Boro to stand by youth
Gareth Southgate believes Middlesbrough must remain true to their policy of investing in local young talent even if they are relegated from the Premier League. Boro enter tomorrow's game at home to Aston Villa three points adrift of safety with just two rounds to go, with many supporters blaming their manager's decision to sell several experienced players for their troubles.
George Boateng, Luke Young and goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer departed last summer, following Jonathan Woodgate, Ayegbeni Yakubu and Mark Viduka out of the Riverside Stadium door, but Southgate insists he had little option. "It's too easy to say that experience might have made a difference, for the experience we had either wanted to move on or we had to sell," he said.
"Successful teams do have experienced players but the bigger picture is why we had to take those decisions - and the people who have moved on have had mixed seasons. The crucial thing is who you are able to bring in."
Southgate said the only way for Boro to compete with the increasing number of billionaire sugar daddies in the Premier League is for the club to continue to produce their own young talent. "In an ideal world you would bring your young players through the ranks, and financially for clubs like ourselves that is the future because it is impossible to compete with the billionaires coming into the league," he explained.
"If you get 20 billionaires, three are still going to get relegated, so there has to be a sense of how you build a football club for its long-term survival. We will continue to invest in the academy and what we have to do is ensure the quality of player coming through is good enough to play at the highest level."
Southgate said that would not change even if Boro are relegated. They need to claim at least four points from their remaining two games and rely on their rivals slipping up to have any hope of survival.
"There are no thoughts in my mind of doing anything different next season but of course I have learned lessons," Southgate said. "I think you would be mad if you were in this position and had not learned lessons, but the benefit of hindsight is something we have every Monday morning after a fixture."
Middlesbrough's 2-1 win at Villa Park stands out in Southgate's mind as one of the club's best performances during his three years in charge, but although Martin O'Neill's side are already qualified for the UEFA Europa League next season he is not anticipating an easy ride.
"No team Martin O'Neill puts out will roll over for us," he said. "They have had a fantastic season and until a few weeks ago were challenging for a Champions League place."
David Wheater will be back for Middlesbrough after the centre-back missed the defeat by Newcastle United on Monday with a knee problem. There are still numerous absentees, however, including captain Emanuel Pogatetz, defender Chris Riggott, midfielder Didier Digard and striker Afonso Alves.
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