Gordon Strachan gives his critics at Middlesbrough the cold shoulder
Mancini brings his own sartorial statement; the scarf, which makes a grand sweep around the shoulders, augmented by Harmony hair cut long in the raffish manner of the Mediterranean rake. The impish Gordon Strachan must be cursing his luck, if not his look. The last thing he needs is the arrival on his patch of a high voltage coach and the comparison it invites. Sorry Gordon, here it comes. As October drew to a close Strachan was unveiled as Middlesbrough's own marvel, a mini Mancini to whom the club turned to whisk them along the road marked 'next level'. Like the City example this required the brutal culling of a manager, who, immediately after relegation, had begun the repairs, steering the club to fourth in the Championship. Strachan, again like Mancini, was sounded out weeks before the knifing of Gareth Southgate. And there the parallels begin to fall off a cliff. Last week's victory over 10-man Scunthorpe, the team with the worst defensive record in the division, was Strachan's first at home and only his second since replacing Southgate. Mancini has been in his post a week and has the same number in the 'w' column. He'll have to go some to match the rest of Strachan's grim compilation, the significant feature of which is the cascade of defeats; six in 12 matches. Naturally Strachan has an explanation for this. Predictably his world view does not accord with most supporters. This is how Redcar Red sees the leadership at the club to which he lost his heart fully 40 years ago. "Gordon Strachan is an abject failure and pathetic joke as Middlesbrough manager. Someone who cannot inspire, organise or motivate should not be in management. As bad as this squad is and as bad as the previous manager may have been [Gareth must be laughing his socks off] he was a damn sight more switched on than GS [I can't believe I've been reduced to both saying and admitting that]." Redcar Red has had enough. He doesn't care anymore. His was one of 111 moved to post his despair on the Evening Gazette blog site following the recent home defeat to Barnsley. The laments are football's dark matter, passing through and around Strachan without detection. Unless critics have played 100 times for Scotland or scored the winner in a World Cup final, Strachan pays no attention on the grounds that they do not know what they are talking about. Thus Strachan renders the Middlesbrough fan mute. He is rarely short of a word himself, however, though attaching sense to them is not straightforward. This was his account of the Barnsley debacle. "We won the football match in the first half and they decided to turn it into a cup tie and then they won it. We were disappointed to lose the game but we couldn't match them in a different game." Mean anything to you? Strachan has a habit of wrapping sentences in barbed wire. Listeners sit before him defeated with blood dripping out of their ears. However bad things get it is rarely his fault. And he will get it right because he is Gordon Strachan, a genius. Just ask him. "I cannot speak about what has gone on before here, but I know what I do works. The most overused thing I have heard in my life is the phrase 'proving people wrong'. It is naff. I think you have to prove to yourself you can deal with it first. Everybody else does not matter. People say, 'Prove the critics wrong', but who are the critics? "If Kenny Dalglish says this and that about you then you sit up and think about it, but if someone who has never kicked a ball says something then so what? It does not count. I ask myself every day, am I good enough to deal with it? The results have made things harder but as a manager I have got the answers. It might take a wee while but we will get there." Only at Celtic has Strachan won more matches than he has lost, yet he retains his reputation as an independent, quirky freethinker. This is probably as much to do with the fusillade of quips that, irritatingly, he substitutes for answers at post-match question time. Middlesbrough is his fourth managerial post. He was sacked from his first, Coventry, following relegation in 2001. It happens. Wisely he decided the timing of his departure from Southampton, resigning in February 2004, and Celtic, the club he left last summer. His work at Celtic was not persuasive. The structural weakness north of the border makes it so. Three successive titles and the knockout stages of the Champions League twice was a commendable return but hardly Jose Mourinho at Porto. The FA Cup is a freebie, an engagement without consequence for Strachan. His work starts when Mancini leaves town, recruiting his own players in the January window and winning Championship matches. He talks a good game. The question is, Gordon, how many are listening?
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