HE has been Middlesbrough head coach for less than two months, but Jonathan Woodgate is already looking two years into the future.

“If you look at a future team, you’ve got: Pears, Dijksteel, Fry, Wood, Bola, McNair, Wing, Tavernier, Coulson, Browne, Walker. All under the age of 23,” said the Teessider, as he chatted as Boro’s training ground earlier this week. “That’s what I’m trying to do.”

So much for it being impossible to think beyond the next game. Woodgate’s willingness to contemplate what a future Middlesbrough team might look like is indicative of two things. First, that his desire to promote youth is not merely lip service, designed to make a clear break with his predecessor, Tony Pulis.

When the former academy coach talks about promoting from within and playing young players in his first team if their inclusion is merited, he is preaching from a gospel he firmly believes in. Like another former Boro boss, Gareth Southgate, and his England set-up, Woodgate feels the senior team will only be successful if there is a functioning pathway from the youth sides that feed it. Where Hayden Coulson led at Luton Town last Friday, expect plenty of others to follow.

Woodgate’s willingness to turn to youth is about more than merely giving emerging players a chance though. As a lifelong Middlesbrough fan, the Teessider regards himself as a custodian of his hometown club. Other managers might roll out the cliché of ‘leaving the club in a better position than the one they found it in’ – Woodgate regards it as his duty.

“You’ve got to be looking at the future and planning for what happens next,” he explained. “You have to see that as an important part of your job. We have a strategy in place, and there’s a method to everything we do.

“I said about this vision for the club, and one day if I leave or get sacked or whatever, the club will still be in a good position. There won’t be players coming to 33 or 34 with big contracts. There’ll be a nucleus here of a strong squad. So, there is a method to how we’re going to do things. We’ll always be doing things for a reason.”

That applies in the transfer market, with Woodgate having championed the pursuit of a different type of player this summer – hungrier, younger, more athletic – and will eventually permeate through every aspect of the club’s business.

It is the ‘doing things differently’ that Steve Gibson and Adrian Bevington referred to when Woodgate was first presented to the media, and reflects both an acknowledgement that the ways of the past have not worked and a desire to head in a different direction with the current regime.

When Woodgate was first appointed as Pulis’ successor, scepticism abounded. The club were doing things on the cheap. Woodgate was either Pulis’ failed right-hand man or a ‘daft lad from the Boro’, incapable of stepping into a brave new world of management.

Two months on, and most of the cynicism has disappeared. Off the pitch, Woodgate has been honest, humorous and approachable. He has proved he cares. On the field, his side have lived up to his cavalier predictions, albeit in only one game. Last weekend’s 3-3 draw at Luton was fast and frenetic. This afternoon’s home match with Brentford promises to be just the same.

“When I first got the job, or when I was rumoured to get the job, if I’m honest, there probably wasn’t many of them (the supporters) that wanted me,” said Woodgate. “Probably some of you lot (the media) didn’t want me either.

“But we’ve slowly won them over. They didn’t know how I wanted to play football, they didn’t know me as a person, they didn’t know what I wanted to bring to the club. I thought when I did my first press conference, they knew what I wanted.

“They saw a few pre-season friendlies, they knew it was a work in progress, they saw St Etienne, they buy into it again, and then they saw Luton and things started to flip.

“I think with hard work and belief in what I want to do, we’ve changed a lot of opinions. I think that was a real positive, and it needed to happen.”

So as he prepares to walk out at the Riverside for the first time in a competitive setting, does he now feel wanted? “Yeah,” he said. “It’s an unbelievable feeling. Even my sister has been getting messages, and my wife, with her dancing school, she’s getting messages and people talking to her. It’s great.”

It will be even better if Boro get off to a winning start at the Riverside this afternoon, with last season’s disappointing home form having been a key factor in both the failure to make the play-offs and the disconnect that evolved between Pulis and the fanbase.

“The home form wasn’t great, and I think the old manager would be the first to say that,” said Woodgate. “But it’s a new chapter now, and it’s my job to get the fans in this stadium. If we play an exciting brand of football, like we showed the other night with 17 shots on goal, then hopefully they will.

“I know it’s expensive and I know it’s hard to afford tickets. I’m in this area, and I know it’s not easy. But, hopefully, we get more in and they go home entertained.”