For those of us who have been following the Premier League since the early 2000s, Middlesborough FC should be a familiar name. However, the club might be unknown to people who have started following the Premier League post the 2009-10 season. This is primarily due to the fact that Boro (as they are more popularly known) were relegated from the Premier League in the 2008-09 season after having spent 10 long years in the top-tier of English Football.
These 10 years were one of the best eras in the history of the club since its inception in 1876. It was a period which saw them finally win a major silverware (English League Cup in the 2003-04 season) and qualify for Europe – The UEFA cup (now known as the Europa League) for the first time, in the 2004-05 season, where they managed to reach the round of 16. They followed it up by qualifying for the UEFA cup the following year as well, by virtue of finishing 7th in the Premier League in the 2004-05 season, and this time, they progressed all the way to the finals before losing out to eventual winners, Sevilla FC.
Such consistent performances spanning throughout the previous decade had made Middlesborough a familiar name amongst football fans. However, Middlesborough suffered a dip in form in the later part of the decade, and were relegated form the Premier League in the 2008-09 season. Following their relegation, they were not able to replicate their performances they had displayed in the mid-2000s and were unable to secure promotion back to the Premier League. They had reached such a low that they even struggled to secure a place in the top half of the Football League Championship (the 2nd tier of English Football), often failing in quite a few occasions.
Fast forward to the 2015-16 season. Boro had spent 6 seasons in the Football League Championship and had failed to secure a top-half finish in 4 out of these 6 seasons. Needless to say, it was a disastrous record for a club of such stature. However, the 2015-16 season started with a lot of promise. They had managed to finish 4th in the Football League Championship the previous season and had missed out on promotion to the Premier League by a whisker. There was a sense of optimism within the club. Both the players and supporters were looking forward to the coming season. They were convinced that they would manage to go an extra mile this season. Carrying forward their belief and sense of optimism, they did manage to achieve their objective. A brilliant season saw them finish 2nd in the Football League Championship and earn direct promotion to the Premier League after a gap of 7 long years.
As people say, ‘Reaching the top is difficult, but you know what’s more difficult? Staying there.’ The same applies to Middlesborough FC. Although they have achieved their primary objective of regaining their Premier League status, the real challenge begins now. There is still scope for improvement. However, the first thing they need to ensure is to retain their Premier League status for the upcoming Premier League season.
And looking at their activity in the transfer market, one can safely say that they have taken positive steps in that direction. They have completed the signings of quite a few established and talented players. These include :
- Martin de Roon (CM, arrived from Atalanta for a fee of £12.75m)
- Viktor Fischer (LW, arrived from AFC Ajax for a fee of £4.25m)
- Antonio Barragan (RB, arrived from Valencia CF for a fee of £2.3m)
- Bernardo Espinosa (CB, arrived from Sporting Gijon, free transfer)
- Victor Valdes ( GK, arrived from Manchester United, free transfer)
- Brad Guzan ( GK, arrived from Aston Villa, free transfer)
- Alvaro Negredo (ST, arrived from Valencia CF, loan deal)
In addition to the above confirmed deals, they are looking at completing the signing of Gaston Ramirez from Southampton. Ramirez was with Boro last season, on a loan deal and he was their star performer. If the deal goes through, Boro would go a long way to ensure that their Premier League status is not threatened in what would be their first season in the top flight after a gap of 7 long years.
Let us take a look at how their starting XI may look for the upcoming season.
Antonio Barragan Espinosa/ Gibson Ayala Friend
Clayton/ De Roon
Fischer/ Adomah Downing
As far as my personal opinions go, I believe that with the kind of team that they have formed for the upcoming year, they should easily stave off relegation. I predict them to finish between 12th to 14th in upcoming Premier League season. If they manage to perform to their potential, they might even have a look at finishing around the 9th or 10th position. However, as we all know, football is a game of uncertainties. Even more so, when we are talking about the Premier League! We all know what Leicester City pulled off in the previous season. Predictions rarely come true here. Therefore, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Boro fighting for an European spot in the top half of the league, or for that matter struggling to retain their Premier League status at the bottom of the league.
An exciting Premier League season awaits us. Just 10 more days to go! Until then, we can do nothing but speculate as to where Boro might end up in the Premier League standings at the end of the season. On the personal front, it’s nice to see one of the regular Premier League sides of the mid 2000s back in the top flight after such a long time. As far as I remember from my childhood days, the Boro fans were a passionate lot and stood by their team through thick and thin. It would be pleasing to have those fans back in the Premier League again. I can’t wait to watch Middlesborough FC to finally be back in action in the Premier League.