Tony Pulis has already promised the Middlesbrough faithful that he won’t be turning water into wine, so that’s alright then. Neither will he be walking on it as one of the North East’s favourite sons once threatened to do, before running away to the East Midlands.
The prospect of the Smoggies playing champagne football or even the sweetest, sickly version from blue nuns, huddled together on the terraces to keep their Teesside habits intact, would have been far too much to bear.
Down by the Riverside, football fans just want to keep warm. They don’t need the extra heat of excitement and all the pressure that brings. Remember when they got to three major Finals between 1997 and 1998 and lost all of them? Well, that was due to Bryan Robson putting far too much effort into winning things and raising everybody’s hopes ahead of the inevitable disappointments that would follow.
A much safer bet came latterly with Aitor Karanka – who many literary Middlesbrough fans literally thought was the female heroine of a famous novel by the Russian Leo Tolstoy (who also turned out for Zenit Saint Petersburg whenever the team needed morale-boosting encouragement ahead of European opposition).
Karanka knew that crossing the line was a dangerous business – and not just because of the risk of getting hit in the face by those yellow flags wielded by referees’ assistants when politely discussing offside positions. No, Karanka was much more in tune with the age-old requirement on Teesside of not losing. He proudly boasted the fifth-best defence in the Premier League when he was sacked for quite understandably forgetting that there was the need for a goal at the other end too.
Tony Pulis understands these things and has already made the connection with one of his previous victims – Stoke City. Not only has Tony identified a common red colour but also that Middlesbrough is a ‘very similar area in lots of respects.’ I’m not sure whether he has actually seen it in daylight, but the refineries of the petrochemical industries that dominate the skyline there are not, to my mind, reminiscent of anything I have ever seen in the drab sprawl of the Potteries.
Industrial decline has been matched by dire, depressing football on both pitches, so maybe that is what Tony really means. Having allegedly been approached by Stoke to continue the inverted dynasty he created – before signing for Boro – maybe it is just the sheer hopelessness of the local populations that appeals to Tony most and reassured him that he would fit in nicely.
After the aberration of Garry Monk who was beginning to show much too much fighting spirit, Middlesbrough have sensibly settled on a man who will ensure that they don’t fall into League One.
Tony talks about Stoke as if their FA Cup Final appearance was somehow a success. In truth, it was one of the most dreadful Finals in recent years and the subsequent Europa campaign about as memorable as a Ryan Shawcross fair-play award. Who could possibly want to watch Stoke City or West Brom in the Premier League, week in and week out, when Port Vale play just down the road?
Who would honestly want to wait for 89 minutes before the first shot on target arrives from a rather splendidly-worked free kick or a long throw?
In truth, Tony’s brand of football is every bit as dull as he is – so much so that not even Swansea City or the Wales National Team saw him as the prodigal son whose stories they would have to listen to for more than three minutes of injury time.
Not so at Middlesbrough! Steve Gibson’s damage-limitation strategy might involve skating on thin ice with this appointment but at least if that ice cracks and Tony finally disappears from view, into the murky depths of the river, few people will actually have witnessed or remember that he was ever there at all.