlesbrough way’ will come to mean something, and while managers and players will come and go, the club’s DNA will endure.

It sounds deceptively simple, but will no doubt be devilishly difficult to enact. Even so, the vision that Bevington spelled out has to be better than the tired old practice of violently changing course whenever a problem rears its head.

“As a club, we’re really clear we’re looking to build a club identity, a style of play that is recognisable as Middlesbrough Football Club, with a clear philosophy,” said Boro’s head of recruitment operations. “It gives us a golden thread that will run right through the club and all the age groups, which Jonathan is passionate about.

“It's a model that will ensure we recruit and develop players who fit that playing style consistently. We want to see a fast, attacking style of play.

“It’s important that we’re introducing younger players, part of this football club’s history is the Academy and we’re committed to that. It’s about being brave with the blooding of our Academy players.

“Of course, we want to be smart in the transfer market, but it’s important to say we do already have a lot of detailed knowledge in the organisation of players across the UK and Europe and we’re continually identifying new targets. It’s going to be a joined-up strategy right across the club.”

And at the heart of that strategy sits Woodgate, Teesside through and through, but clearly determined to be so much more than a glorified cheerleader for his hometown.

Woodgate buys in to the new ethos, indeed he helped formulate it via the managerial presentation that helped secure him his new job. Despite being one of his generation’s leading centre-halves, he wants to preside over a team that plays attacking football. He wants a high-energy, pressing style, in which his players take risks when they have the ball and work their socks off to regain possession when they do not.

He wants a clear pathway from the Academy to the first team, and has pledged to promote youth whenever he can. Having watched Middlesbrough from the age of six, when he would join his father, Alan, on the terraces at Ayresome Park, he still views the club through the eyes of a fan.

He has too much respect for Tony Pulis to openly criticise the football that was played last season, but it is clear he will not countenance a repeat on his watch. Whatever happens at the Riverside next season, it is all-but-guaranteed that life will not be dull. Whatever else happens, that has to represent progress.

“I want to win games scoring goals,” said Woodgate. “If you look at this league now, you go up by scoring goals. If you don’t, you won’t go up.

“I have a personal aim, and all my coaching staff would say exactly the same as me, we all want to aim as high as possible, it’s as simple as that. I’m not a manager that wants to finish 12th, I want to be up there, I want to be amongst it, that’s how I look at it.”

The risk is that Woodgate’s lack of experience will tell, but as he rightly points out, Middlesbrough have developed a track record for giving novices a chance, and the results have generally been positive.

Anyway, it is not as though the 39-year-old is completely devoid of coaching experience, as was the case with Gareth Southgate when he was promoted from dressing room to dug-out. Speak to those who have worked with Woodgate on the training ground, and they will talk glowingly of his coaching acumen. Pulis was so impressed that he practically implored Gibson to give Woodgate the job.

The Teessider has done a lot of growing up since the ‘daft lad’ days of his youth, and while some will use his past experiences as a stick with which to beat him, it is hard to imagine a more polished and professional persona than the one that was presented to the media yesterday.

Woodgate, resplendent in club suit, is determined to set some early examples. “I’ll have strong beliefs in keeping high standards,” he said. “If the press conference is due to start at 12.30, then it will start bang on at 12.30, it’s as simple as that. A couple of journalists were late today, so you’ve been warned. It’s the same with my players, if they’re late, the bus goes anyway.” Later, Gibson confided that Woodgate had scolded him for not wearing a tie.

There were definite echoes of Roy Keane, another disciplinarian who successfully turned Sunderland around in his first managerial role, and while Woodgate has not worked with the Irishman, he boasts the names of some of the world’s leading managers on his CV. Sir Bobby Robson, Terry Venables, Fabio Capello, Harry Redknapp, he will take something from all of them. When it comes to assessing the job he has inherited at Middlesbrough, though, perhaps it is his first manager, David O’Leary, whose experiences will prove the most instructive.

“David O’Leary was in exactly the same position as I am now at Leeds,” said Woodgate. “40-year-old, he put young players in. What did we do, sink or swim? We swam. That’s what’ll happen at this club.”

It was music to the ears of those sitting alongside him, and will have been equally well received by the Middlesbrough fans. For too long now, their club has lacked a purpose, a reason to exist. With this latest appointment, perhaps it has rediscovered its heart.

“We’ve got to go in a different direction,” concluded Gibson. “We’ve spent too long outside the Premier League. In the last decade, we’ve had one unsuccessful season in the Premier League.

“I think the infrastructure at the club is right, and we work our socks off, but something isn’t right and that’s the discussion we’ve been having internally. We’ve had those ongoing discussions in the past and have failed to find the solution, but I think we’ve found the solution now.”