Now the January transfer window is open Middlesbrough will be curating lists and making enquiries in to a number of players in the hope that they can wrangle a few new signings this month to push them into the playoffs and perhaps promotion at the end of the season. In fact, Middlesbrough’s already dropped their fishing rod in the water and pulled out a back-up goalkeeper with Dejan Stojanovic going out on loan.
It is no secret that Middlesbrough have made some questionable panic buys over the years as the transfer window clock ticks down and desperation begins to run high. They aren’t alone with this, as many clubs desperate to fill in gaps pursue players that aren’t the right fit and so they become unsatisfactory stop gaps. Many of these players struggle in the team and are often considered some of the biggest transfer mistakes by fans of each club.
Sensible Transfers is a thought experiment created by Tifo Football (please check them out), that was created with clubs poor transfer decisions in mind. The players listed below have been selected because they fill a position that needs addressing, while they may be able to adapt to the teams style of play. Each players statistical output is also considered, with explanations as to why some players with less than impressive numbers have been picked for the shortlist and finally considering if they have a destructive personality, though such evaluations can only be made through interviews and their online presence. None of these players have been linked with Middlesbrough. This is not because the players that have been linked are unfit for the side, with the likes of Atsu and Grosicki fit and able to make a difference for Middlesbrough. Instead this list should be seen as alternative options.
(Also please note that the information in this article may have changed since writing)
This position poses more of an issue due to a lack of options. Marvin Johnson has had a solid season so far on the wing and has posed a threat on many occasions. However he has a tendency to blow hot and cold and there are few options available to Neil Warnock on Jonhson’s off-days. The next closest option, Hayden Coulson, has shown that he can be a threat going forward but doesn’t appear comfortable in that role yet and so it would be beneficial for the side to find another left winger who can hold the width for the majority of the build up play and offer a threat.
Height: 1.7m (5ft 5in)
Nationality: South Africa
It may come as a surprise to many that there is a Ligue 1 player included in this list though all but the most renowned Ligue 1 teams are currently in a difficult financial situation which has opened up the opportunity for clubs in a better financial position to poach players. Middlesbrough find themselves in a similarly difficult position due to the coronavirus outbreak and so finances are tight with the club primarily looking at the loan market to bolster the squad. However, if there is some money left in the transfer kitty the club should look towards the French divisions for a potential steal.
Style of Play:
Dolly is versatile enough to be deployed in either No. 10 or left wing, which would prove to be very beneficial to Middlesbrough who have been lacking in both areas for some time.
Playing as a left footed left winger, Dolly holds the width in the team and such a players often need to have some pace in order to pose a threat and prevent attacks from stagnating. While Dolly is no slouch here, he isn’t the fastest either and instead would be able to hold his own against Middlesbrough’s fastest players rather than blowing them away. He is a proficient dribbler though, who prefers to carry the ball when unopposed helping to drive the team forward.
His short passing is a solid, while his most impressive passing technique comes when he plays long balls for quick counter attacks can prove to have impressive accuracy and help to put the team on the front foot after a quick transition. He uses a similar technique when crossing too, though he often prefers low crosses and cut backs over firing a ball into the penalty box. It is the technique that the player has at his disposal that would make him a particularly interesting signing, offering something different to what is already at the club.
One of the main concerns when signing players from abroad is the possibility of a language barrier between the player and the rest of the squad. This is not an issue in Dolly’s case as his South African background means he speaks English.
He also appears to be a friendly character, with a large proportion of his social media presence dedicated into celebrating footballing friends on their successes.
His career so far:
His career has extended a decade so far while playing for just 3 clubs, Sundowns and Ajax Cape Town in South Africa. While at Sundowns the player made 57 appearances, scoring 5 goals and getting 6 assists. His transfer from Ajax Cape Town to Sundowns in the 2014/2015 season came with a notable transfer fee of £538,000 which was considerably higher than his £203,000 value at the time. During his time at Sundowns the midfielder made 61 appearances, scored 10 goals and setting up 11 goals for his teammates. His form at the club, which equated to a goal every 3 games, intrigued Montpellier.
On January 27th 2017, Dolly moved into the European game with a £1.53m deal to Montpellier where he has remained since making 53 appearances for the French side scoring just the 1 goal.
Keagan Dolly is currently a South African International player making a total of 18 appearances and scoring 3 goals for the Bafana Bafana. While this poses some concerns regarding international tournaments that occur during the main footballing season; having a player who has an international reputation could prove to be beneficial in increasing International interest in the football club.
Fitting into the team:
Dolly would fit well into the Middlesbrough team, playing as a wide left player holding the width. This would be beneficial to the team as while Bola is defensively sturdy he is weaker going forward, which could easily be counteracted by the signing of Keagan Dolly.
It is true that this is the same role that Johnson currently plays, however having some competition for the role, particularly since Johnson’s contract has yet to be extended, may prove to be a beneficial plan.
Some Middlesbrough fans might be rightly concerned about Dolly’s lacking statistics, as a quick comparison against Marvin Johnson’s stats, shows that he has less of an influence going forward. Most notably, Dolly gets an assist once every 8 games for Montpellier in comparison to Marvin Johnson’s once every six. Meanwhile Marvin Johnson releases 0.8 shots per game to Dolly’s 0.65 and Johnson also makes more dribbles per game too.
Meanwhile there is negligible difference between their key passes and while Marvin Johnson makes an extra 5 pass attempts on average per 90, Dolly is far more accurate with his, with a very impressive 84.5% success rate to Johnson’s 63%. Finally there is negligible difference in their crossing numbers, showing that both players play a similar way in the final third.
After hearing this it would be reasonable to ask: why bother?
First there are a number of caveats that have to be considered as Dolly is playing in one of Europe’s top 5 leagues, even if it isn’t at the same level as the Premier League or La Liga, a lot of the clubs Dolly has been facing are a step up from the championship. So it would be reasonable to expect an upturn in his statistics at the Championship level. Secondly, Dolly has played a fringe role at Montpellier for the majority of his time in Europe. Despite having 5 full seasons at the club it is the current 2020/21 season that the player has seen the most action already, making 13 appearances, and just 2 starts. This can prove to be a difficult situation for a player as he cannot get into a rhythm. Further still, although all the statistics presented here are relative to the amount of game time, limiting the effects of substitute appearances, it cannot equate for the difference between trying to make an impact when the game is already mid-flow and being part of the flow of the game from the start.
Finally, there is promise in the players statistics still with his most impressive 2017/18 season. He ended up beating Johnson’s statistics from any season on both shots and key passes per game. He also draws level with Johnson’s most impressive season in terms of passes per game, and his 1.6 crosses is considerably higher than any of Johnson’s seasons.
He could even exceed this season at Middlesbrough as the club could offer him more game time and stability around his place in the squad, in turn getting the best out of the South African player.
How to get him:
The idea of signing Dolly isn’t a whisper in the wind either as there is a serious possibility that a deal could be struck. As before mentioned Ligue 1 teams are currently struggling to deal with the collapse of a sports tv network and are attempting to make up for that lost revenue alongside not having ticket income, meaning that they are open to negotiations for almost any player for the right price. Additionally, Dolly’s current contract is due to expire by the end of the year and so the value of the player drops considerably as the clubs could lose the player for nothing in the summer. Meanwhile any concerns about getting a work visa for the winger are quelled by his international career.
Alternatively, the club could open up negotiations with the player about signing a pre-contract agreement, as a team from a different country is able to negotiate with a player up to 6 months before the end of their contract. This will mean that Middlesbrough won’t have the player to end the season with but they would have him come the start of next season.
Ultimately, it would be worthwhile for Middlesbrough to look at a player who was once dubbed ‘one of the best exports that South Africa has ever produced’ by Steven Pienaar.
Height: 1.71m (5ft 6)
Club: Brighton Hove Albion
This ‘sensible transfer’ poses the biggest risk of the options presented so far but it comes with the possibility of the greatest reward. Brighton fans are all too aware of Izquierdo’s injury issues as they have prevented the pacy winger from properly establishing himself in the first team. The players frustration will undoubtedly be extended by these issues occurring in a single problem area, his knee, keeping him out of the first team since April 2019. This season has proven to be a struggle for fitness with the player playing exclusively for the under-23’s as he attempts to rebuild to the point where he can play for the first team once more. However his push for match fitness was put on hold once more in December with a minor injury that he could recover from by the end of January.
However, with this caveat in mind, a loan away from the club could prove to be beneficial to both parties as it would give him time to gain full match fitness away from the pressure of a relegation battle. Meanwhile the acquiring club could get a player that is worth in and around £10m at his best, if the player can recover in time to make an impact for such a club.
Style of play:
Izquierdo poses another fix for left wing, however it is an option wholly different to the ones presented previously as the Columbian is right footed. The winger prefers to hold a wide position during build up play before making runs across the opposition box, either attempting to penetrate the oppositions line through his dribbling, shooting when a opening arises or making a neat 1-2 pass triangle to get in behind the defensive line. Izquierdo mixes up his attacking play, which makes him an unpredictable opponent and a challenge to any defence that has to face the player.
He isn’t the best defensively though he will hold the defensive line well enough and will maintain the width that would usually lack with most right footed left wingers.
Izquierdo appears to be a generally upbeat character which will have put him in good stead to deal with the difficulties that have faced him in recent years. This kind positive nature is also welcome to a changing room as it helps them bond with the other players at the club. However, the player appears to be settled at Brighton and may see moving away on loan as an unneeded risk.
His career so far:
The 28 year old started his career at his hometown club of Deportivo Pereira where he made 30 appearances and he scored 2 goals before moving to Once Caldas, where he hit his most impressive club form scoring 8 goals and making 3 assists in just 18 games. His form at Once Caldas earned him a move to Europe, signing for Belgium’s Club Brugge for a fee of £3.42m. In his 4 years at the club, Izquierdo made 117 appearances, scoring an impressive 38 goals and laying off 19 for his teammates, with him gaining particular plaudits in his final season for the Blauw-Zwart. Finally he moved to Brighton on the 20th August 2017 for a club record £13.5m. During his injury riddled time in England the Columbian made 59 appearances, scoring 6 goals and getting 7 assists.
Izquierdo’s international career has been hampered by his injuries, preventing him from moving into double digit appearances, pulling the Columbian shirt on just 6 times in his career so far.
The statistics show that Izquierdo is better than Johnson in certain areas of his game. Firstly, Izquierdo scores a goal once every 6 games which is a considerable mark up on Johnson who scores once every 11 games, which is to be expected as Izqueirdo takes one more shot per game on average. Further still, the Columbian has the best pass accuracy with 77% of his passes finding a teammate over the past 4 seasons that he was fit and able to play, a mark up from Johnson’s 62.9%.
However, Izquierdo relies on cutting inside and being a threat from his powerful shots meaning that he has been let down on assists, with Johnson getting an assist every 7th game while the Columbian gets one every 9. A lot of this disparity will be due to Izquierdo’s refusal to cross the ball, letting fullbacks do this work, admittedly an issue if he was to sign for Middlesbrough. However, this issue is limited a little as crosses are not the best way to maximise the impact of Middlesbrough’s strikers, particularly with Fletcher still to return.
Finally, it is unlikely that Izquierdo could make up these numbers during a loan stint at the club making the signing of Izquierdo an even riskier one. Alternatively, the Championship is a drop down from the Premier league and so this drop in numbers may not be as apparent with his abilities following his return may be equal to that of the Championship.
How he fits:
It is very unlikely that Izquierdo will be able to go straight into the first team, it is far more likely that he will have to build up his fitness while at the club. Then, when he is fit, it is unlikely that he will be playing a full 90 minutes at least for sometime. However he could pose a seriously difficult question of defenders as an impact substitute, which has been lacking at Middlesbrough especially with the uncertainty surrounding Roberts.
He will maintain the width on the left while posing a direct threat to the opposition in a way that is unlike any player Middlesbrough currently have. Meanwhile, anyone who knows Izquierdo will be aware that the winger has a shot in him.
How Middlesbrough can get him:
Many Middlesbrough fans would question if Izquierdo could pass a medical though the answer isn’t that simple, as ‘passing a medical’ is a way of simplifying a process that usually includes curating a medial report on a player that is used while the buying club considers if it is worth taking on the risks surrounding the player. If the club decided it was worth the risk and if Izquierdo was able to get himself fit then Middlesbrough could have a talent that superior to the league he is playing in.
Height: 1.72m (5ft 6in)
Club: KRC Genk
KRC Genk is a club that is well known for producing some footballing talents, with arguably the best midfielder in the world, Kevin De Bruyne, starting his career at the Belgium club. He isn’t the clubs only success, however with Leandro Trossard and Sander Berge moving to Premier League clubs in recent years, while talented Danish fullback Joakim Maehle joined high-flying Atalanta during this transfer window. So the club is often a place to look to when trying to find the next ‘big thing’, and one player who has the potential to be just that is Luca Oyen.
Style of play:
Some fans have likened the young player to Belgium star, Eden Hazard, due to his brilliant dribbling ability, close control and pace. However, there are certainly some elements to his game that could improve, as while his crossing technique is good, the accuracy is not yet there and he has struggled to find the end product at times. Meanwhile his lacking physicality is cause for concern as the Championship is a more physical league.
Luca Oyen has football in his blood, with his father Davy Oyen having a respectable career in the game, including a stint at Nottingham Forest, where Luca was born. This will put him in good stead as having a relative that has been exposed to the football world before will help to keep the young player grounded despite already making a professional debut for the club that he has been his home since 2008.
However, his command of the English language is unknown, as he may or may not have been taught it by his father, if he cannot speak English then it would pose serious issues with bringing the talented player to the North-East.
His career so far:
The 17 year old has spent the whole of his footballing career at KRC Genk, making his way through the ranks and breaking into the first team this season. He has made just 10 appearances for the Genkies and the young player has rarely featured since the arrival of the new manager John van den Brom and so the club may consider letting him go out on loan to gain first team experience.
The national interest in the player is highlighted as he has been given the No. 10 shirt at under-16, 17 and 19 level. He was most involved in the under-16’s playing 11 games and scoring 2 goals, the same amount of goals scored in his 7 appearances for the under-17’s before scoring 1 in 1 appearance for the Under-19’s.
Due to Oyen’s lack of first team appearances so far this season, it is hard to compare the player with alternatives that are already at the club and so the extra 1,093 minutes played by Marvin Johnson this season in comparison to Luca Oyen, should be considered alongside these statistics.
Firstly, Luca Oyen has yet to score a professional goal but Johnson scores once every 467 minutes this season, 158 more minutes than Oyen has played throughout his currently short professional career. Meanwhile the Belgium teenager has managed to get 1 assist to his name so far, equalling an assist for 309 minutes played which is better than Johnson’s one assist per 350 minutes.
Naturally this isn’t the whole story though, as Johnson has made considerably more shots so far this season than Oyen and as such will, in all likelihood, have a better minutes per goal than the 17 year old. This isn’t to criticise Oyen, but instead to indicate that the two players are different with the Genkie making 1.2 key passes per 90 in comparison to Johnson’s 0.9 key passes per 90. His distribution is also shown by his very impressive 84.2% pass success rate.
The biggest issue that would face Oyen in the Championship is his lack of physicality, however if he can deal with that issue then he has already shown the ability to perform at this level.
How he fits:
The players pace, dribbling and close control all fit well into Middlesbrough’s direct tactical set up, he could take the place of Johnson on the left wing or play as a central attacking midfielder, relieving the need for Patrick Roberts to be at the club and as such allowing the Englishman to move on to a loan that may be more beneficial to his career in the long term.
How Middlesbrough can get him:
It is extremely unlikely that a signing such as Oyen could be pulled off as Genk believe he has the ability to become a quality player in the future. They may consider sending the youngster on loan as they recognise how important it is for him to get first team football, particularly since he hasn’t been involved in their first team for a while. However it would be difficult to pass such loan deals as his lack of first team international experience would go against such a signing as much as it could be very beneficial for the team to have the player. Instead this player profile highlights a player that could become a player that ends up at the top of the game for years to come.
There are a few possible options on the right hand side but none of them appear to be ideal. Marcus Tavernier had put in some very solid displays on this side of the pitch, and he has frequently played in this role, however Warnock clearly sees the player as more of a central midfielder rather than a winger. Duncan Watmore has started his Middlesbrough career in very impressive form but he will need protecting as his injury history indicates that he may be prone to other issues in the future. Djed Spence has played this role on a few occasions with varying degrees of success but it is clear that his best role is as a right back where Warnock also appears to prefer the player. Finally, the elusive Patrick Roberts can play this role though a more central position is seen as the way to get the best out of him. Regardless the Manchester City loanee has had very few first team minutes so far this season and that appears unlikely to change. If the club could bring in one excellent right winger then it could help to considerably improve the side.
Height: 1.75m (5ft 7in)
Club: Leeds United
Middlesbrough fans may remember the name Joe Gelhardt from when he lined up for Wigan against the club last season. By which point the 18 year old had gained a lot of praise from reporters and pundits alike with some likening the Liverpool born attacker to ex-England international Wayne Rooney. He moved on from the ticks in the summer, joining Premier League outfit Leeds United for a reported fee of £900,000.
Style of play:
The attacker can play anywhere across a front three, though the majority of his professional performances have come as a striker. Yet, there are indications that the Englishman could play in a wider role as Gelhardt is a very good dribbler and feels confident in using the outside of his stronger left foot to keep the ball away from defenders, dragging them into fouling him (a trait that he shares with current Middlesbrough midfielder, Marcus Tavernier). Further still, his highlights from his time at Wigan show him starting from a position more synonymous with a right sided inside winger or forward. In these positions he uses his stronger left foot to dribble at the defence causing a direct threat that would fit into Middlesbrough’s tactical system. Meanwhile, he has a good powerful shot that he exercises when opportunities arise. Though his biggest fault is in his passing which may prove to be an issue if Warnock wishes to have a winger that is more involved in build up play.
Gelhardt describes himself as a hard working player. He is confident in his abilities but also recognises that there is still things that he would benefit from learning about. This sets him in good stead to play under a manager like Warnock who will expect the player to be listening and learning during his time at the club.
Gelhardt has been had contracts with Wigan Athletic and Leeds United so far in his career. He has yet to make a professional debut for Leeds but he made 19 appearances for Wigan, contributing 1 goal.
Middlesbrough fans will see Gelhardt’s statistics for Wigan as cause for concern though having only scored once in nineteen games. However, Wigan were trying to ease the youngster into the professional game, resulting in a number of substitute appearances showing that he scored a goal once every 5 games, which is respectable considering the situation that he found himself in at a struggling Wigan Athletic.
For those unconvinced, Gelhardt’s scoring rate for Englands youth international teams should go some way to easing their worries. The 18 year old has played for the Under-16’s, 17’s and is currently playing for the under 18’s with great success.
In 2018, the former tick’s striker converted once every other game for the U16’s, a goalscoring rate that if it could be replicated at club level would make him one of the best strikers in England. However his international strike rate only improved from there, scoring an impressive 12 goals in 15 games for the Under-17’s, equalling a goal in every 0.8 games before following it up with similar form for the Under-18’s scoring 4 goals in 6 games.
This goalscoring rate does come with the caveat that he was playing at youth level, however it indicates that he knows where the goal is and certainly has the potential to score goals on a more frequent basis at a professional level.
Due to Gelhardt’s inexperience at professional level it is hard to compare the player to current right wing options at the club. In order to indicate the influence he could have, this comparison will be between Gelhardt’s career so far and Duncan Watmore’s 2020/21 season so far as their minutes played remain relatively similar.
Duncan Watmore managed to score 5 goals this season, which is more goals than he has scored in any full season so far in his career, and more than Gelhardt who has scored just one professional goal so far. Watmore has made a single assist this season which is one more than the Leeds United man. There is a minor difference in the two players shots per game and pass success rate which show that the younger man is almost his equal in both of these aspects.
While Duncan Watmore has performed above Gelhardt this season, it is important to consider that the former Sunderland man is in the form of his career so far and Gelhardt has only flirted with professional football. He may not be an instant improvement on Watmore but someone with similar statistics could be needed to rotate with Boro’s current wingman to prevent him sustaining any more injuries.
How he fits:
Middlesbrough’s search for additions to the wide areas is currently on-going, with the likes of Yannick Bolasie, Christian Atsu and Kamil Grosicki all linked to the Teeside club; Gelhardt fits into this category. The youngster can play anywhere across the attack but may find the most joy playing in a similar role to the one that has helped Duncan Watmore find such brilliant form. Starting wide right and coming inside with the primary aim of providing an end product could be the perfect formula to get the best out of a highly rated young player.
How Middlesbrough can get him:
It is highly unlikely that Leeds would even consider selling the player considering his form in the youth sides. However it is more likely that Leeds United will recognise the importance of giving the player first team minutes as it grows increasingly clear that he is outperforming youth football. If this is the case then a local team that would cause little to no upheaval to the players life for a short loan stint would be beneficial and as such Middlesbrough may prove to be in prime position to poach the player on loan.
Izquierdo (highlights + interviews):
Gelhardt (highlights and interviews):