Friday, 10 April 2009

You Are Boateng

Happier times - Boateng scores against Man Utd in 2007 FA Cup quarter final

Tomorrow's opponents Hull City could have a familiar face in their midfield tomorrow, a reminder of happier times. With typical tenacity, George Boateng is expected to be back from a knee injury earlier than expected and is likely to feature for the Tigers at some stage. A warm reception surely awaits.

Boateng's time at the Boro included some of the proudest moments in the club's history. His six years on Teesside included the 2004 Carling Cup win, qualifying for Europe after that dramatic draw at Manchester City and two European campaigns, including the run to Eindhoven.

Despite there being a year left on his contract, the former Dutch international was allowed to sign for Phil Brown's newly promoted side last summer. The relationship between Boateng and his former team-mate Gareth Southgate was strained over the course of the last season. In January 2008, it seemed Boateng would be allowed to leave after a training ground row. With Boateng increasingly left on the bench or shunted into an unfamiliar role on the right wing, he clearly felt his time at Middlesbrough was up.

Boateng consoles Andreas Isaksson after his last Boro appearance - an 8-1 win over Man City

There's no denying Boateng was struggling to maintain the standards set in his early years on Teesside. 2006/07 was a difficult season, with Boateng carrying an injury much of the time. Performances slipped. With a range of passing that could never be described as expansive, Boateng's critics felt his legs were going too.

But even last year, there was evidence of the commitment and passion that made Boateng such a fans' favourite. The game at Arsenal springs to mind - soon after the Cardiff City debacle (when Boateng was an unused substitute), Boro were desperately trying to restore pride. Jeremie Aliadiere scored a goal so much against the run of play it was almost insulting. Boro defended manfully to protect their lead with Boateng tearing across the pitch, tackling, blocking, deflecting everything that moved.

To some extent, Boateng's departure was understandable. His technical limitations didn't always help to build swift attacks and he was no longer quite the force of his early years at the Riverside. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to find anyone better than Boateng and, even worse, have not replaced his leadership. A captain who led by example, Boateng's sheer force of personality often kept Boro going in adversity.

We've rarely been in a position where a more technically adept midfielder would've thrived this season but there surely should have been a role for Boateng. It seems unlikely so many points would have been lost from winning positions had he still been around to galvanise the team against a late onslaught. As a player, he put everything he had into the game - if only we could say that about more of the current squad.

No comments: