IF George Friend ever needs reminding of his status as an adopted Teessider, he only has to speak to his eldest daughter, Isobel.

“My eldest has a little Boro accent – or whatever a half-Devon, half-Boro accent would be,” chuckles Friend. “She comes out with some funny little sayings from up here. One of my kids was born in North Tees and the other was born in James Cook so if I have another one, we’d have to see which got the nod. Either that or I’d have to go up to Hartlepool…”

He might have been born and bred near Barnstaple, in north Devon, but Friend readily calls Middlesbrough ‘home’. Not home in a transitory, footballer-type way, where a family base one second can become a dim-and-distant memory the next, but in a deep-rooted, emotional sense that suggests that even if Friend was to move on before he calls time on his career, he would eventually be pulled back to the banks of the Tees.

Ever since joining Middlesbrough seven years ago, Friend has willingly embraced his local community. When SSI closed its doors in Redcar, it was the full-back that voiced the squad’s support for the steel plant’s former workers. When others have sought to highlight Teesside’s problems, Friend has spoken effusively of the region’s strengths. When Boro were struggling last season, it was Friend that sought to summon the ‘spirit of Teesside’ in response.

“I’ve never hidden the fact of how much I love playing for Middlesbrough,” said the 31-year-old, who was promoted to the role of club captain in one of Jonathan Woodgate’s first moves as head coach. “It’s a privilege to play for the football club, and I never forget that.

“I love playing for the club and I’ve never tried to hide that away. Sometimes it might have held me back if there was the possibility to move away, but I’ve always been very clear and the chairman has always been brilliant with me, telling me how it is and where we stand. I’m very, very happy here, although I’d obviously be happier if we were back in the Premier League!”

That is the challenge this season, with Tony Pulis’ departure in the wake of last season’s failure to make the play-offs having created the opportunity for Woodgate to step into his first head coach role.

Woodgate has promised to usher in a footballing revolution, replacing the staid, safety-first attitude of the Pulis regime with a more exciting, attack-minded approach. Possession is to be cherished, risk-taking is to be applauded, and youth is considered a virtue rather than a handicap.

While the demands of the Championship necessitate a degree of realism, there is a clear desire to promote from within, restoring Boro’s Rockliffe Park academy to its former standing as one of the most respected and successful production lines in the country. Financially, with the Financial Fair Play regulations and lack of any parachute payments colouring Boro’s monetary landscape, that makes sense.

But as Friend readily acknowledges, there are also powerful emotional reasons to ensure that the next Woodgate to emerge from the playing fields of Nunthorpe or Marton does not have to head south to Leeds United to get an opportunity to make it in the game.

“It’s important for this club because it’s known to have had such a prestigious academy over the years,” said Friend. “Perhaps for the last few years, we haven’t seen as many coming through as we would have wanted. Gibbo (Ben Gibson) was probably the most prominent in the last few years, but then you’ve got Dael (Fry) and others coming through too.

“You’ve got this young crop coming through now, and whether they’re all ready straight away to come in now, I’m not sure, time will tell. But it’s exciting that maybe in the next few years we will see a team where the fans can be singing, ‘You’re one of our own’ a bit more.

“That’s what it’s about. The unity on Teesside is something we want to keep. But you can’t do that so well if they can’t see someone from the terraces there in the team. It’s easier to relate, and I think those boys that have come from here, they know what it means to play for Middlesbrough.

“Perhaps that’s been a lost a bit – I certainly felt as though it went a bit in the Premier League. It frustrated a few of us, but it feels as if it’s coming back again and the connection with the fans follows. Okay, you don’t have to be from the area to know what it means to play for Middlesbrough, but it must help.”

The renewed focus on youth has been well received, as has the shift towards a more positive playing style. There is a definite desire to play on the front foot, although Friend accepts there will always be a need for the kind of grit and determination that characterise his own game, such is the demanding nature of life in the Championship.

“It can’t just be about tapping it about,” he said. “It’s also about working hard to win the ball back. We all know the Championship, it’s not easy, and I think if you want to be successful playing in the way we want to play, then you’ve also got to be disciplined off the ball so that when you lose it, you react straight away. That’s something the manager has been drilling into us too.”