Venables Heads the Short List for Wistful Boro
Serenaded by jubilant Sevilla fans as they walked through Eindhoven airport yesterday morning, Middlesbrough's players and hierarchy were experiencing a wistful start to their new era.
Steve McClaren, World Cup- and England-bound, smiled his way through departures. McClaren is unlikely to be alone in leaving Teesside but the focus first is on arrivals.
The Boro chairman Steve Gibson, magnanimous in defeat following Sevilla's 4-0 triumph on Wednesday night, had been planning for life post-McClaren and has drawn up a short list of three: Terry Venables, Martin O'Neill and Alan Curbishley. Each has been spoken to by Gibson and he hopes to make an appointment "sooner rather than later".
Others have expressed interest and Ronald Koeman, for one, was spoken to by Boro. But Koeman took the PSV Eindhoven job on Wednesday, succeeding Guus Hiddink. In the interim between the old and the next Boro's assistant manager Steve Round will act as caretaker.
Round is well regarded by Gibson and is seen as fundamental to the club's future rather than an adjunct to McClaren.
Steve Harrison is another coach expected to remain at the Riverside and the pair's presence, allied to that of the influential captain Gareth Southgate, who has coaching ambitions, means that Gibson's next appointment will have to fit into an existing structure. That is one reason why Venables has emerged as the bookmakers' favourite.
Another is that Venables was at Middlesbrough for six months immediately prior to McClaren's July 2001 appearance. Venables was assisting Bryan Robson then, helping the beleaguered Boro manager rally his squad to avoid relegation. Venables left when McClaren came and subsequently had an unfulfilling nine months as David O'Leary's successor at Leeds United from July 2002.
Although that was Venables' last club job, he managed Australia and has retained his reputation as one of the most creative coaches England has produced for two decades. Mark Viduka, who played under Venables with Australia, praised the former England manager yesterday - "He is one of the best coaches I have worked under, someone the players respect" - and Southgate has been an admirer since his England days under Venables.
The relationship Gibson and Venables forged may also be significant. Gibson was being coy on the next man yesterday but said: "Football changes so rapidly. Players have short careers, managers have short careers and coaching staff have short careers. In football the turnover is huge - five years is a long time for a manager to be at a club. So it's part of the game. But we know where we're going with it and we'll make an appointment sooner rather than later. But it's not one to be rushed. We have got to make sure that everything correct is in place."
"That is what he believes is needed at this club. That's enough for all us players. It's what we needed to hear, to know we have the chairman's backing. I think it is vital we keep this squad together. It is clear we have the players who have formed a good team. We all get along well, which is very important. It would be good for all of us to keep some continuity."