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Bye Bye Pinocchio

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Robbo Robson | 12:17 UK time, Thursday, 22 October 2009

Always an unfair name for Gareth Southgate as he couldn't make his nose grow for love or money, such was the honesty of the bloke.

There's been enough dark mutterings about Gareth in the Teesside boozers for a while now but every criticism has been double-edged - as in 'lovely man, terrible manager'.
Even this year, a point behind top spot, we've had the feeling that Boro have been on a wing and a prayer (that wing being Adam Johnson).

Attendances have been getting lower and when you think that even last season it sometimes looked like the terraces had been block-booked by a party of plastic chairs, you can imagine how empty it feels. If it wasn't for some of us, it'd sound like a Trappist monk's funeral.

Still, it's not that happy a day for Boro fans. Southgate was the man who lifted our first major trophy in his hands. Don't tell me the Carling Cup means nowt.
Gareth Southgate Southgate left with Middlesbrough one point off the top
Plus, he was lumbered with selling off a lot of the jewels in Boro's crown, not least the Fat Four - Hasselbaink, Viduka, Mido and Yakubu. But more than that, you wished him well 'cos he is so transparently nice.

I think this is why Gibbo stuck with him for so long. Axing him must have felt like slapping a kitten. But as the saying goes in management (and in other contexts this is no bad thing) nice guys come second. Oh, and Roy Keane.

You just couldn't imagine Gareth losing it, really. I hear he threw the odd cotton bud around the home dressing-room. He once refused to put the kettle on at half-time and there was even one occasion when he ate an interval orange in front of everyone without handing any segments out to his first XI.

In Southgate's case the hairdryer treatment was something like: 'Here you go Stewie, borrow my Morphy Richards if yours is broken.'

So farewell to the spoddy sweaters and the latent mullet. We wish him well. Match of the Day 2 beckons (that's my guess).

In his place we have another popular figure. I missed Strachan when he went up North. He's funny, which is good, 'cos you need a sense of humour to work here. He's also got a flinty side. You can see him nutting Wheater in the navel if he continues to get caught out by a down-the-middle hoof from a mule of a centre-back.

No doubt he'll be looking for a Boateng/Cattermole type to endanger some midfield Championship ankles. But he's not starting from too bad a place is he? Just so long as we don't meet the trendy publishing company from Slovakia, Artmedia Bratislava, in our first match (unlikely) we'll be fine.

In fact, I don't know of anyone who's gnashing his teeth at this appointment. Gibbo described football as a 'cruel game' in the light of Southgate's dismissal. Not sure it's cruel enough if Southgate can hang on after relegation.

But Gibson - despite losing his 'Mr nice-guy' tag with the manner of the sacking - is that rare breed in modern football, a chairman the fans trust. I think Strachan can take us back up. Didn't think Southgate would. Fair enough.

The biggest shock this week was how many of the Champions League matches were interesting, not least that bloke Rubin Kazan turning over Barca.

Then Milan pinching a win at Real, even allowing for a blunder of mind-numbing stupidity by the keeper who named himself after a fire engine, Dida. A Homeric clanger (as in Simpson). Then of course there was the big one. Liverpool making it four in a row. It's not Going For Gold, Rafa.

Liverpool can't compete right now. Why? 'cos like tramps in a park, there's a lot of poverty on the bench. Rafa's biggest failing as a manager is his acquisitions. Torres and Mascherano apart, he can't pick a player.

Dossena is a non-tackling Italian defender. I mean you've got to look blinking hard to find one of them. Voronin, inexplicably a sub for Bennayoun, clearly has a bass guitar and a rock band to return to somewhere 'cos footballer can't be his proper job.
Rafa BenitezBenitez is coming under increasing pressure
The tower that is Babel is going to need the sort of scaffolding they clamp on to the one in Pisa if he is ever going to make a decent forward. And it's too easy to stop Ngog.
The strain is beginning to tell and not just on the groins of Stevie and Nando. Gareth Barry must be stuffing those extra 50 quid notes under his mattress with added glee.

The fans, not least on this messageboard, have stood shoulder to shoulder with the Spaniard for a fair while now, but even they are running short of patience. As Rafa might put it, the Facts are hard to argue with right now.

Maybe last year was THE year and it's time for the Koppites to retreat back to the waiting room and wait for the next trainer to arrive at the platform.

The shenanigans at board level won't help, and the money required might not be forthcoming from two blokes who don't seem to quite know what they want to do with the club.

I can't say that Benitez is a bad manager. His record suggests otherwise. And he'll always have Istanbul. But with United coming up, I'm wondering whether the bold claim of the 'Pool fans is going to lose a letter in the coming months: 'In Rafa We Rust'?


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