Thursday, 27 August 2009

Double deal stokes fires of discontent

After weeks of speculation, the flurry of expected departures from the Riverside began in earnest today. Tuncay Sanli and Robert Huth have both joined Tony Pulis' Stoke City in a double deal reported to be worth £11m to Boro.

Tuncay's departure has been touted for some time - indeed, Gareth Southgate had expressed his amazement that the Turkish international was still available at the start of the season. A charismatic if inconsistent influence during his time on Teesside, it will be intriguing to see how the enigmatic Tuncay fits into Pulis' direct style. His touch, poise and generally high workrate were always likely to attract attention from a top flight side, although its hard to believe this is the move Tuncay had in mind at the start of the summer.

His disappearing act during the middle of last season seemed to be forgiven almost instantly. He will depart with the goodwill of most fans - when he was good, he could be very, very good.

The departure of Southgate's latest captain is more of a disappointment. Robert Huth had played a key role so far, leading a defence yet to concede a league goal this term. The club had seemed somewhat more optimistic about retaining his services but with Afonso Alves still an unwelcome drain on resources, Boro felt they had little choice but to accept the chance to get the well paid German of the wage bill. With Chris Riggott and Emanuel Pogatetz still to return to the squad, the manager clearly felt he had adequate cover in place.

The departure of Huth and Tuncay has led to some predictable bed-wetting from some more excitable members of the Boro fanbase. Although some will quibble the transfer fee received, it has to be remembered the damage done to Boro's position by relegation. It was never feasible to maintain a Premier League wage bill, even if it was one of the lowest in the top flight. The departures of Stewart Downing and Mido (and that only on loan) were never going to be enough.

After growing accustomed to life at English football's top table, some fans don't seem to have grasped the consequences of demotion to the Championship. Stoke may not be regarded as a particularly large or glamorous club but they do have Premier League money and that, along with the increased exposure in World Cup year, is the crucial factor. Indeed, it would be naive to think that it was anything other than that source of income that brought Huth and Tuncay to Teesside in the first place. The club can't offer the money and exposure that Stoke can - its that simple. Neither player should be condemned for treating football as a job.

Much of the criticism of last season's relegation that has been aimed at the club is fair. But to suggest that today's sales are a further error is wilful ignorance. It is an inevitable consequence of last season's events. The need to balance the books cannot be ignored. The holes in the club's finances have to be plugged and if that can be done without the sale of academy products like David Wheater and Adam Johnson then all the better.

Steve Gibson and Gareth Southgate made mistakes last season and have admitted as much. Given the choice, this writer would have changed the manager in January and, given the chance, at the end of last season too. But to use every action the club takes as a stick to beat them with isn't healthy for anyone. To question the motive of either man is ridiculous - both deserve better. Their competence can and should be subject to scrutiny but some of the most vocal critics need to accept the reality of the club's position.

Most important now is using the belated arrival of funds to strengthen the squad. The mooted signing of goal-shy Sheffield United reject Danny Webber does not inspire the least bit of confidence. Rob Hulse is an even longer term target - an offer to Derby may finally be made. It promises to be a hectic bank holiday weekend, with the game at Bristol City almost relegated to a sub-plot.

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