IF you stay at the same football club for seven years, you inevitably experience a lot of fresh starts. George Friend has lived through the Tony Mowbray era, the ups and downs of life under Aitor Karanka, the ill-fated Steve Agnew experiment, and the Championship struggles of Garry Monk and Tony Pulis. Throw in caretakers Mark Venus and Craig Liddle, and it has been a case of seven managers in seven seasons for the Middlesbrough full-back.

Each time a new boss arrives, optimism inevitably abounds. Rarely, though, is the shift in mood and outlook as marked as the one that has accompanied Jonathan Woodgate’s appointment as Pulis’ successor this summer.

A new head coach is heralding a new dawn. Positivity is replacing conservatism. A focus on youth has swept away a previous reliance on experience and maintaining the status quo. Risk-taking is to be applauded rather than avoided, goals are to be scored rather than kept out.

Middlesbrough have been rebooted, and while the effectiveness of the restart will only become apparent once the real action begins next month, the atmosphere at the club’s Rockliffe Park training ground ahead of this evening’s first domestic friendly against Gateshead is one of unfettered excitement. And as regular Boro watchers know only too well, that is something that has been in short supply in the last few years.

“I look back to when I first arrived, and can’t help thinking it was a similar time to where we’re at now,” said Friend, fresh from last week’s exertions at a training camp in Austria. “It was a restart from the (Gordon) Strachan era through to Mowbary starting. It was fresh when I joined that era, and it feels as though it could be the same now.

“Potentially, it’s a chance for others to begin and join that journey. Whether they haven’t arrived yet or whether they’re emerging through the squad, or whether they’ve been here a few years and it hasn’t quite clicked, there’s a chance now and it feels as though there’s the energy around the place to start that.”

Much of that energy is a direct result of Woodgate’s appointment, with the new head coach having issued a bold new mission statement in his first day in the job.

The boyhood Boro fan, who grew up watching his hometown team from the Ayresome Park terraces with his dad and uncle, is desperate to reconnect the club with its supporters. He wants to play attacking football, wants to take risks, and wants to promote Teesside talent from within.

It sounds like a refreshing antidote to the staid football played under Pulis, but it will surely only work if the senior members of the existing squad buy in to the new ethos. And if they are going to do that, they have to buy in to Woodgate first.

Might it not be difficult for the former centre-half to exert his authority over players he was sharing a dressing room with as recently as three years ago?

“It’s a respect thing,” answered Friend. “I don’t think it would work if he wasn’t respected as such a great player and leader. He was respected as a great character when he was playing. That’s the risk I think that happens sometimes when players at the same club suddenly become the manager. The risk is that they didn’t have that respect when they were a player. For the gaffer, it was a no-brainer.

“Even when he was a player, he was acting like a manager to the level he could in the changing room, if that makes sense. He called meetings off his own back as the captain, and would talk to us and guide us because why wouldn’t you listen to him? He had all that experience from playing at a great level, international football, everything. Especially the seasons where we got to the play-offs and got promoted, he was so influential in the dressing room. So, I don’t think that was ever going to be an issue. It’s like a natural progression for him.

“And he knows all about us already. He’s played with some of us, and watched others last year, not from a manager’s position, but from a coach’s perspective. He’s at an advantage because of that.

“He’s gained six months or a season, because that’s how long it might ordinarily take a new manager to work all of these things out. The fact he’s played with some of us, he knows what we’re like in the dressing room. He knows our characters and what we can bring off the pitch as well as on it. He knows all the minor little details, which a manager without that previous experience might never find out. He already knows all those things, and I think that can only work to our advantage.”

But what about the difficulty of enacting such a marked change in style? Pulis played with a five-man defence, stationed two defensive midfielders in front of his backline, and drilled his players repeatedly to make sure they were hard to break down.

Woodgate wants to shift his emphasis to the other end of the pitch, encouraging a possession-based game with a high press when the opposition has the ball. It demands adventure, creativity and a willingness to take risks, attributes supporters fear were suppressed to the point of extinction last season. Will it really be possible to reintroduce them?

“I don’t think you get to Championship level without being able to play the game to a good degree,” said Friend. “And I also don’t think you get to Championship level without being able to adapt your game to play in a few different ways. So, I don’t really see it as an issue.

“I’ve had a lot of different managers here now, and they’ve all played different styles. No one would say I’m the most technically-gifted player, but you can play to a level that the manager wants. It’s about understanding what you need to give to the team.

“I think maybe we do need to add a few different people to suit the style, but in general, everyone’s capable of playing it. It’s difficult when you’ve been drilled in a certain way, but after a pre-season, you should be ready to start afresh because you’ve been working hard on very specific things over an intense period. I don’t have any worries about the fact we’re going to be playing in a different style.”

Indeed, having been shackled for so long, there has to be a good chance that a number of Boro’s more attacking players will positively relish the new-found freedom they have been afforded.

It cannot have been easy for the likes of Britt Assombalonga, Ashley Fletcher and Lewis Wing to play with the handbrake on last season, so under Woodgate, perhaps they will once again find themselves performing with a smile on their face? Maybe even a reinvigorated Martin Braithwaite will find himself restored to the fold?

It will not be a case of Teesside tiki-taka every week – the Championship remains a gruelling, unforgiving division – but the next four weeks of pre-season matches provide an opportunity to bed in a new set of foundations that will radically alter Boro’s preferred style.

“The beauty of football is that everyone has an opinion on it,” continued Friend. “You’ll get your football purists that think the game should be played in a certain way, and I’m hoping that this season, the way we play, both things marry up and we play in an attractive style, but we also get the results with it.

“We’ve got to remember what league we’re in. We’re in the Championship and it’s not easy, and at times you’re going to have to be solid, and you’re going to have to grind out a result. I’m not saying we’re going to be completely rigid and sit off, but there will be times where we’re going to have to be savvy and react to what’s happening in a game.

“But it’s a very dynamic coaching staff and a young, enthusiastic manager, and all of that has definitely been taken on to the training pitch. We’re getting so many touches of the ball, and everyone is really enjoying it.

“It feels like a new beginning, and what’s fortunate about this season is that we’ve got someone who knows the area, knows the club, knows the players, knows football, and wants to play in a certain way. It’s exciting to be a part of that.”