Since the move from atmospheric Ayresome Park to the Riverside Stadium in 1995 Middlesbrough FC has seen its fair share of top players pass through its gates, especially given the size and location of the club. Bryan Robson managed to attract some massive names to the North East in his stint as manager between 1994 and 2001. Steve McClaren also signed some top-quality players, but more importantly actually won some silverware. So as Middlesbrough currently find themselves staring a return to the Championship right in the face, I think it’s a good time to choose an XI that encapsulated the Riverside Revolution.
We’re playing in a 4-4-2 diamond (wide) formation and because there were so many players to choose from I have given an honourable mention in each position. I’ve chosen players based on longevity, ability and perhaps what their signing represented as well. Anyway, on with the 11.
Honourable Mention: Victor Valdes – only current member of the squad who has impressed this season. Boro’s most honoured player ever who represented a massive coup for the club.
Winner: Mark Schwarzer – an absolutely vital part of Boro’s success. Schwarzer made a staggering 445 appearances for the club across his 11-year stint. Schwarzer was passionate and a real leader on the pitch. His highlight has to be a penalty save against Robbie Fowler of Manchester City on the last day of the 2004/05 season. Had the big Aussie not saved that penalty Boro would not have qualified for the UEFA Cup and Manchester City would have. I also met Mark and he was lovely.
Honourable Mention: Luke Young – a very solid player in a problem position for Boro, unfortunately, his stay only lasted for the 2007/08 season. Scored an absolute screamer against Spurs at the Riverside.
Winner: Gianluca Festa – slight cop out with this one as Festa played mostly centre back at Boro but played right back most other places he went. Festa was signed from Inter in 1997 and added steel and some goals to Boro’s defence. Despite relegation that year he stuck around until 2002 and made 136 league appearances for the club.
Right Centre Back
Honourable Mention: Jonathan Woodgate – after a disastrous spell with Real Madrid Woodgate really rebuilt his reputation when he came back to his boyhood club in 2006. Secured a big move to Spurs in 2008 but returned again in 2012 and helped secure Boro’s top flight status again, even as a bit part player.
Winner: Nigel Pearson – don’t mess with big Nige. Pearson was captain of Boro between 1994 and 1998 and oversaw two promotions and three trips to Wembley. He was as hard as they came and embodied the fighting spirit that Boro had at the time. Retired at the club as well, Pearson was crucial to Bryan Robson’s success.
Left Centre Back
Honourable Mention: Ugo Ehiogu – another rock at the back for Boro he was part of the defence in the team’s most successful period between 2000 and 2007. His partnership with Gareth Southgate that had started at Aston Villa’s was one of the most underrated in the country.
Winner: Gareth Southgate – well who else? Southgate was an impeccable captain during a great period of success for the club that saw him lift the Carling Cup in 2004. That makes him the only Boro captain to lift a major trophy for the club. An excellent defender and leader, let’s not talk about his stint as manager.
Honourable Mention: Christian Ziege – very impressive in his one season at the club, left for Liverpool in very controversial circumstances.
Winner: Frank Queudrue – god that’s hard to spell. Again similar to Southgate, Queudrue was an ever present at Boro between 2002-2006 which is unquestionably a golden age for the club. Great at attacking and defending Queudrue was a key part of both the team that won the Carling Cup and the one that reached the UEFA Cup final.
Honourable Mention: Emerson – a player of genuine quality during the first half of the 1996/7 but had his head turned by Barcelona and was never the same. Also quite liked to swan off to Brazil on short notice.
Winner: George Boateng – another player that would never let you down, I genuinely believe Boateng would run through walls for Middlesbrough Football Club. Another player signed from Villa and during his spell from 2002-2008 was a key component of the success Boro had. He still has a soft spot for the club judging by his twitter feed.
Honourable Mention: Craig Hignett – worked incredibly hard for the team between 1992-98 and would always chip in with goals and assists. Returned to work on the coaching staff in 2014.
Winner: Gaizka Mendieta – another player of genuine quality. Sure, we did not see the best of him at Boro but when he did show up he was magic. Getting the Spaniard was a real coup considering when Lazio bought him in 2001 he was the sixth most expensive player of all time. He had also spent the previous season on loan at Barca. Also started in the Carling Cup Final in 2004.
Honourable Mention: Bolo Zenden – scored the penalty that would ultimately lead to Boro’s Carling Cup win in 2004 so he gets in for that alone. He could play a bit too.
Winner: Stewart Downing – a local lad turned local hero. Downing went from strength to strength during his first stint at Boro, Middlesbrough FC runs through his veins. He was pacey and could cross which is the full package for a winger as far as I’m concerned. He also dragged Boro through a couple of the Southgate seasons. His second spell has been underwhelming, but he’ll always be one of my favourite footballers.
Honourable Mention: Paul Merson – his single season with Boro was magic. His creativity and goal scoring essentially dragged the team back up into the Premier League during the 1997/98 season. Shame he didn’t stick around really.
Winner: Juninho – Boro’s greatest ever player. Well certainly in this era. I called Merson magic earlier but the things the ‘little fella’ could do were out of this world. Alongside club chairman Steve Gibson, the man is an utter god on Teesside. He should have won Premier League player of the year in 1996/7 and was part of the Boro team that won the League Cup in 2004, during his third spell at the club. The diminutive Brazillian’s tears on the last day of the 1996/7 season as Boro got relegated are nothing short of iconic. I could write all day about Juninho, but I will be stunned if we ever see someone as good as him play for Boro anytime soon.
Honourable Mention: Mark Viduka – perhaps his best days in the Premier League came while playing for Leeds, make no mistake Viduka was a natural goal scorer. He also scored double figures back to back for Boro, which is no mean feat. Unfortunately, he left for Newcastle so I just can’t put him in the team.
Winner: Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink – another fantastic player. He got 16 and 18 goals respectively in his two seasons at the Boro, which is similar to Viduka’s record, but he didn’t go to Newcastle. JFH was more creative than Viduka and had a key role in the team that almost won the UEFA Cup. A class act on the pitch.
Honourable Mention: Yakubu – feed the Yak and he shall score. I was tempted to but Boksic or even the UEFA Cup hero Maccarone in this spot, but neither of them impressed me quite as much as Yakubu who is quite simply an excellent Premier League striker. He scored all types of goals and the fact we had JFH, Viduka and Yakubu all on the books at the same time is remarkable.
Winner: Fabrizio Ravanelli – the white feather, a truly divisive figure in the history of Middlesbrough. In his single season (1996/7) he slagged off other players, the area and management but he scored 31 goals! For anyone playing for Boro that has to get you into the team. He scored a hat-trick against Liverpool on his debut and was a massive coup for the club. He had scored the winner for Juventus in the Champions League Final just a few months before signing. He’s also expressed a desire to manage the club, and to be fair there could be an opening in about 10 games time.