Chris Wilder could be Middlesbrough's most crucial appointment since Jack Charlton
There are very few similarities between Jack Charlton and Chris Wilder, but even so, this old and weary Boro fan thinks our new manager could be the most important managerial appointment since the legendary World Cup winner joined us in 1973.
Charlton’s contribution to Middlesbrough is massively underrated. For those outside Teesside he is remembered of course as a World Cup winner and for his remarkable success with the Republic of Ireland.
Few outside the area appreciate the impact of his time at Middlesbrough: and I’m not sure enough of us who are Boro through and through really get it either.
Charlton transformed Boro. He inherited (like Chris Wilder does) a strong squad, and added to it brilliantly and without busting the bank. He brought the best out of players who might otherwise have been moved on (left-back Frank Spraggon recalls Charlton approaching him pre-season to say how there were three types of player at Boro: very good, average and poor.
Spraggon, he told him to his face, was average. He told Stuart Boam, another part of one of the best defences we’ve ever had, the same. Spraggon and Boam then played virtually the whole season in a team which walked the league (indeed Spraggon went on to play on the same pitch as Pele in the US, but that’s another story). He could motivate players.
Charlton’s predecessor, Stan Anderson, had been at the helm much long than Neil Warnock was, but like Warnock provided Charlton with a solid foundation to build on (not least in having signed a certain Graeme Souness from Spurs).
Off the pitch, Charlton brought pride back to a club which had been out of the top division for 20 years, painting the famous Ayresome gates, getting the crowds back, giving us the best kit we’ve ever had (the white stripe was a Charlton innovation) and getting a club shop going with his wife behind the counter.
And of course it all worked. We were promoted, stayed in the top division for a decent stint (including under Charlton’s successor, John Neal). We could have won the league if Jack had stayed another season - that was his view but also that of plenty of others.
He also came back when we needed him, helping us avoid relegation from the old second division in the early 80s after the Malcolm Allison era, and doing so for nothing, agreeing it as a favour to the then chairman, Colin Henderson.
But the other thing about Charlton which I think people overlook was that he was an innovator. He brought to Boro an approach which was new to English football and which he’d studied, partly based on watching Italian football. It relied on a surging midfielder (the surprisingly quick Alan Foggon) catching defences out with surging runs, and a very solid defence.
We may have had a reputation for being dull to watch but that may have had something to do with how successful we were.
Chris Wilder, for me, has the potential to be the most innovative manager we’ve had since Charlton.
He may not have won the World Cup or had an illustrious playing career, but his approach to the game through his desire to innovate and surprise is not unlike Charlton.
He is also clearly highly effective at getting the best out of players and creating an authentic relationship with the supporters.
We may have had bigger names as manager, but I genuinely think that Wilder could be more successful than those who’ve been our best in the last 50 years: Robson, McClaren, Rioch and Karanka. Wilder’s approach has the potential to be better than any of those - with McClaren probably the closest though he was unable to maintain consistency and it’s often forgotten that we were very poor at times even in the UEFA cup final season.
Rioch’s amazing success was built on his personality and the extraordinary talent produced by our youth system, Robson’s aura faded as it became clear he wasn’t a great manager and Karanka, much as I love him, is clearly a difficult character who lacked the staying power once he’d got the best out a squad for which we have much to thank Tony Mowbray.
As for Charlton, I will keep on saying that we should recognise more what he did for our club. I guess he must feel to those younger than me like a distant figure, but he was a true legend who put the pride back in the club.
To be fair, I am an incurable optimist when it comes to Boro: I will always be looking on the bright side. But after the utter misery of Agnew, Monk, Pulis and Woodgate, and the repair work of Warnock, I think we’ve got good reason to be full of hope for the Wilder era.